If you've ever been to a very fancy/expensive hotel, you often have to pay for wifi, and the wifi is very slow. Compare this to a cheap road-side motel where it's included and fast. There are a few reasons this happens, but one of them might be that the fancier hotel bought in to the wifi infrastructure earlier, which means they have more expensive/older/less performant equipment.

Another example could be railways or public transportation: the areas that first invested in public transportation have aging infrastructure that is lacking in the new technological advances that late-comers to public transportation got to take advantage of. And sometimes the existence of the older transit options prevents progress (like drivers being resistant to computerization, making a railway/transit system less on-time or not able to make use of automated systems) -- or that the actual railways themselves are not physically compatible with new technology, and a region is unwilling to do a wholesale replacement.

My mind is thinking this is an 'early adopter paradox', and that I might have come across papers studying this, but I can't think of what the word or phrase or name for this would be.

  • Tax laws complicate the depreciation allowance for capitalized equipment expenses. Replacement of equipment would be expensive. Taking a loss on the existing infrastructure could be a significant business issue.
    – Stan
    Aug 12, 2016 at 22:50
  • Betamax. But it would probably require too much explanation.
    – Maverick
    Aug 13, 2016 at 2:45
  • There is the term "bleeding edge", to refer to early adoption.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 11, 2018 at 3:39

3 Answers 3


The word "leapfrogging" jumps to mind, with the canonical example of Africa having a much more well developed cell phone network as a consequence of having skipped the land-line telecommunications network development stage, providing a greater marginal benefit to adopting the cellular technology.

I don't think that's what's happening with hotel wifi, though - I think that's more of a different market where fancy hotels have less incentive to provide fast wifi and have less price-sensitive customers than those roadside motels. That why question is off topic for EL&U.SE, though.

For the transit example, I'd use leapfrogging or lock-in (from Lawrence's answer) depending on if I'm focusing on the area ("leapfrogging") or a particular company ("lock-in"), and also depending on what I wanted for the grammatical subject, which may shift a sentence's focus. (The early adopter is leapfrogged by the later adopter. The early adopter is not the one doing the leapfrogging.) I also might be more likely to use "lock-in" if it's due to contracts with a specific vendor, rather than a class of technology.

  • 1
    +1. The early adopter is leapfrogged by the later adopter. The early adopter is not the one doing the leapfrogging.
    – Drew
    Aug 12, 2016 at 23:01
  • @Drew That is the correct usage, thank you for clarifying (and upvoting).
    – WBT
    Aug 12, 2016 at 23:02

Informally, the early adopters are said to be locked in to what becomes old technology. Here's an example of this use:

More formally, the phenomenon may be termed path dependence:

Path dependence explains how the set of decisions one faces for any given circumstance is limited by the decisions one has made in the past, even though past circumstances may no longer be relevant. - wikipedia

Strictly-speaking, path dependence doesn't necessarily mean that the early adopters "end up behind". As you note with your railway example, it is sometimes that "the existence of the older transit options prevents progress". However, in an environment where technology is improving, early adoption eventually means having adopted a line of technology prior to the latest improvements.

Here is a usage example of both terms together:


This reminds me of the dialectics of lead or law of the handicap of a head start.

The law suggests that making progress in a particular area often creates circumstances in which stimuli are lacking to strive for further progress. This results in the individual or group that started out ahead eventually being overtaken by others.


  • 1
    This is also the phrase I was thinking of. I originally learnt the Dutch version ("wet van de remmende voorsprong"), which is also mentioned in the Wikipedia article. "Voorsprong" means "lead"; "remmende" is derived from the verb "remmen", which here means to decelerate or slow down.
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 21, 2016 at 15:52

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