Follow a crawling baby around and you’ll see that right from the beginning, nothing excites us more than something new and different. Our unique human brains are biologically primed to engage with and even generate novelty, from our ancestors’ first bow and arrow to the latest tablet computer. This “neophilia” has enabled us to thrive in a world of cataclysmic change, but now, we confront an unprecedented deluge of new things, from products to information, which has quadrupled in the past thirty years and shows no sign of slowing. To prevent our great strength from becoming a weakness in today’s fast-paced world, we must reconnect with neophilia’s grand evolutionary purpose: to help us learn, create, and adapt to new things that have real value and dismiss the rest as distractions. In New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change, Winifred Gallagher, acclaimed behavioral science writer and author of Rapt, takes us to the cutting-edge laboratories and ancient archeological sites where scientists explore our special affinity for novelty and change. Although no other species can rival our capacity to explore and experiment with the new, we individuals vary in how we balance the conflicting needs to avoid risk and approach rewards. Most of us are moderate “neophiles,” but some 15 percent of us are diehard “neophiliacs,” who have an innate passion for new experiences, and another 15 percent are cautious “neophobes,” who try to steer clear of them — a 1-5-1 ratio that benefits the group’s well-being. Wherever you sit on the continuum, New shows you how to use this special human gift to navigate more skillfully through our rapidly changing world by focusing on the new things that really matter.
Winifred Gallagher’s books include House Thinking, Just the Way You Are (a New York Times Notable Book), Working on God, and The Power of Place. She has written for numerous publications, such as Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. She lives in Manhattan and Dubois, Wyoming.