Snatching or shunning the latest in tech

Earliest adopter: On April 3, 2010, Andres Schobel held up two iPads as one of the first customers on the first day of sales at an Apple Store in San Francisco. Apple said it sold more than 300,000 iPads that Saturday, the day they debuted across the country.
Earliest adopter: On April 3, 2010, Andres Schobel held up two iPads as one of the first customers on the first day of sales at an Apple Store in San Francisco. Apple said it sold more than 300,000 iPads that Saturday, the day they debuted across the country.
Posted: April 20, 2011

No one was going to stop Lisa Rysinger from getting her new iPad 2.

There she was March 11, cross-legged in the roped-off line several hours before the Cherry Hill Mall Apple store would open. It was the first day the new tech delight went on sale.

"I knew this one would go quickly, and I wanted to be one of the first to have it," said Rysinger, who owns Vide, a Mullica Hill-based digital video production business, and teaches at Rowan University. "I am definitely a new adopter, and I already had a line of people who wanted my first iPad."

Although Rysinger may have ditched the original iPad (she ended up giving it to her husband) when it was only a year old, Ray Didinger is unlikely ever to slide his fingers across its touch screen. The guy barely has a cell phone.

In fact, when the longtime Philadelphia columnist and broadcaster first came two years ago to SportsNet - where everyone automatically is equipped with a cell phone - they made sure it was a celebrated event.

"The boss came out and gave it to me in a box with a bag and a ribbon and everyone got a good laugh," Didinger, 64, said. "It is still in the box in the bag."

In a world where the next big thing happens every next minute, the gap is now gaping among personal technology users: There are those like Rysinger, who must have the latest iteration immediately, and those like Didinger, who are happy to ride on the technology horse that has carried them thus far.

"Over time, as innovations become mainstream, the true innovators need to branch out to the next big thing - that's what fuels the engine of fashion," said Michael Solomon, a professor of marketing at St. Joseph's University.

Plus, committing early helps advertise to others who you are and what you value. "If you are a big fan of Apple products, standing in line on the first day is an event, like people who stand in line, say, for Springsteen tickets," said Steven Johnson, director of social media programs at Temple University's Fox School of Business.

"It shows you are a loyal fan."

At the same time, there are people who are "overwhelmed ... by gadgetry," Solomon said, "and who yearn, perhaps in vain, for the 'good old days' of surface mail, rotary phones, and true vacations where you're not accessible by text, Skype, or e-mail."

The study of such tech dichotomies goes back to 1962 and the work of Everett Rogers, a University of New Mexico professor. His Diffusion of Innovations is still the widely used standard that divides people and their willingness to try new things into five categories: Innovators, the 2.5 percent of society who are risk-takers, usually young and in what Rogers called a high social class; Early Adopters, the 13.5 percent who tend to be opinion-makers and will use gadgets or services in order to portray themselves as leaders; and Early Majority and Late Majority (both with 34 percent of the population), distinguished by their appetite and tolerance for spending the money required for big-ticket tech items.

Finally, there are the 16 percent Rogers called Laggards, who are comfortable in their ways. Case in point: Didinger.

Not only does he not use a cell phone, he also admitted on his WIP-AM talk show a few weeks ago that he didn't have an ATM card and had only one TV with cable, but he mostly just watched the one in the kitchen without it.

"To tell you the truth, I think [not having a cell phone] has made me a better writer," Didinger said. "I am never distracted, and I think people know how to get me if they really need me. No one has really ever complained about that."

Sean Duffy, an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers-Camden, said most people actually waver between whether they want to be independent or interdependent of what the rest of society is doing. In some cases we aim to be the first kid on the block, while other times, we feel more comfortable waiting to see what's cool and then jumping on the bandwagon.

And then there are people who try something, only to discover it doesn't live up to the hype.

Al Lesky, 59, who owns a court-reporting business and lives in Shamong, Burlington County, ditched his ATM card years ago after those little paper receipts failed to get recorded in his checkbook.

"As a person who hasn't reconciled my checking account ever, this led to even more complications than I was willing to withstand."

Solomon points out that "Luddites," who show little interest in what seem like tech essentials to others, may instead value different lifestyle acquisitions: the latest golf clubs, the hot new restaurant in Center City, or Justin Bieber's last release.

In fact, said Solomon, while Apple may be heavily soliciting the Early Adopters, someone else may be seeking the Laggards. "That pushback in turn creates interesting marketing opportunities for retro products such as analog watches and phone-free restaurants and resorts."

Besides, being first isn't always the best: Sometimes the Innovators and Early Adopters get burned. Within months of the original iPad's release, Apple dropped the price from around $500 to about $400. When the original iPhone came out in summer 2007, it cost $600 for an 8-gigabyte model and $500 for a 4-GB one. By September, Apple dropped the price of the more powerful model by $200 and discontinued the 4-GB, so those who bought them only months before had a nearly obsolete item.

Still, for the early-in folks, those extra few months may be worth it, said Johnson. Being robust users, they get more experience with their product immediately, meaning by the time the price goes down, they may already have gotten their money's worth.

Even two weeks after the iPad 2's debut, the hubbub around the Apple store at the Cherry Hill Mall was still palpable. No fewer than 15 clerks were answering questions about Apple products, mostly about the iPads and their accessories. Signs informed customers of limited numbers of iPads; to get one, buyers would have to be at the store at 9 a.m.

"I am the kind who stands in line for concert tickets and wants to be the first in a club or restaurant, so I guess I am like that here, too," said Martin Johnson, 28, of Philadelphia, who had just spent 20 minutes with one of those clerks.

Rysinger, 40, wanted the new generation of iPad because she is pregnant with her first child - iPad 2 has all the photo features she wants for the grandparents to keep up with the new offspring. But she wasn't going to get caught shelling out for the $59.95 iPad case.

"I can stick it in a large handbag," she said. "They may have me buying the real thing right away, but I'm no fool on the extras."

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