Existential Psychology

Novelty and Antifragility

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Our obsession with novelty, exacerbated by our consumer culture where only the latest versions seem good enough, makes us believe that the new is superior to the old. We don’t often take a step back to realize that trading in the new for the old is a continuous cycle and what once seemed exciting is usually quickly relegated to the garbage heap to be replaced by something else.

Nicholas Taleb has the interesting insight that the quality of something should not be judged by how new it is, because fads of all kinds come and go, but instead by how old it is. If an idea, product, or way of life has stood the test of time and is still around after many years, then chances are it will be around in the future too, whereas the ‘breakthroughs’ and newest trends may capture the public’s imagination for a time but always fade into obscurity.

You can use these ideas in the microcosm of your own life. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s outdated, and in fact its longevity is likely proof of its worth. You can look back on projects you’ve done, any professional work that resulted in a tangible product, for example, and even if you feel you’ve expanded far beyond what your capabilities were then, if people are still getting something out of them then the only thing that has changed is your perception of your work, not the work itself.

In relationships, especially romantic ones, we are also sometimes fooled into believing new means better, and countless people leave really solid relationships for this reason. They are are drawn in by someone new, and this person seems far superior to the  partner they now know so well. But of course then the exhilarating feelings of wear off and people come to see they gave up something great only because they were bored with it. The proper attitude towards novelty using the idea of antifragility is summed up nicely in an old children’s song. “Make new friends, but keep the old ones, one is silver and the other is gold.”