On the self-defeating snobbery of early adopters

One thing I’ve never understood is the snobbery that comes from self-styled early adopters. They go on and on about how cool something is until they convince others that they’re right. Then others start talking about it, and the early adopters think it’s not cool anymore. Nothing about the product/service necessarily changes, but somehow, in the early adopter’s mind, the thrill is gone.

They deny themselves the pleasure they used to experience merely because others can relate to the experience.

You see this all the time with restaurants, bands, fashion, and tech. People love to “discover” something new. That’s normal; we all like pleasant surprises. But why does a thing lose value just because other people value it as well?

I’ll use an imaginary restaurant to illustrate my point.

Let’s say you randomly step into a little barbecue shack that’s new to you. The food is out of this world. You talk to the owner and he tells you how he grew up eating barbecue this way, and he opened his restaurant because he wanted a place where people could get simple, fresh, more traditional cuisine at a reasonable price. He built his own pit and uses his own recipes.

What do you do?

You inevitably rave to your friends about the great little barbecue joint you discovered. You take them to see for themselves that very weekend. Your friends agree that this is how authentic barbecue should taste, and they tell all of their friends. As word spreads, the place gets packed with new customers. The owner desperately needs to expand or open another location to keep from alienating his loyal customers who aren’t accustomed to waiting for a table.

Customers from nearby towns beg the owner to open a second restaurant in their area so they don’t have to travel so far to eat his amazing food. The owner concedes and opens a second place in the busiest part of town. The people who have been traveling 45 minutes each way to eat his barbecue now have a location just down the street. They tell all of their friends in the area, who in turn tell all of their friends. Eventually, the new location is even more packed than the original one.

New customers from other towns beg the owner to open more restaurants in their respective areas. He saves his profits from the first two restaurants and opens three more locations in busy geographic centers. He takes care to build identical barbecue pits in each restaurant. The taste of the food never falters, and word continues to spread about the restaurant’s amazing quality and dollar value. Business is good.

Over the next two years, the owner opens five more locations in the biggest cities across the state. Word of the authenticity and simplicity of his food spreads throughout the region. Media outlets run stories on the success of the restaurant and the originality of the food.

Word is officially out. Tourists make a point to visit one of the locations whenever they’re in town.

But the early adopters refuse to go to the restaurant anymore. When their friends and family come into town and ask about “that barbecue place I’ve heard so much about,” the early adopters roll their eyes.

“Oh that place,” they sigh. “You wouldn’t like it. It’s a chain restaurant.”

The visitors nod in agreement and reply, “I see. Can you to take us somewhere local instead.”

In what world does this make sense? Why is success frowned upon by these people? If something is great, and nothing comes along that’s better, why does popularity erode the thing’s perceived value in their minds?

I understand that some consumers define themselves by their early adoption or “lighthouse” status. They loathe being perceived as followers, and will avoid the things they used to praise merely to stand out from the crowd. But quality is quality, right? Isn’t being able to say “I’ve been coming here since this place was just a shack” currency enough?

These kinds of people let the actions of the herd dictate what they can and can’t do. The herd is searching for quality. The snobs are searching for an identity. They’re reflexive contrarians, and their opinions and actions are determined by the same herd that they so despise. As such, they’re ruled by the actions of the herd.

Doesn’t that make them the biggest followers of all? And self-defeating followers at that?

On the self-defeating snobbery of early adopters
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