The Case for Defying Good Advice
Why you might want to buy early-concept technology — even when you know it’s not ready
The tech media will often recommend that you avoid first- and sometimes even second-generation devices. That’s reasonable advice for most people, but not everyone. And maybe not for you.
To understand why you might want to take a chance on hardware and software that may not be fully baked yet, we have to start by thinking about money a little differently. From an article I wrote at the beginning of the year entitled We Get the Monopolies We Deserve:
We usually think of currency as a form of legal tender that can be exchanged for goods and services. But in a free-market system, money is much more than that. Every dollar we spend is also a vote in favor of the corporate entity providing that good or service and against that entity’s competition. Not only are you receiving a good or a service in exchange for payment, but you are also communicating approval of that company’s culture and rewarding its stakeholders.
Money is to a free-market economy what votes are to a democracy. Therefore, spend your money as judiciously as you cast your votes. Just as many people consider voting to be a basic civic responsibility, perhaps consumers have a responsibility beyond just finding the lowest prices or enduring the least amount of product friction.
Although the context is admittedly different, the concept translates well to tech: think of spending money as a mechanism for positively reinforcing the type of innovation you want to see more of and withholding purchases as a way of discouraging product directions you oppose.
Let’s blow this topic out to the scale of a new car. Teslas are revolutionary in that they have disrupted the entire auto industry, single-handedly creating seemingly insatiable demand for modern, high-performance electric vehicles. Teslas are fast, sleek, and certainly among the most technologically advanced vehicles on the road.
But, as is often the case with complex new technology, Teslas have historically had their fair share of issues (some of which have largely been addressed, and some of which still affect new vehicles today). For instance, Model 3s were known for having some of the worst paint in the auto industry, often had uneven panel gaps, and were frequently delivered to customers with egregious scratches or dents. Additionally, Teslas are costly and time-consuming to repair, and hence are disproportionately expensive to insure.
Yet Tesla can scarcely manufacture enough new cars to meet demand. People obviously don’t buy Teslas because they’re the most practical vehicles to own; they primarily buy them because they want to invest in the future. Tesla owners use their purchasing power to vote for the kind of world they want to see, and because of that, Tesla has not only been able to avoid bankruptcy (sometimes narrowly), but has even become profitable. It’s dangerous to put statements about market capitalization into writing these days given how tumultuous the markets are, but as of the time of this writing, Tesla is the most valuable car company in the world. I think it’s even fair to say that, without Tesla, there would be no Rivian or Lucid, nor all the other electric models traditional car manufacturers are struggling to bring to market.
Personally, I’m a big believer in investing in the kind of future you want to see. Before I buy a new piece of technology, not only do I consider specs and features, but I also assess whether the product represents the type of innovation, corporate behavior, and business practices that I want to encourage. Sometimes that means forgoing extremely compelling new technology (like the Oculus Quest 2 which has become just another surface for personal data collection), and sometimes that means deviating from the mainstream and buying devices that reviewers have explicitly recommended against.
Of course, I recognize that most of my favorite tech reviewers are primarily speaking to those with far less tolerance for all the challenges that inevitably come with being an early adopter. And that’s fair given that this philosophy is not for the technologically faint-of-heart. First, you will probably pay top-dollar as smaller, less-diversified technology companies struggle to remain solvent, and well-established businesses attempt to recoup R&D costs. And second, you are likely to run into both hardware and software snafus that will almost certainly have you shaking your head in dismay and wondering how anyone could have possibly made the call to ship.
And that’s not all. Because technology has become a type of fashion, the world is often not kind to those who may appear out-of-step. There is no shortage of stories about Teslas getting keyed and “coal-rolled”; nobody wants to be the green bubble in a Messages group chat; and more than once, I have seen coworkers ridiculed for being early adopters. (I was once in a meeting where someone was called a douche for wearing AirPods when they were still in their [extremely brief] novelty phase [by someone who, a month later, had his own pair shoved into his ears].) But all that said, I don’t feel it’s entirely fair for us to complain about phones being boring slabs of black glass or laptop innovation stagnating when so many of us are unwilling to take chances on something new.
So if you’re curious about a dual screen or a folding or a ridiculously specced gaming phone, or a new e-ink tablet, or a completely unconventional new laptop design, consider giving it a try. Be patient with it. Try not to let its flaws obscure its potential. If you can’t, by all means, return it. But if you can, show your enthusiasm to your friends and family. Express it online. Pass your feedback along to whoever designed it (any product team truly passionate about their mission will listen). When you run into apps that haven’t been optimized for novel form factors, communicate your expectations to those third parties. And when the next (inevitably better) version of hardware comes out, remember that you can often trade the old one in and get a significant discount on an upgrade. Or, if you can afford to, pass the “old” version along to someone else who is just as passionate about technology as you are, but might not have the means to get into the game quite as early.
Short term, you won’t always be glad you didn’t either wait for the technology to mature, or go with a more tried-and-true mainstream option. But if you’re anything like me, regardless of how the experience turns out, you’ll enjoy the process of introducing a novel device into your life. And long-term, you might just help create a more diversified, creative, and delightful technological future for everyone.