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June 30, 2014

Negativity Towards New

Every time Facebook releases a drastic redesign or re-imagining of one of its applications I prepare for a bombardment of commentary from friends and acquaintances, condemning the destruction of the product. This distaste, this fear of “the new” is a universally accepted practice across all aspects of modern technology. Users will get accustom to a product, begin to use it in a habitual manner, and negatively respond when anything about it is updated.

I’m not surprised by this reaction. The speed of product innovation in software and computer hardware has exponentially outpaced almost every other industry for the past 60+ years. Take kitchen appliances for example: if you transported a brand new refrigerator back in time to the 1950s and asked an average consumer to interact with it, they would quickly recognize what it was, its benefits, and how to use it. The same situation would not hold true with a brand new MacBook Pro.

Because these drastic redesigns are occurring on a yearly, monthly, and sometimes weekly basis, people get frustrated they need to “relearn” the product. The social media rants will commence, the threats to stop using a given service or device will be declared and then….nothing happens. A week, maybe two passes, and everyone forgets their frustration ever existed. Why do people get over this unhappiness so fast?

The answer is almost trivially simple: companies, in general, make changes that positively impact the consumer. Of course there are instances of a product being changed in an effort to squeeze out more ad revenue or hardware is degraded with the introduction of a cheaper material but, for the most part, changes enhance the user experience and users quickly forget what it was like before.

Unfortunately, people have a disposition to assume the worse when it comes to “the new”. In the New York Times’ recent profile of Google’s leadership, Larry Page put it eloquently:

We know that if we talk about things before people see them, there’s a much more negative reaction. That’s one of the things we learned. It’s really important for people to be able to experience products; otherwise you fear the worst without seeing those benefits.

It’s the reason people will post videos about the dangers of a new social media trend….on social media. It’s the reason my friend will express distaste for smartwatches in a message sent from their new iPhone 5S. It’s the reason bloggers think Google’s recent purchase of a satellite company could have “creepy” implications. With so much change and so many unknowns in the technology space, being pessimistic at times is all but expected.

Yes, there are real privacy, social, and philosophical concerns that exist as we continue to introduce computing in to more and more of our lives but, by and large, most changes are going to positively impact the average consumer. It’s important to acknowledge this natural tendency to dislike and make a conscious effort to give new technology a chance. I suggest we wait, observe, try, and reflect before passing judgment.