Robert Tamayo

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The Cult of New: Smoke Signals

New isn't always better. The pursuit of novelty for novelty's sake is often outright bad. Instead, the pursuit should be for excellence.  

Why Emphasize "New"?


Pay attention to when "new" is used instead of "better". The assumption is that "new" things are also better. If the word "better" is not used as the descriptor of a new product, it should beg the question of why not. The reason something is called "new" instead of "better" is because it is not better -- it is simply newer.

There are often "improvements" lumped into an update of a product. Do these improvements actually make the product better, or do they just make the product "new"? Products are usually designed to do a few key things. If the improvements are not related to the primary goals of the product, then it is not better for all the additions.

"New" Has Taken Over Because "Better" Hardly Exists Any Longer


Imagine getting a new car every year for the rest of your life, but the same year/model. Every year, you get a brand new 2021 Toyota Tacoma. Technically, it's a "new" car. But the model isn't new; it gets older and older as the years go on. Now imagine getting a new Toyota Tacoma every year for the past 10 years, but the new year model for each year. You would notice small changes year over year, but your habits wouldn't change enough for the new improvements to feel truly "new" with each change in year model.

The point is that small improvements don't make things better enough to do the primary task better. That's why these products are marketed as "new" instead of as "better".

From Smoke Signals to 5G, There's Nothing New Under the Sun


People can't have conversations with each other over distances longer than what our ears are capable of hearing and our voices capable of carrying. Smoke signals solve that problem by changing the  communication medium to sight. If you can see the signal, you can receive the message, and can respond with your own. I'm sure the messages were usually one way and weren't able to reproduce the full language. But live communication at a distance greater than what our ears could hear was possible with smoke signals.

5G is the latest iteration of this concept. By now, cell phones enable everyone to have live conversations with everyone. Video chats and group chats and remote work -- all of it is related to solving the problem of long-distance live communication. While each iteration offers something "new" in the form of an improvement, it hasn't done anything "new" to the original concept of encoding the message and passing through a different medium before decoding it. Computers now do the encoding and decoding, and the microwaves now carry the data.

While 5G cell phones are an improvement over smoke signals, they are not a justified improvement over 4G. Even 4G is hardly a justified improvement over 3G, and so on.

5G is a result of the cult of new. New things are sought after because meaningful improvements can no longer be made.




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