The subtitle of New is “Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change,” and I was interested; I think I visualized a work of social commentary, on our society’s driving need and demand for bigger and “better”, for “progress” for its own sake. That’s not what Winifred Gallagher has given us, though.
Instead, this is a work of anthropology and psychology, observing the variety of personality types and behaviors present in our human race. She refers to neophobes, neophiles, and neophiliacs. The change-fearing first category, and the adventure-seeking third, make up some 20-30% of our population; the majority of us represent a more moderate reaction to novelty. As a population, this makes us well-suited to survival and evolution and, in fact, explains (says Gallagher) why Homo sapiens survived when our brethren did not: the thrill-seekers pushed us to new and better solutions to the problems of survival, the anxious ones kept us safe, and the majority kept us wisely moving towards new opportunities with intelligent caution.
This phenomenon is explored in our history, in psychological studies, in case studies, in lab studies with other species (those poor mice with the cocaine addictions! very sad), and finally in a look at the “Old Order” (Amish and Mennonite communities) in comparison to the smart-iProduct-tech-gadget-addicted majority population of… where, exactly? It’s my impression that Gallagher is looking at the US or Western world here, but I still somehow feel that she’s overestimated the saturation of smartphones in today’s world. Even in the US I know there are still plenty of us without them (!) and if we’re going world-wide, her supposition gets even more ridiculous. (As an aside, her asseration that “whether you’re rich or poor, black or white, male or female, young or old, expert or beginner, the answer to your question is as close as the nearest computer – a truly democratizing force that’s apparent in any public library,” while true, seems to disregard the fact that those computers are not very nearby to a huge majority of the world’s population, like most of the poor and disproportionately many of the black population; and the libraries are being shut down at alarming rates, so yes, while it’s a “democratizing” force, it’s also not a very forceful force.)
And while the basic idea – that we are either neophobes, neophiles, or neophiliacs, in approximately a 20/60/20 proportion – was an interesting one, I got that from the first six pages. Literally. The rest of the book just bored me, and offered nothing (ha) New. And then there were sentences like this one (this quotation comes from my advanced reader’s copy and is therefore subject to change):
Finally, to the creative personality’s recipe of good intelligence, robust neophilia, self-directedness, and the toughness that he describes as a low level of “harm avoidance,” C. Robert Cloninger, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Washington University in Saint Louis who developed the highly regarded Temperament and Character Inventory personality model, would add a big dollop of “reward dependence,” or desire for approval.
And I ask you, are you not bored and thrown off by such a sentence structure? With such a list of such concepts, and such a bit fat clause in the middle, and such jargon? Sigh.
I did not finish New, but I almost did; I read about half the book and then flipped and skimmed the rest pretty thoroughly, so I feel confident in my conclusion that this book has rather little to say but rather many words to say it with. Not for me.
I was sent a copy of this book for review.