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The Upgrade Myth

We are encouraged to believe that the newest technology is also the best. But, at a time when functionality and marketability are valued more highly than simplicity and durability, adopting the newest technology can be a recipe for frustration and misery.

NEW YORK – From the pocket calculator to the Prius, I’ve always been what they call an “early adopter.” I was a technology enthusiast, a lover of progress, eager to move into the future. No more. With the wisdom of age, I now concede the maxim of the occasional software engineer: motion is not progress.

Any engineering process involves a series of compromises between opposing, even warring, forces: performance versus efficiency, quality versus convenience, functionality versus simplicity, cost versus everything. What decides the outcome? The marketing department. An interesting, if pointless, diversion is to imagine how our world would be different if creators had not surrendered to advertisers.

Marketers tell us that endless iterations of word-processing software or smartphone apps are taking us forward, by “adding new features” and “improving the user experience.” More often than not, each new update and upgrade represents little improvement over the last.

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