Jan 02 2010

Putting the “New” in New Year!

John Updike once said, “Americans have been conditioned to respect newness whatever it costs them”.  I think he’s right – after all, newness is a part of our heritage.  For one, we live in what was referred to by Christopher Columbus as “The New World”  We’ve got several states and cities given names that are a combination of the word  “new” with names brought by the pilgrims  from the “Old World”.  New Jersey, New Hampshire, and New York are on the “new” list of states.  The cities list includes New Orleans, New Haven and New Brunswick.  Yes we do seem to be attracted to all things new.

Our music is saturated with references to newness.  We all remember the big Disney hit, A Whole New World.  And can you imagine even for a minute that James Brown would have sung, Poppa’s Got A Slightly Used BagYou Make Me Feel Brand New, Brand New Day, New Kid On The Block….the list goes on and on.  In fact there is an entire genre of music known as “New Wave”.  Of course classical composers have jumped on this bandwagon too.  Dvorak penned the New World Symphony and he wasn’t even American..go figure!

Our politics (The New Deal), our literature (Brave New World), our advertising (“new & improved!”), and our vernacular speech (“turning over a new leaf”) all attest to our love of new. We compliment others when we say, “it’s the new you!” And when someone has been ill we give encouragement by telling them that in no time they’ll be “good as new”.

Nothing displays our love of new more demonstrably than the celebration of New Year’s Day.  We mark it as a fresh start, an annual genesis, a time to initiate personal improvement.  We make New Years resolutions, we begin a new calendar year.  It’s “new” at it’s best.

Politicians understand Americans and their love of “new”, and they use it as a very effectively campaign tool.  With each election cycle and with debate on major issues like health care, taxes, banking, finance, the military, etc, we are told new is good and old is bad.  Political candidates who successfully market themselves as a part of “new” and completely disassociate with “old” usually stand a pretty good chance of being elected, especially if “old” is unpopular.

In many instances we embrace “new” and equate it with “better” even though most of us have had experiences with new versions of something that does little more than make us long for the old version (software!).  And who hasn’t picked up a familiar food product in new packaging to note that there is now less of the product inside the package, but it costs more!

But “new” is NOT always “better”.  And we need to learn that lesson once and for all. I think John Updike is right.  However, this time the price tag on “new” is costing us more than we or our children can ever afford to pay.