Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Problem of New

We hear about it everyday. A new phone, a new social network, a new pattern or a new invention. There is nothing wrong with this, obviously. I like new. You like new. Everybody likes new, want to be new or just be associated with something new.

The problem is that too many trend setters, journalists and consultants are taking part in a race. The race of new, about being first to tell you about what is new. Or even better, what will be new tomorrow? This is of course a good thing. Who would want to miss out on the newest gadget or website? I wouldn't. The problem occurs when too many people compete about telling you about it. Sometimes it seems like they need to make it sound newer than it sounded when their colleagues or competitors just told you about it yesterday.

There are many people who want to tell you what is new. Some people think there are too many. I recently read a Facebook status update. A friend of mine considered adding "expert on social networks" to his resume, but decided against it as there are already 36 with such titles to the dozen. And some colleagues, who are actually among the top specialists in the field of new media in general, made a mockery out of it all on April 1st when they on one of NRKs websites NRKbeta.no wrote an article about all of them leaving NRK to start their own consultancy called SosialMedia.no (Social Media). The "company" can, among other things, "offer courses in social media and award Gold Standard Social Media Expert badges." It was an April Fools' joke, but it very well pinpointed the fact that many companies now see a need to hire professionals to come tell them what is new.

Is the problem of new new?
Not even the problem of new is new. Nostradamus and George Orwell are only two examples. They tried to predict the future, sometimes allegedly more successfully than others. People soon turned to them to hear more about new. Recently the Swedish professor Micael Dahlén published a book called "Nextopia" where he discusses what expectations of new can lead to. He argues that today expectations about what is just in front of us, but not yet entirely within reach, is what drives us as people. The craving for new.

Dahlén has interviewed loads of people about how they feel about life now, in the past and in the future. We are pretty happy with the current situation, although less so than with the past. What stands out is that nothing compares with the future, including our expectations to what will happen in just a day or two. Nextopia is the future, according to Dahlén.

– Nextopia is the next fantastic date, it is iPad 2 or the incredible career opportunity that waits around the next corner. Nextopia is our driving force, our reason to get out of bed in the morning, he tells Norwegian daily Aftenposten.

He claims that after something has happened, the actual events cannot compare with the expectations you had before it actually happened.

What about old?
To hear about something new that you may be able to try soon is in some ways a good thing. In other ways it is a problem as you are growing accustomized into always having something new to look forward to, thus never being satisfied with what you already have.

Merely being new is however no longer an asset in its own right. New and different, preferrably also groundbreaking, is the current ideal in order to lift eyebrows of listeners or bypassers.

Where does this leave old? Old is no longer synonymous with tested and proven and even the expression "good old" now seem to be used more often than not jokingly. Old has turned into a disadvantage, also when a solution, service or product works perfectly well. One of those "old" things is broadcasting. Broadcasting is the technology that enables everyone - without limit - in a coverage area to receive the same radio or TV signal. Some media experts do claim that broadcasting is out of date and needs to be replaced by the Internet. There are many reasons why this is wrong, capacity restrictions, gate keepers, net neutrality issues, breach of civil rights through data retention, mobile coverage and crisis communication are just some of them. Broadcasting is old, but is works perfectly to do what it is supposed to do. Just like wheeels, boats, tables and chairs.

Broadcasting is also near an all time high, having risen the last few years. People are watching more broadcasted television content and listening more to live radio than before. In Norway the figure is 182 minutes per day for television, 101 minutes for radio.

New is not necessarily bad. To strive for new only for the sake of new is.