Friday, 16 December 2011

The Shit Gadget Syndrome

my experience with gadgets over the past year (see notes, particularly the ones on the cds in the bottom left)

It happens way too often: a relative/friend acquires a gadget, seeks my approval, and then gets upset upon hearing what my opinion of their latest purchase is. As somewhat of an authority on gadgets and matters of technology in general I am confronted by this too often, so I thought I’d post about it. Not that I think this post would make much of a difference, but perhaps it would help ease some Christmas shopping frenzy anxieties.

First, let us discuss the phenomenon in detail. Events tend to follow the same script again and again:
  1. A friend/relative notices some sort of a gadget, either through advertising or by seeing peers using it. For example, a parent sees all his young son’s friends are using an iPod Touch.
  2. Status anxiety kicks in and the friend/relative decides to buy the gadget. Note the decision is not made on the basis of needs analysis.
  3. Usually, we have ourselves a period where the friend/relative is using their new gadget.
  4. Doubts start to creep in: the friend/relative realizes there is something wrong. Their new gem of a gadget does not fulfill their wettest dreams as per pre-purchasing expectations.
  5. The friend/relative turns to me for advice. Or so they say; what they are really seeking is my endorsement on their purchasing decision, a voice of authority to tell them they did not make a mistake forking hundreds of dollars on the wrong gadget or a gadget they did not need in the first place.
  6. Being the honest person that I like to think I am, I tell my friend/relative exactly what I think of their purchase. More often than not I end up telling them they bought a piece of shit (often using these very words when the case calls for it, and it does way too often). What I actually mean when I use the phrase is that the gizmo is not meant to address its owner's particular needs and/or circumstances. In my defense, I always explain my opinion and discuss alternatives.
  7. The friend/relative looks me in disgust. How can I do this to them? How dare I tell them the truth, or at least my views on what the truth is?
  8. The friend/relative resorts to blaming others for their mistake.

I call the above The Shit Gadget Syndrome.

Before moving on to discuss how the Shit Gadget Syndrome can be avoided, and easily so, let’s have ourselves a bit of an adequate disclosure break: yours truly has been known to buy shit gadgets, too. My blogs speak for themselves: I bought a shit [expensive] MP3 player, I bought a shit tablet, and I bought a shit electric shaver. I do not, however, blame others for these purchases. Some times I knowingly buy crap, as with the tablet; other times, as with the case of the shaver, my purchase represents a conscious attempt to reduce my ignorance by dipping my feet in a new field. In all the cases, the follow up purchase was a stellar performer.
Clearly, the problem at hand is one of ignorance. Friends, relatives and yours truly live in a world where we are constantly tempted by gadgets but where we do not know enough about the gadgets, ourselves or our needs to purchase the right tool. With the problem clearly stated in these terms, how should we go about avoiding The Shit Gadget Syndrome without making all the effort required to become a subject matter expert?
There is nothing wrong with consulting experts in areas we are ignorant about. Just this morning I referred to weather specialists in order to acquire their assessment of today’s weather at Melbourne so I can dress appropriately for work. Referring to relevant authorities does not mean I need to take their word as the word of god; it just means doing a bit of consultation. What’s better: going to the experts, or rather relying on advertising and the word of mouth of friends that don’t really know much and are probably suffer from The Shit Gadget Syndrome themselves?
So yeah, go to the experts, and go to them before you open your wallet wide (instead of going to them later to seek approval when things go wrong). If you consider me an adequate expert, feel free to knock on my door for an opinion; I have my strong opinions on matters of gadgetry, but I am also fully capable of recommending different things to different people.
For example, although my next smartphone will probably be an Android (mostly for price related reasons), I do not hesitate recommending iPhones to people who are less likely to tweak their gadget. Although I do not consider buying myself an iPad at this stage, I did not hesitate recommending one as the best computing platform for my old and technologically challenged parents. And although I shy away from them due to their prices and poor post sale support, I do recommend Telstra’s mobile services as the best value for money to people that actually make phone calls on their mobile and/or need reliable data access on their smartphone. A good expert will know how to analyze your needs and adopt their recommendations accordingly.

So, in conclusion: Want to avoid the Shit Gadget Syndrome? Do your homework in advance and don’t let social anxieties drive you to make the wrong decision at the counter. By all means, consult with the experts.
I’ll leave you off with a tip for this holiday season. By far the most popular Christmas gift this season seems to be an iPad. That’s fine; it does what it’s meant to do well and it’s by far the best tablet around (and probably the only tablet worth spending money on). However, do bear in mind the iPad 3 looks very likely to be launched some time between February and April. Oh, and the current iPod Touch model? Bound to be replaced soon, too.

Image by @heyamberrae, Creative Commons license

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