- Just because something is new, doesn't mean that it's better. Many "new" innovations are actually worse than existing models.
- Due to the constant need to make a profit, many industries are engaged in a constant cycle of creating, recycling, and re-selling information in order to stay profitable. This process is not necessarily beneficial to the consumer.
- In order to survive and sort the good info from the bad, there are no easy solutions, and newness (or lack thereof) is not a good metric for quality.
We live in a world where everything is new.
Smartphones have a use-value of only a couple years. We see the latest hit movie and then go see the next one in a few weeks or months. Social media feeds provide us with a constantly shifting source of new information. Clothes and fashion are constantly evolving. The news cycle is now 24 hours, and the next big story can hit in the middle of the night.
There’s a related concept that I love to hate, called continuous obsolescence. Basically, it means that we need to keep changing in order to stay the same. For a news outlet whose job it is to provide you with a constant stream of information, there’s no end. There’s no “one piece of information” after which you know everything about the world. There’s just a constant, endless hunt for more - and that continuous search for more info has to be maintained, or else things quickly fall apart. “New” has a very short shelf life, and is constantly being replaced by newer stuff in an endless cycle that has to keep moving in order to stay the same.
The same thing happens with many industries whose needs revolve around entertainment and the satisfaction of customers. McDonald’s is constantly inventing new menu items, television is constantly pumping out new shows, and the fitness industry is constantly making up “the next big thing”. These industries need to provide us with a constant and steady stream of that “new” just to keep our interest, and to keep our wallets open and the money flowing.
Imagine how terrible it would be for these industries if there was just one cheap resource you could spend money on once, and then you would never need to buy it again. Imagine just buying one exercise program for $5 and being set for life. Everyone would buy it, no one would buy anything else, and the fitness industry would probably fall apart. Of course, things don't work like that.
The problem is, often times, we don’t need these new things. Does it matter whether you see one great movie a year, or ten? Do we constantly need new cars with marginally better features, when we could probably get by much longer on older models? This becomes an ever faster treadmill, where you need to run faster and faster just to prevent yourself from falling off, violently. I don’t think this says good things for our future, in a general sense.
With certain industries, this cycle becomes actively toxic when there's no quality "new" information to be had.
In the realm of medicine, for example, the desire for “new”ness has led to the disbelief in mainstream science, the propagation of “alternative” medicine which is more actively harmful than it is helpful. Here’s a graph of cancer survival rates on standard vs alternative medicine. Anti-vaccine activists have caused the resurgence of once-conquered diseases. Alternative medicine, in this instance, is actively more harmful than standard care, yet people buy into it because they like the new and they want to reject the old.
The same thing happens in the fitness industry. In a general sense, exercise science has shown us a lot of the right ways to succeed over time - eat well, sleep well, train hard and frequently using a handful of major lifts and movement patterns, train specifically for your goals, and use motivational strategies and the support of others to keep you going. While research is ongoing and we certainly have a lot more to learn about the human body, it’s also highly unlikely that we will “suddenly” uncover new data which will overturn the existing and growing body of evidence.
But because the public’s collective memory is short and they’re always looking for the next big thing, there will always be another unscrupulous hack looking to cash in on people’s general ignorance and desire. There’s always “one trick your trainer doesn’t want you to know”, even if it’s objectively just garbage. The industry is constantly engaged in a process of making up more and more bullshit just because they can sell new, even if it's not good. "There's a sucker born every minute."
I can't tell you how many crappy articles there are out there that are something along the lines of "check out this hot new exercise!" and then it's just some crappy compound of multiple existing movements that's actively less useful than any of the individual movements alone. For example, this absurdity I saw just this week:
As always, I recommend the precautionary principle, with basically everything - be careful of new information. Do your research to the best of your ability, and double check information. Don’t just assume that things are true because someone said them, even if that person is someone you trust. Misinformation is everywhere. Good information is much harder to find than bad information, and takes a lot more time and effort to process. Stick with the basics more often than not.
At the same time, I want to push back on the opposing idea that only what’s stood the test of time is what’s good. Shakespeare is great, but his plays don’t have much to do with my life. That said, the lessons that we can derive from Shakespeare about human nature are eternal - although the same can be said about many examples of good writing. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s good - in many cases, crappy misinformation recycles itself every decade or two, and what’s old is new again. Very often, new information is just crappy and disproven old information, forgotten, repackaged, recycled, and sold anew.
Figuring out the good from the bad is a long, difficult process. I’m here for that process, and I want to thank you for being along for the ride.
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- Do You Really Understand Science?
- Why Science Doesn't Prove Much Of Anything: Understanding Falsification
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