Let’s draw a picture.
It is the picture of a man purchasing a car from a car salesman. Buying a car is not easy, and the customer must decide between two types of cars: Car A and Car B.
Car A is the experimental model with copious amenities–it has USB ports, bluetooth technology, and it’s own app store. Car B is the simplistic model with no extravagant features–it comes only with necessities.
Both cars will get him where he needs to go, but Car A is obviously built for the modern era, whereas Car B emulates the long-standing tradition of cars that predate it.
The customer knows that Car A, and it’s promise of total integration, will impress his friends; however, he also knows that Car B, though lacking in flashy features, is less complicated and likely more reliable.
For this reason, Car A comes at a premium–a premium for technology which may very well become obsolete during the car’s lifespan. What’s to say that USB ports and app stores won’t be replaced by some new technology next year? Car B seems old fashioned; it’s been stripped down to only the technology deemed necessary.
The customer would love the latest and greatest, but its promise comes laced with uncertainty. When the option of the old standby exists, the uncertainty is amplified, and it becomes harder to make a choice.
Ideas, just like car models, are constantly evolving, and we’re faced with the same clash of old and the new as the customer shopping for a car.
New and Old
What’s ‘new’ is often attractive, captivating, and incredibly relevant to the times. It’s easier than ever to publish content, which means it’s easier than ever to share ideas–generally a benefit to society. But, a potential downfall of this is the increased difficulty in valuing the new and the old.
Many of the ideas, products, and media that we encounter fall into one of two broad categories:
- Hyper-relevant: ideas incredibly important in the modern context. Social media. Diets. Trends. The new.
- Tried-and-true: ideas from a previous era that maintain their relevance in the modern context. Stoicism. Dale Carnegie. Lasting. The old.
Both categories are scattered, and often intertwined, throughout our world.
How are we to know when it is best to engage with ideas of the hyper-relevant nature, the new, and when to favor the tried-and-true variety, the old.
Ideally, we would consume information built on a foundation of the tried-and-true, and presented in a hyper-relevant way.
Ryan Holiday does this well in The Obstacle is the Way. Stoic teachings that have lasted for hundreds of years are presented with examples and applications relevant in our modern era. The old is blended with the new, and we’re left with an enduring idea.
Unfortunately, our intake is rarely comprised of this ideal blend, and we’re often left with this question: this very moment, is the old or the new more valuable to me?
The Difficulty of Valuation
The age of an idea is not particularly important; it really only acts as a measuring stick to see if an idea holds water.
The words of any book still standing long after publication are likely to have some merit. If a book is still held in high regard 75 years after its initial release, it is likely more than just a fad. Their ideas have stood the test of time and are thus tried-and-true.
The same measuring stick provides little indication of worth for a recently published book. It’s difficult to know how a book’s ideas will hold up over time when it’s only been available for a year. New books are written to address new phenomenons and introduce new ideas or perspectives; their content is often hyper-relevant to our modern times.
This makes intuitive sense; we wouldn’t want all of our books to address old phenomenons and ideas. If social media blows up, people want to know about how to master it, and people will write and buy books about the topic. A book about Instagram or Facebook might be incredibly valuable right now, but in five years the two platforms may be completely different, or even non-existent.
How To Approach The Feud
Acknowledging this volatility, should I focus on the intake of new, hyper-relevant information or old, tried-and-true information?
As with most, this is a question which does not have a definite answer. The value of the question arises from the thought it prompts, rather than the answer it may lead to.
Think of a small business owner who wants to learn about marketing. Should they target their efforts towards social media marketing skills, or should they aim to study more traditional marketing thought? Social media’s power is unparalleled right now, but this could change in the next few years.
A hyper-relevant book might lead to incredible returns with relative ease during the social media boom, but the skills might not directly transfer over to future platforms. A tried-and-true book might lack modern context and application might seem more difficult initially, but the foundation might allow for easier transitions to future platforms.
Both types of ideas, hyper-relevant and tried-and-true, are important; neither should be wholly neglected. Tried-and-true ideas are more versatile and can be applied more creatively. Hyper-relevant ideas are more precise and help in the execution of a more specific problem. Both are useful components of a toolbox, and having an understanding of them will improve how effective you are in using them.