Updated: November 16, 2019
First, if you think or even vaguely suspect this article has somehow anything to do with any sort of West Coast soap opera melodrama about boring political affiliations, you're reading the wrong article, so please, click the close button on the browser tab and go back to your Interneting. This article is an attempt to understand, or rather, enlighten you, into what makes one receptive or resistant to change. Mostly when it comes to technology.
The world is currently undergoing several social, cultural and technological mini-upheavals, at a faster pace than in the past. This gives us a unique privilege to live through them, and even observe them, through our own personal experience. Typically, changes of this nature used to take generations, so people would often equate them with the natural cycle of human life, and thus, they were also easier to miss, ignore and adapt to. Now, the speed makes everything more interesting. Let's commence.
Conservative, the definition thereof
Of course, the best way to define the term is to look at Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, one of the finest literary masterpieces of all times. Inside, the word conservative read as follows:
CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
In effect, it comes down to change. There's some kind of status quo, and it needs replacing - for whatever reason. There will always be people receptive to the change, or even aggressively pushing for it and advocating it, there will be those who simply don't care or don't comprehend the importance or value of the change, and then, there will be those who will resist it. One might be inclined to define a conservative as someone in the last category. But then, without knowing what the change is, the definition is actually meaningless.
Embrace the change? How about a sleeper hold?
Let's talk technology. It's much easier to quantify and discuss than social issues, because social issues have an almost religious aura, which means no reasonable, sane debate is possible - in fact, it is a well known lemma that no one has ever managed to convince anyone else to accept their (opposing) viewpoint in an argument. Technology makes for an almost palpable topic, and it's everywhere, so examples are a-plenty.
Indeed, almost daily, I get to read tech news about this and that invention or product, a new piece of software, a new methodology, freshly minted gadgets and devices - and then you get all the associated mandatory justification spiels explaining why these new wonders are so valuable and important. Of course, in pretty much every single case, my blood pressure climbs faster than Sir Edmund Hillary, provoked by the noncommittal, happy-go-lucky-me use of kitschy, disingenuous language in these articles, with mayonnaise-like levels of consistency and integrity.
And then I ask myself, am I being a conservative?
Bullshit detector to 9000
Humans are resistant to change. It's a natural thing. Back before smartphones and modern medicine, changes were typically lethal. Not enough rain or too much hail, oops, your tribe gets to starve. New herb? Poisonous. A stranger wanders into your village? Welcome plague! See that furry little rodent, more plague!
Now though, our modern life - in some parts of the world that is, let's call it the first world AKA soft countries where existential threats are no more and have been replaced with crybaby nonsense - allows us far more leeway when it comes to new experiences, new contacts. We can afford, time, money and resources, to examine, test and try change, without the fear of perishing. The realm of adventure used to be reserved to rare samples of society (explorers like Hillary and friends), who braved extraordinary chances so they would make discovery and take us outside our established, safe habitats, but now anyone and everyone can be an explorer. This is good, because it improves our chances as a species. But that does not mean all and any change is good. Far from it.
We've advanced from children working in coal mines to idiots livestreaming themselves eating gel detergents, but the brain structure and survival instincts haven't really changed - that's just Darwin helping us with some special cases. The resistance to change remains. And of course, it all goes back to the nature of the beast, the nature of change.
Some people might indeed be conservative. But some people might actually have excellent survival instincts, and theirs fire off like klaxon when faced with stupidity, inefficiency and hypes.
Examples, examples, mon capitaine!
Here we go. The best one that I can think of - the transition from cars with internal combustion engines (ICE) to electric cars. This is something that is happening, and without any major disruptions, will probably continue for the next two or three decades. There's high probability that sometime around 2050, there will be more electric vehicles on the road than classic diesels or petrols. That's a significant and relatively fast change, although to be fair, transition from horse to car, from radio to television and from piston to jet aviation also took similarly long, and faced similar obstacles that we're seeing today.
If we put aside the religious-like environmental drama, let's examine the current status quo from the FUNCTIONAL perspective. ICE cars have reasonable efficiency (we had 100 years to improve the tech), engine life of about 300,000 km, typical driving range of about 700 km on a single tank of fuel, and refueling cycle that takes just five minutes or so. Electric cars today comes with variable efficiency (depending how the electricity is produced, wait for it), unknown and/or untested longevity, a range that is usually less than 300 km in most cases, and a recharging cycle that takes about 40 minutes in the best of cases, often much longer than that.
So if your goal is to go from A to B, then today, the new technology - the change - offers you fewer degrees of freedom. Of course, since technological merits aren't there, then you'll have the "green" argument - but this is only applicable if the energy source is clean (i.e. hydro or nuclear), which it isn't in most cases.
However, the personal element is the least important one, whatever you believe in. Replacing cars of one nature with cars of another DOES NOT SOLVE THE INFRASTRUCTURE PROBLEM. If you could swap every single ICE car with an electric one, it would not change the traffic equation one bit. You'd still have clueless idiots clogging the roads with their dangerous, inefficient driving, regardless of what powertrain they have. Our cities are not designed for modern levels of traffic in any way, shape or form, so the change in this case does not help at all.
Electric vehicles will probably start making more sense once driving becomes more autonomous, but again, such a change will not alter the current reality without a complete overhaul of urban infrastructures, a change that will take generations and will be invisible to most of us in our lifetimes.
Then there's the element of higher function ...
Some people actually like driving. They enjoy the engine sound, the driving dynamics, the speed, all that. But they are, of course, a tiny, tiny minority. Most people don't care what they drive as long as it lugs them around cheaply. For them, the change of the underlying technology will be transparent, and they won't care one way or another. But there will be those who might find the change disruptive in that it removes an element of higher function - enjoyment - from the equation.
This is true in almost every aspect of life - fishing, golfing, painting, music. You still have people who listen to vinyl, not because it reminds them of "good ole days" or some nostalgic nonsense like that, but simply because they enjoy what the technology offers. Similarly, you have those who listen to radio, those who prefer MP3 files to streaming, those who eat artisan breads, those who buy 1,000-dollar running shoes, and those enjoy horseback riding. Technology changes, but the human mind doesn't. And the mind needs more than the basics.
Which brings me to a physical definition of conservatism
We often get too hung up on emotions, and that blurs our ability to judge change objectively. This is why you can end up with the label conservative, without understanding either the change or the motivation for resisting it. But if you break it down to a much simpler form - the conservation of energy - then it makes perfect sense.
Life is all about improving chances for survival. If you save energy (in a resource-limited environment), you improve your chances of survival. Simple. If you find a better, more energy-efficient way of doing something, you make a positive change. And vice versa.
So when something comes your way - a new technology if you will, then you ask yourself:
- Do you resist or reject the change outright, without thinking?
- Do you embrace the change outright, without thinking (the novelty factor is enough)?
- Do you evaluate the change on the basis of efficiency?
If you do the first, then yes, you are conservative. If you do the second thing, you're just an impressionable git. But if you do the last thing, then you probably have an IQ that somehow miraculously, precariously inches into the three-digit realm.
MOAR examples, examples, mon capitaine!
Here's one: touch on the desktop. That's my favorite. Of course, I was right, as always, but it sure provided a lot of merriment and anger over the years. Simple efficiency. How fast you do things, and how much energy you need to invest to gain a result. While tactile operations are sensible for simple inputs and 3D work, they make no sense for high-precision work and 2D stuff.
Music streaming; you get portability, with complimentary DRM. But what if the Internet is down? VR sets, oh shiver me timbers. You can enjoy vomit-inducing levels of DOOM2 graphics at just one thousand times the price of the original game! Jackless phones with unswappable batteries: how does this make my life better? Tabs on top: am I richer now? Cloud: is my Internet faster now?
Let's not forget the so-called modern collaboration tools. They all look the same - faded "earthy" colors that are supposed to resonate to our inner ecofriendly whatnot, cartoon-like graphics that are supposed to show us how life is simple and carefree, and integration with other tools, so you keep all your stuff in one place. And yet, none of these applications are in any way superior to the standard email, or sharing via attachments, because at the end of the day, this is something that works even in 1993 browsers, anyone can do it, they don't need to learn or support 50 different tools and convince their friends to use these tools. To say nothing of efficiency. There isn't a single modern application that can make idiots faster or more productive.
Non-folder email. Another useless fad. Another for-machines tech dropped onto users under the guise of new and shiny. In fact, I have yet to find one concrete example of someone using the "modern" software whereby their productivity exceeds the so-called old ways.
The problem is, there's sooooooo much crap out there today, and it's accessible because the Webz, so you can have the luxury of rejecting all of them in a systematic, logical fashion. That doesn't make you a conservative, merely someone who doesn't measure quality by the smelly pound.
The other side of the coin
Now, it's not just how you perceive yourself, it's also how others perceive you. Since most people are insufficiently intelligent, they will respond violently to any rejection of their beliefs and sheep-mentality creeds. If you say or do something that challenges their position, they will label you with the most convenient buzzword they have in their arsenal, anything to reduce their sense of vulnerability.
This, too, is conservatism, but one that I like to term second-order conservatism: It is rejection of objection to change. Indeed, examples in the tech industry are aplenty. People like being part of a herd, so when something new and hypy comes around, and the social media lights up, it's almost expected from the drones to join the hive in their collective acceptance of new trends.
Everything we mentioned above. If you oppose touch on the desktop, then those who like this thing will consider you a conservative. If you oppose VR sets for some reason, then the same. And so on. The important element here is that conclusions are made without critical thinking. That might be simple stupidity, but it might also be conservatism. Or both.
Now, here's a test for you - if you actually bothered reading this far:
When I mentioned ICE cars vs electric cars, did you form an impression that I'm opposed to electric cars, ergo conservative in this regard? If you did, congratulations! You just failed the second-order test of conservatism!
Nope, I'm not opposed to electric cars. I like them, for other reasons, and they have merit, for other reasons, and just to be clear, the "green" thing isn't one of them at all, the same way they have many disadvantages nowadays. I have enough technical acumen to know what is possible, and electric cars do have (some) long-term value. However, enough to replace the current fleet of oil burners? I don't have sufficient data to answer that question. But they could eventually be great fun.
Now, combine the religious-like level of conviction with reading comprehension issues, and debate becomes futile. In fact, I'm writing this article entirely for my own amusement (and maybe yours), because I know that it won't change anything. Not a single person will lean back, blink and re-think their position. Because we have the luxury of playing stupid drama games now that we're cozy and safe and modern.
It's all very simple. Biological survival. Bullshit reduces it, good stuff enhances it. So your resistance to change is your evolutionary right. And if you actually stop to think about what changes mean to you and how they impact your life, congratulations, you're doing something 99% of people can't - you're using your brain!
I also mentioned ignorance. Most people don't have the ability to care. Now, you could also have apathy. You do understand all the big words and whatnot, but you equally don't care. That puts you neither here nor there, which is perfectly fine. Just remember that people will almost always try to bundle you into a box they are comfortable with, so it's going to be a binary choice, black or white, for or against. Whatever suits their convictions the best.
And that brings us to the end of this article, and you got the answer you're seeking. Paradoxically, if you actually bothered reading, you already know the answer. Because this article is sort of designed to provoke and challenge your views, and if you can't stomach that, then you're not reading this sentence. Very simple. Thus endeth the rant.
P.S. The ostrich and the Geiger counter images are in public domain.