I’m about to tell you something that may shock you: I don’t own a smartphone. I’ve never had one. My husband and I share a single old flip-style phone with a cheap cell phone plan.
I’m not on Twitter, either. Or Instagram. Or Pinterest. I finally gave in and got a Facebook account so I could get online coupons and post comments on certain websites, but I almost never check it.
Before you ask, no, I’m not some kind of Luddite. In fact, I use technology all the time. I do most of my communicating by e-mail, download eBooks for free, and watch TV through a streaming service. I wouldn’t be able to do my job without a computer and a high-speed Internet connection.
What I am is a late adopter. I don’t rush out to get the latest gadget as soon as it hits the market. Instead, I wait and watch to see how it works for others before deciding whether it’s something I really need. Sometimes I spend several years considering before biting the bullet, and sometimes I never adopt it at all.
Naturally, I come in for some kidding because of this. Some of my friends think it’s funny that I still carry a datebook and print out directions on paper. But the truth is, I’m happy being a late adopter. And there’s new evidence that more and more people in today’s fast-changing world feel the same.
Who Are Late Adopters and Laggards?
When it comes to technology use, social scientists put people into five groups. The “innovators” are the first to embrace a new idea or device. After that, the idea spreads through the “early adopters,” the “early majority,” and the “late majority.”
At this point, the new device has become mainstream. The only people left who still haven’t picked it up are called “laggards.” However, this group is bigger than you might think. According to sociologist Everett Rogers, who first named these five groups, it includes about 16% of all consumers.
In the past, sociologists thought laggards tended to be older people with lower levels of income and education. But according to a 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal, newer research shows this is no longer the case. These days, late adopters can be found across all age and social groups. The article profiles several who are professionals in their 20s and 30s.
What sets late adopters and laggards apart from the crowd is that they look at new products with a critical eye. Early adopters get excited about a new product and rush to buy it. Late adopters, by contrast, don’t buy into marketing hype. They tend to notice the flaws in a product as well as its strengths.
Laggards spend a lot of time researching a new product and considering all the angles. They tend to look for products that are simple, cost-effective, and focused on doing a specific job well. They’ll only buy when they’re convinced that the product is truly worth the money. But once they finally adopt a new gadget, they stick with it for years – long after others have moved on to the next big thing.
The Wall Street Journal reports that in the modern world, late adopters are becoming more common and visible. As technology changes faster and faster, more people are choosing to step off the treadmill and wait for the market to settle down.
Now, even product developers are starting to pay attention to what late adopters have to say about their products. A 2015 study at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, Portugal, found that insights from late adopters can help researchers develop stronger, more user-friendly products that more people will be eager to use.
Why It Pays to Be a Late Adopter
Early adopters always have the latest technology – but not necessarily the greatest. In fact, they usually end up paying through the nose for a clunky first draft of a product that doesn’t work that well yet. Late adopters avoid these problems, and enjoy several other benefits as well.
Products tend to be at their most expensive when they’re brand-new. A slide show at Bplans offers a few examples:
- Music Players. The first iPod cost $400 when it was introduced in 2001. That’s the equivalent of about $550 in today’s dollars. Today, you can buy a new iPod Touch with 16GB of storage – over three times as much as that old iPod Classic – for $199. Plus, it doubles as a camera.
- Cell Phones. When the Motorola DynaTac 8000X came out in 1983, it cost $3,995 – nearly $9,800 in today’s dollars. It was about the size and weight of a large brick, and all it could do was make phone calls. Today’s Moto G Plus costs $230, weighs less than six ounces, and can give you access to the whole Internet.
- Personal Computers. The first “desktop” computer, the Olivetti Programma 101, came out in 1965. It read programs off of paper punch cards, output the results on a tiny paper spool, and cost $3,200 – more than $24,750 in today’s dollars. Today, it’s possible to buy a basic desktop PC, complete with keyboard, mouse, and monitor, for as little as $400.
As you can see, waiting for a new technology to mature before you buy in can save you big bucks. This isn’t true for all products; for example, cars cost more now than they did in the days of the Model T. But with electronic gadgets, the longer you wait to buy, the less you’re likely to pay.
Take another look at the list above, and you’ll notice something striking. The newer products aren’t just cheaper than the first-generation versions; they’re also better.
Take the cell phone, for instance. If you’d bought that first cell phone back in 1983, you’d have needed a special bag just to carry it around. You could only talk on it for 30 minutes between charges, and your calls would be full of static. Waiting another 10 or even 20 years to buy would get you a much smaller, lighter phone with longer talk time and better sound quality.
Early versions of most products are untested, and they tend to be full of bugs that only get discovered as people use them. But with each new release, performance improves. By waiting longer to buy in, you get a more reliable, user-friendly product when you finally take the plunge. Plus, you have plenty of time to do your research and find the best model.
When I was a kid, the latest gadget was the VCR. When these first hit the market, there were two competing formats: VHS and Betamax. Both worked well, but each type of player could only play tapes in its own format. So, early buyers had to choose one more or less at random.
After the two formats duked it out in the market for a while, VHS became the standard. At that point, it became almost impossible to find Beta tapes. All those early adopters who chose Betamax ended up having to replace their Beta players with VHS models. Around the same time, all the late adopters were also buying VHS players, and paying less for them.
This same story played out more recently with DVD players – but with a twist. Between 2006 and 2008, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD battled for control of the high-definition DVD market. By 2008, Blu-Ray had become the standard.
However, by that time, an even newer format was on the rise: digital video on demand. Before long, it became clear that the future of home video was going to be digital. In this case, all those people – like me – who waited to buy a high-definition player didn’t just avoid buying the wrong kind – we avoided having to buy the player at all.
This same situation has played out time and again with different technologies. For instance, if you waited long enough to buy an e-reader, you didn’t need one, because by that time you could get free eBook apps for any device. If you waited long enough to buy a dedicated MP3 player, you could just use a smartphone instead to store all your tunes.
The bottom line is, when you’re a late adopter or laggard, you never have to worry about getting stuck with a new gadget you’ll need to replace in a year or two. Instead, you wait, watch, learn, and finally buy a mature technology that’s here to stay.
Less Tech-Related Stress
One of the main reasons I resisted going on Facebook for so long is that it seems to be a huge time-suck. In 2016, according to eMarketer, the average American spent about 43 minutes a day – five hours a week – on social networks. That’s five hours a week they didn’t spend reading books, taking walks, playing games, or talking with friends.
That might make sense if spending time on social media made people happier, but studies suggest it has the opposite effect. A 2013 study at the University of Michigan found that the more time young adults spent on Facebook, the less happy they were. Likewise, a long-term study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that when people increased their Facebook use, their well-being declined.
I see the same effect with other types of technology too. It seems like an awful lot of people who have smartphones never look up from them. This hurts their relationships with real, live people who are right in front of them. A 2014 study at Virginia Tech found that when people have their phones out, their in-person conversations suffer.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to have a smartphone or a Facebook account without becoming obsessed with it. But the fact that it can have that effect is an important thing to know when you’re deciding whether you want one. Being a late adopter gives you a chance to watch other people with a certain gadget and see how it affects their lives. Then you can decide whether owning one really will improve your quality of life.
Being a late adopter also cuts your tech-related stress in another way. People who upgrade their devices every year are constantly having to learn and adapt to new technologies. Meanwhile, you get to relax and stick with your old, familiar device longer. Sure, maybe you can’t do as much with your older gadget – but then, maybe you don’t need to.
Pick and Choose What to Adopt
Being a late adopter or laggard in one area doesn’t mean you have to be one in all areas. Although I’m behind the curve with smartphones and social networks, I was one of the first people I know to get CFL bulbs for my home.
Like other new products, these early bulbs were costly. I paid $25 for my first CFL, and today they can cost as little as $1 or $2 apiece. But even at that price, this bulb cost me less over its lifetime than a bunch of old, inefficient incandescent bulbs – and it was better for the environment too. Since saving money and living green are priorities for me, being an early adopter in this case made sense.
Similarly, you can choose to adopt some technologies early and others late, based on what’s important to you. Maybe you depend on your car’s GPS, but you’re fine with playing computer games for free instead of owning a high-tech gaming system. Or, maybe you love having the latest and greatest gaming technology, but you don’t really care about social networking.
Being a late adopter doesn’t mean refusing to try anything new. You can still buy new products if you have a good reason, but you don’t use the fact that “everyone else has one” as justification. Instead, you pick and choose, adopting the new technologies that are truly useful for you and skipping the ones that aren’t. It’s all about using your judgment to decide which tech you really need or want in your life.
When it comes to adopting new products, “late” isn’t the same as “never.” Most of the late adopters interviewed in the Wall Street Journal said they eventually went ahead and got a smartphone, bought a wearable fitness tracker, or tried online dating or Uber. They just waited to do it until they were sure it was something they really wanted and needed.
I’m in the same boat. After years of weighing the pros and cons, I think I’ll probably go ahead and get my first smartphone this year. But I’m also planning to stick with the same prepaid service I have now, to make sure I only use the phone when I need it instead of turning it into a substitute for face-to-face interaction. By taking the time to think it through and consider all the angles, I’ve decided on the best way to make this new technology fit my life.
Are you an early or late adopter? Which do you think is better?