Celebrating the New

Why it's good to embrace the pace of technological innovation

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Late in February 2007, for reasons I’ve long since forgotten, I signed up for yet another social-networking site with a funny name. The only thing different about this particular site was that it succeeded where others failed. And 13,400 messages later, I’m still using Twitter.

I know that many people think Twitter is the biggest waste of time since TV. And that’s fine, because no new medium will suit everyone. (There are people who don’t even own a TV set. I know this because they send me emails explaining why they’re better than me.)

Twitter connects me to friends, colleagues, and even strangers in ways that email and instant messaging can’t. But I didn’t know that when I signed up. I signed up for it even though I didn’t understand why anyone would use it or what it was good for. I just thought it deserved a fair trial.

I get paid to use new technology products for a living. This lets me save you the legwork of trying them all out yourself. The moment I blow off trying a new product or technology just because I don’t want to be bothered is the moment I become obsolete.

Most people don’t share my professional stake in trying out new stuff. But anyone who is enthusiastic about technology should, at some level, be excited about the prospect of change. That’s why I am constantly surprised by the comments I see from technology users who wish that technological innovation would slow down.

It’s smart to be a pragmatic user of technology. If your computer and software work for you, and the latest tech doesn’t offer you any benefit, why should you upgrade? It’s up to the hardware and software companies to provide upgrades that actually improve your experience.

But there’s pragmatism, and then there’s being stuck in the mud. Someone who reads a monthly magazine devoted to computers (yes, I’m looking at you) has proven to be open to new technology. At some point in your life, you adopted new technology; otherwise you wouldn’t be here. So why stop now?

When I was in college, I worked with a family friend who ran a small business. This 70-year-old man had bought himself a Mac and FileMaker, and used them to create a customer database with hundreds of records. He sought out my help as the local Mac expert, but in reality I learned more from him than he did from me.

Bill Maasberg (who died this year at age 92) was more than a Mac user. He was an electrical engineer, a private pilot, and an inventor. But the thing I remember most from my time with him was that he never lost his curiosity. He could easily have shrugged off computers and continued to do things the way he had always done them. Instead, he took the time to explore what technology could do for him.

The moment any of us stop trying new things just because we’re satisfied with what we’ve got, we cut ourselves off from the possibility of something better.

Yes, people in the technology business tend to rush to praise whatever’s new. But there’s no industry I’d rather write about, because for all its faults, the world of technology is relentlessly moving forward, striving to invent new products, services, and modes of communication, and (as Steve Jobs once said) to change the world.

The iPhone is a good example of the technological change I’m talking about. When we fist saw the iPhone, we didn’t know how huge it would become, or that one day there would be more than 100,000 third-party iPhone apps. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year and a half since the App Store opened. (And harder to believe we spent that first whole year without any third-party apps!) What will 2010 bring us in terms of technological innovation? Will there be a product to rival the iPhone, replace Twitter, or make the Web obsolete? I don’t know. But I can’t wait to find out.

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