Newer… Not Always Better

Somehow people, especially students, don’t get it.  As the title above suggests, just because something is newer, it isn’t necessary better – even in computers.  I have yet to find a commercial graphing program in existence today that is anywhere even close to the Boeing Graph program of some 25 years ago.  And as techno-historians know, the Beta videotape system was far superior to the VHS system.

What’s interesting now, though, is that for some applications – such as viewing student voice teachers and critiquing them – VHS tapes are far superior to DVDs.  Why?  Because the tapes can be paused at any given second, or rewound to a precise point.  Commercial DVDs and equipment can’t.  When a voice professor is studying vocal dynamics, that’s important.  Having to play through sections, even at high speed, takes time and often overshoots or undershoots the point in question.  Yet my wife’s pedagogy students complain that she uses “antiquated equipment” and makes them use old-fashioned tapes instead of new hip digital disks.  What they don’t seem to understand is that “new” isn’t better if it doesn’t do what you want it to, especially when “old” technology does.

This isn’t confined to the sometimes arcane area of vocal pedagogy, but applies across our techno-society. Typewriters do a far better job of filling in forms – at least those not available on one’s own computer – than do computers. Word Seven is a much faster word processing system for text than is the current version of Word [which I do have for the other applications], and the search capabilities of fifteen-year-old WordPerfect 6.0 still exceed those of any current version of Word.  As I noted in an earlier post, a keyed ignition is far more effective at turning off a runaway engine than a new high-tech keyless engine, not to mention safer.  My “old” color ink-jet printer delivers a far cleaner and clearer image than does the new and improved laser-jet printer, even if the laser is faster. And in terms of overall medical effectiveness, in terms of all factors, there’s no solid proof that the newer NSAIDs have any more benefits and more effectiveness than does good old aspirin, and although aspirin does have a slightly higher propensity to create gastro-intestinal bleeding, it also has many other benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart attacks and colon cancer – and it’s one of the oldest drugs around. Certainly, the now-retired Concorde passenger jet was far superior to any commercial aircraft now in service in getting passengers across the ocean quickly, and more than a few pilots still claim that the retired F-14 exceeds anything now flying for total air superiority.  Photographic film still provides a better image than does comparable digital photography.

Going back to recording equipment, if you happen to have a phonograph with a working needle, you can still play vinyl and other old records nearly a century old.  You certainly can’t do that with tapes even half that old, and a single light scratch effectively destroys the usefulness of a CD.  That’s fine for entertainment products that aren’t meant to outlast the current fad, but is it acceptable for recording data or information with a longer lifespan?

So why aren’t newer products always better?  The plain fact is that superiority is often far down the list in product qualities, usually behind cost of production/operation, novelty appeal, style, ease of operation, and profitability.  Another factor is that, especially in computer and communications products, manufacturers try to cram in as many applications as possible so as to appeal to the widest possible number of consumers. The multiplicity of applications generally results in the overall degradation of the capability of all functions, but that degradation usually isn’t perceptible, or relevant, to most users.

This often results in cheaper products, but the downside is that those products often don’t suit the needs of professionals in specialized fields… and because it’s getting harder and harder to develop or produce products for users with particular needs – such as my professorial wife – those users have to make do with either improvised or older equipment… and risk being termed dinosaurs and out of date,

In the end… newer isn’t always better; it’s always only newer.

8 thoughts on “Newer… Not Always Better”

  1. Derek says:

    Just an example from my Army experience…

    We still have special operators opting to use the dated AK47 due to its reliability and rarity of jamming, as opposed to newer weapon systems.

    We also have operators who are relying too much on their new GPS systems as opposed to a map and compass who have called in fire on the wrong building because, surprise, the information from the GPS was off by about 25 meters.

    Hurray for the new.

  2. Joshua Blonski says:

    Not only are vinyls more durable, but I’ve done several side-by-side comparisons against CDs to doubters just to show them that my vinyls do indeed sound better than the same songs in digital format.

    And to comment further on Derek’s point, the Mauser action of a bolt-action rifle is still one of the best (if not the outright best) actions in existence, and its design is around 100 years old.

    Some things just don’t need to be replaced.

  3. I. A. Mitchell says:

    “Yet my wife’s pedagogy students complain that she uses “antiquated equipment” and makes them use old-fashioned tapes instead of new hip digital disks.”

    Could you possibly elaborate a bit more on this?

    As someone who no longer owns a VCR, I’d be tempted to complain too if I were required to purchase any new equipment…unless I felt the VCR would continue to serve me throughout my enrollment or voice career. Now, if the university library has such equipment for loan or use, that would be a different situation.

    1. The only thing the students were required to purchase were two small VCR cassettes to be used in the camera my wife provided for them with which they recorded their lessons. The tapes were theirs to keep, dispose of, or transfer to any other media once the class was over.

      1. I. A. Mitchell says:

        Ah well, I can’t see the problem in that, then. Thanks for the elaboration.

  4. Sorwen says:

    You basically say it, but like so many other things it is about flash over substance. It is kind of funny that when I was a kid I would groan when my grandparents talked about how some things were better when they were younger. To look now at when I was younger and look at the new I understand what they were talking about. The problem isn’t that they couldn’t have made the new better, but so much time and money is spent on the flash rather than the quality. The most every day example of this is many web sites. So many spend so much time making everything flash and sparkle that they make in next to impossible to find the information you are use to getting. If I can’t find what I’m looking for what is the point of it looking pretty?

    Medicine to me really stems from a totally different mentality than flash, but falls firmly in your “new” category. In medicine it seem to stem from the belief that anything of synthetic manufacture is going to be better. The more synthetic the better it is. Almost a belief that if it occurs in nature it can’t be good. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think that everything natural is always better nor that because it was made in a lab it is bad. Just that better is better no matter its origin or age. It is very much the case of “It must be better because it is new”. Aspirin vs new NSAIDs is a good example because for it’s possible downsides as you mention reduced heart risk is a big plus while many of the new ones have the slight risk of actually raising the chance of heart attack. The risk is minimal if taking as directed, but it is there and something that should be taken into account. How many other products are there that the side effects are almost as bad as what they help prevent. Which brings up one other thing in that while not ever ailment can be cured to many medications simply are prevention over cure. Because there is money in prevention and no so much in curing.

    Oops, kind of got off on a little tangent there.

  5. Amy says:

    You basically say it, but like so many other things it is about flash over substance. It is kind of funny that when I was a kid I would groan when my grandparents talked about how some things were better when they were younger. To look now at when I was younger and look at the new I understand what they were talking about. The problem isn’t that they couldn’t have made the new better, but so much time and money is spent on the flash rather than the quality. The most every day example of this is many web sites. So many spend so much time making everything flash and sparkle that they make in next to impossible to find the information you are use to getting. If I can’t find what I’m looking for what is the point of it looking pretty?

    Medicine to me really stems from a totally different mentality than flash, but falls firmly in your “new” category. In medicine it seem to stem from the belief that anything of synthetic manufacture is going to be better. The more synthetic the better it is. Almost a belief that if it occurs in nature it can’t be good. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think that everything natural is always better nor that because it was made in a lab it is bad. Just that better is better no matter its origin or age. It is very much the case of “It must be better because it is new”. Aspirin vs new NSAIDs is a good example because for it’s possible downsides as you mention reduced heart risk is a big plus while many of the new ones have the slight risk of actually raising the chance of heart attack. The risk is minimal if taking as directed, but it is there and something that should be taken into account. How many other products are there that the side effects are almost as bad as what they help prevent. Which brings up one other thing in that while not ever ailment can be cured to many medications simply are prevention over cure. Because there is money in prevention and no so much in curing.

    Oops, kind of got off on a little tangent there.

  6. Pretty insightful post. Never thought that it was this simple after all. I had spent a good deal of my time looking for someone to explain this subject clearly and you’re the only one that ever did that. Kudos to you! Keep it up

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