Should You Be an Early Adopter or a Laggard?

tablet pc ladyWhen it comes to the acceptance of new technology, two types of people make up the extremes.

There are those who rush out to buy the latest gadget – even camping out next to stores to be  first in line.

Then there are the more skeptical folks who take a “wait and see approach” to technology.

There are actually names for these two demographics – early adopters and their opposites, the laggards. Which kind are you? And what do you think is the smartest way to act as a consumer?

In my last contribution to this blog, an article on buying used cars,  I ticked off my wife. This time around I’m going to take a few shots at dear old Dad.

My dad is a classic laggard. The term sounds pretty derogatory and I’m already feeling a little guilty, but it’s only going to get worse and more hilarious from this point (sorry Dad).

Here are a few quotes from my dad that I remind him of every now and then…

“Why should I get a CD player when I’ve got all these cassette tapes?”

You could also repeat that one replacing CDs and cassettes with DVDs and VHS tapes.

“Who needs a cell phone? People can just leave a message for me at home!”

By the way, my parents still have the same answering machine they bought in 1992. The beep they tell you to wait for last about 30 seconds. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

“What do you need the internet for? All that’s on there is porn anyway!”

He told me that as I was starting college while questioning the need to have free internet access in my dorm room. On second thought, I guess I’ll admit he was half right on that one.

If he’d been born a century early Dad would have been one of the guys saying, “Why do I need one of those fancy automobiles when I’ve got a perfectly healthy horse?”

Now I will give my dad some credit. Eventually he did start buying CDs, got a dial-up connection and picked a cell phone plan for the family (after I moved out). He even purchased a BluRay player before I did (although he claims he can’t tell the difference). However, on the topic of social media, he’s back to his usual laggard ways.

The Great Social Media Debate: Zuckerberg vs. Gutenberg

mark zuckerberg and johannes gutenberg

Both my parents have refused to join Facebook even though it is the easiest way to see pictures and videos of the grandkids, as well as an efficient way to spy on their grown children.

Recently, he gave me an LA Times article that looked like it had been Xeroxed.

I lost it before I read it. But amazingly enough I was able to find it on the internet hidden amongst all the nudity.

The opinion piece by Neal Gabler from November 2010 was titled “The Zuckerberg Revolution.” It drew comparisons between  Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook empire and Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type and the printing press in 1450.

Gabler’s point is that Gutenberg’s innovation brought about social transformations including the scientific method and even “coincided with the Renaissance.”

“Print made us think better or, at least, with greater discipline. In effect, the printing press created the modern mind.”

Now I’ll agree that it’s way too soon to put Zuckerberg on the same historic level as Gutenberg. But Gabler goes a step further calling Zuckerberg the anti-Gutenberg and writing:

“The more we text and Twitter and ‘friend,’ abiding by the haiku-like demands of social networking, the less likely we are to have the habit of mind or the means of expressing ourselves in interesting and complex ways…He (Zuckerberg) has facilitated a typography in which complexity is all but impossible and meaninglessness reigns supreme. To the extent that ideas matter, we are no longer amusing ourselves to death. We are texting ourselves to death.”

I find it pretty ironic that Gabler’s piece on the LA Times website was surrounded by social media share buttons allowing readers to distribute his complex ideas to all of their friends.

It’s no secret that the majority of status updates, postings and Tweets out there are meaningless, trivial drivel. And let’s be honest -it can be really annoying too. I’m sure every Facebook user can relate to some of the stereotypes a friend of mine wrote about in a gut-busting post called Characters We Hate: The Facebook Status.

But social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have played important roles in things like uprisings in Egypt and Iran.

Last autumn, U.S. consumers took things into their own hands when Bank of America announced plans to start charging debit card users a $5 monthly fee. Social media movements encouraging people to switch from big banks to credit unions prompted BofA and others to reverse course. Bank of America alone saw a 20% jump in account closings during the fourth quarter.

Gabler seems to think Facebook and other social media are not the kind of communities that create groundbreaking ideas. It may be true that the short-form content used on sites like Twitter limit communication. But just as the printing press proliferated ideas and knowledge faster and more efficiently – so is social media today.

You get the feeling Gabler thinks anything that was ever printed in a book was a timeless classic dripping with knowledge and wisdom. Truth be told…there has been plenty of garbage and lies published in books, newspapers and magazines…all thanks to Johannes Gutenberg!

So that’s my roundabout way of telling you that Neal Gabler is a laggard, just like my dad. By the way, Gabler is currently working on a biography of Edward Kennedy, which I’m sure you’ll be able to download on your iPad or Kindle.

…And I just heard Gutenberg rollover in his grave!

Meantime…my dad says he can’t wait for this whole Facebook fad to be over with. Not sure if he realizes it’s a fad that 845-million people around the world are using. But Dad’s not the only one who has doubted new technology.

Fateful Quotations that Put Feet in Mouths

“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad”

~ Michigan Savings Bank to Henry Ford’s Lawyer

“Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.”

~ Simon Newcomb, 18 months before the Wright Brothers’ first flight

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”

~New York Times, 1936

“It will be gone by June”

~ Variety in 1955 on the longevity of rock and roll music

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home”

~ Ken Olson, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. in 1977

Even the brightest, most creative minds in history have made some pretty embarrassing predictions:

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.”

~ Albert Einstein, 1932

“We will never make a 32 bit operating system.”

~ Bill Gates

“The cinema is little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.”

~ Charlie Chaplin, 1916

Overexcited Early Adopters vs. Lackadaisical Laggards

If you’re a fan of frugal living, I’m willing to bet this week’s paycheck that you are not an early adopter. If you’re viewing this post on your iPhone 4s, I’d bet the same that you’re not a laggard.

You may have guessed this already…but you don’t really want to be either of these types of consumers.

Early adopters end up being the guinea pigs for the rest of us. They get all pumped up about the latest gadget and get the very first version. They’re the ones who end up testing new products and dealing with all the bugs that get worked out for the later models.  Early adopters also end up paying top-dollar for products while the rest of us wait and watch the prices fall.

Tablet computers aren’t exactly new. Microsoft tried to introduce a Tablet PC back in 2002, but it didn’t take off for whatever reason. Yet there are probably plenty of early adopters with clunky old tablets in their office – right next to their new iPad, of course.

But hold your horses!

It’s not always cost-effective to be a laggard either. Imagine if you waited until 1999 to start buying compact disks and CD players. Your  audio cassettes would be wasting away in a tangled mess of tape, and you’d be forced to rebuild your collection of Air Supply and Culture Club music. This just as file-sharing and MP3s were taking off.

So When is the Best Time to Buy?

The easy answer to that question is a personal finance blog standard… BUY IT WHEN YOU CAN AFFORD IT!

The important thing is you need to find a balance. Jumping at the newest things isn’t the smartest idea. Just ask the guy with the huge 8-track collection. But waiting until the last minute isn’t always wise either. Just ask the guy who has been paying for AOL email for the past 20 years when he could be getting it for free.

Bottom line? Do what feels right for you without putting yourself at risk financially.

Are you an early adopter, a laggard or somewhere in between? Leave us a comment and tell us about your consumer strategy when it comes to technology and new products in general.

If you enjoyed this article, please share and retweet to your friends. Or if you prefer, print it out and send it to them in the mail.

Image: adamr /

+Kasey Steinbrinck  writes about personal finance and consumer news for Check Advantage. When you order checks from Check Advantage, you’ll find hundreds of unique photography featured on Wildlife Checks as well as lots of other cool checks. CheckAdvantage now offers free shipping on personal checks!


  1. Good post! I’d like to think of myself in the middle of an adopter and a laggard. Call me an “adoptard” if you will! But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I buy things when I can afford them. That’s not the way my generation does things, right? We buy things when we want them! But I am willing to hang out with the older technology longer than the early adopters. But here’s an interesting thought… Some technology can turn into an antique one day and then be worth even MORE money! Take records for example. I’m sure there are some Elvis Presley records out there somewhere that are selling for a crazy amount of money! So cheers to the super laggards that hang on to an old “fad” forever!

  2. I’ll drink to that.

  3. Amy Steinbrinck says:

    Really, really sucks to be the oldest, don’t it!?

  4. I am a laggard! I try to only buy what I can afford. When I have a product that works fine, chances are I’m not going to replace it until I need to (even though the iphone is so cool!). These days we are all about CONSUMING and we don’t take into account all of the waste this endless cycle creates. Recycle, reuse, re-purpose and watch this video:

    Loved the article Kasey!

  5. I think i would be classified as an early adopter, but i do like to do my homework and if something looks like it might not be solid at first i will wait for more data and reviews to come out before jumping on the bandwagon.

  6. notion. When there’s a new product of technology, I take the time to study it before entertaining it. Of course, with too much going on in the world of technology, you can’t have everything. So what I do, I focus only on the things that I need and see which is the best for me. We can’t have everything that’s new in the market – we should always be practical. And being practical does not mean getting left behind; rather, it is knowing which product/s suits you best.

    • Taking a look at needs vs wants is certainly a smart way to make purchasing decisions. That’s not to say you should never allow yourself to get something you simply want. But when money could be used better somewhere else – our wants should take a backseat.
      Thanks for reading and commenting Jolandi!

  7. Thanks! This was very helpful in answering a critical thinking question in a computer class :)

Speak Your Mind