When the PlayStation 3 came out late last year, the response from the American public was, of course, to riot. Armies of ass-crack Visigoths piled into Circuit City parking lots until they just couldn’t stand it anymore. They had to get those gadgets now! First! Barricades were stormed, aisles were mobbed, elbows were thrown, weapons were fired. And local newscasters grinned and winked at it all like the sort of parents who laugh when their kid smears a cupcake on your new Ralph Lauren ottoman.
The business world has a term for this consumer, for the guy who absolutely, positively needs to be the first on his block to own the latest techie wonder widget: the “early adopter.” Marketing expert Seth Godin classifies him as somebody who “paid only a thousand dollars for peace of mind, bragging rights, and the thrill of the hunt.” But the way I see it, an early adopter is just someone on the hunt for new ways to get duped.
We all remember that dork who, back in 1982, pissed away the equivalent of a year’s tuition at Yale because he had to be seen with the first CD player. (And by the way, he still doesn’t have a girlfriend.) Every neighborhood has a yo-yo who thinks it’s cool to own 10 cell phones. “Go into the house of any true early adopter and I guarantee you they’re going to have multiple closets full of unused crap that they bought and tried,” says Silicon Valley forecaster Paul Saffo, who teaches at Stanford. “It doesn’t bother them.” Joy Ganvik, the director of consumer insights and intelligence for Motorola, says that it can be helpful to see certain kinds of early adopters as “influencers,” as slick, ambitious alpha dogs to whom “other people look for guidance and advice.” Well, if you’re the kind of guy who’s happy to take a kneeful of buckshot so that you can really see the claws on the purple monster in Final Fantasy XII, or if you’re willing to pay $15,000 when one of those Best Buy barbarians sells the same system on eBay an hour later, I can assure you that you will not influence me in the least.
Me, I prefer to wait. And I’m not talking about a few weeks. I’m talking about years. I wait because I don’t happen to get warm and fuzzy inside when I think about owning a device that’s “still got a couple of kinks.” I don’t relish the notion of spending seven hours on the phone with Tanya from tech support. I don’t like to find out that I just sank my hard-earned shekels into the Howard the Duck of MP3 players. I don’t want to pay a thousand bucks for something that will, three months from now, be given away as a prize in a box of Apple Jacks. I wait because, quite simply, I want to make sure I get shit that works, and because I don’t appreciate being treated like a corporate guinea pig. And okay, in the end I wait because even if I wanted to try to keep up with every new innovation, by now I’m too old and too busy to pay attention. If that makes me a late adopter, I’ll wear that badge with pride. As Saffo puts it, “We wrap our lives around the technologies that emerge when we’re young and we have time to play with them. Then you get busy in midlife and you get a little out of touch.”