Like a lot of people in the 1990s, Netscape opened the Web to me. I kinda became Netscape obsessed, doodling that Netscape logo on pads during daily editors meetings. But when Netscape became Communicator and faded away, the romance went out of browser software for me.
Fast-forward to roughly 2003. My friend Richard Green, who ran tech for the newsroom, called me into his office to show me the new browser he wanted to install on my computer as a test. Like everyone else in the mainstream world I'd been using Microsoft Internet Explorer (and a bunch of other MS products) for years by then. It didn't excite me like Netscape once did, but that didn't matter. Web browsing was no longer novel. It was something you did, and IE was the utilitarian tool you used to do it.
So when Richard told me Firefox was a better product, my first response wasn't "Great! A better browser might make me happier!" It was "Why is this tech-obsessed geek picking on ME?"
Yesterday I met a great guy who's new to town, and he asked me this about Twitter: "Do you think it's a fad?" And it reminded me of myself at ConvergeSouth in the fall of 2006, after watching people use Twitter in very cool and very useful ways, months and months after the tool got its big rollout at SXSW: Instead of just signing up for it, I had to contact John and Dewey and say, "So, how about after the holidays, we do an experiment with this new Twitter thing?"
Because this is what I know about myself: I may look like an "early adapter" to others, but to myself I'm still living alongside the same change-averse personality that whined about switching to Firefox. I'm used to products that disappoint me. I'm accustomed to trying new things and wondering "What's the big deal?" I'm the kind of guy who gets a good pair of running shoes once and then resents that I can't buy the same model when I wear them out.
But what's interesting in all this is how much of our reticence to try new things is attached to a fear that we'll wind up looking silly and insubstantial for having done so. It's as if the act of opening to change is a moral choice.
The change-averse side of me looks at life this way: "I do not flit. I am a man of lasting values and substance. I don't care about fashion. I care about things that work. I like old things because they are proven, because they have character." This is why I sometimes refer to myself as techno-Amish.
I love that side of myself, but I've had to educate him. Being open to change doesn't mean you blow with the winds of fashion. It means you are curious about things, because once you open up just a little, things are amazingly interesting.
So yes, I opened accounts with Plurk, and Plaxo, and Twine. At one count last year I had active accounts with more than 40 free social media and free-Web services. And while my change-averse side still thinks "Why is this tech-obsessed geek picking on ME?" I'm happy to report that I no longer judge my curious side as lacking moral fiber because of its openness to new things.
Trying new things isn't a commitment, or a statement. It's an opportunity, and the only significant cost to that opportunity is the very real likelihood that some people will laugh at and resent you.
Seems like a small price to pay for a life that just keeps on expanding.