Monday, 27 April 2015

The Quest for the Best

A lot of important affairs dominated the news this weekend. An earthquake in Nepal had so far killed several thousands and surely left an impression on the lucky survivors. Australia celebrated the 100th anniversary of the landing of its soldiers on the shores of Gallipoli with rites that seem to fill a gap as Australia’s official religion. However, despite these important events, this compromised homo sapiens was mostly deliberating one single issue: why is it that while I have a camera I love and consider excellent, I cannot stop thinking about buying another camera?
Deliberations started on Friday night. In general, I keep myself up to date with photography developments; I know exactly what equipment I’d love to have. This Friday night’s visit to Costco, however, revealed a kit involving what I consider to be the best camera for me at the moment at a very attractive price. I knew I wanted the camera but did not wish to rush in with my credit card just because Costco has it in stock; I decided the wise thing to do was to go home and think about it.
Thinking is pretty much most of what I did over the following weekend. Why do I need the camera in the first place? What advantages would it give me over my current camera? Etc. There can be no denying that camera I had my eyes on produces better photos than my current one, but is it worth the admission price? Am I ready to make the sacrifices that come bundled with this new camera, mainly as extra bulk and weight when compared to my current camera?
Ultimately, I concluded there was essentially one factor and one factor only involved in the decision making process. There is no doubt spending the money to buy the new camera represents poor value for money given my current camera; I would even say very poor. However, that new camera? It’s the best there is out there for me, and that – being the best – is what matters. It’s all that matters.
Once it occurred to me that it’s my ambition to have “the best” that is guiding me, it also occurred to me that this ambition has been guiding me both elsewhere and over the years. I always wanted the best, and I always paid the price – financial and more – for that. I can bring numerous examples to the table, from the very first SLR I bought decades back to, yes, the person I am now referring to as my wife.
It goes without saying that the term “best” is a loaded one. There is a level of subjectivity to the term, with one person’s best far from being another’s. The case of my camera deliberations offers a fine example, but the point is made far clearer with a car analogy. Pick a hundred people and I doubt you would find one who will not support the notion that a Ferrari is a better car than the car yours truly is currently driving. Yet I will beg to differ. A Ferrari may be cool and all, but it is also impractical. I doubt it would do well in the school drop offs and pickups that dominate my car’s routine. I also have no doubt it would perform poorly at my supermarket’s parking lot. It also costs a bomb; I can’t afford a Ferrari as my second car.
Which is to say, cost matters. A Ferrari may not be the best car for me, but there are clearly millions of houses out there in this world far superior to mine. The thing about these houses, though, is that they are so unaffordable there is no point in dedicating thoughts to them. If I went home to deliberate the camera purchase over the weekend, imagine the length of deliberations required to contemplate the acquisition of my dream (swimming pool as the living room’s centrepiece) house.
The only argument against "the best" that holds, as far as I am concerned, is that of time. What is best today will not be the best tomorrow. The camera that is good today will not be the camera that cuts the cheese tomorrow. As in, remember when the iPhone 3 was the best, indeed the only, smartphone in town?
So, having dismissed the arguments for subjectivity and cost (2 out of 3 isn’t bad), my conclusion was reaffirmed: I am severely motivated by the will, the need, to have the best.

With that in mind, I made my way back to Costco on Sunday afternoon with clear and present intentions.
I made it through the stormy Sunday parking queues (easy: just aim to the far side). I made it through the entry queues (did not bother getting a shopping trolley). I got the ticket to the camera at its display. I waited ages to pay for it. I even joked with the obviously jealous guy at the till, explaining I was spoiling myself with a gift. I then made my way to the merchandise pickup desk for my new camera.
The lady took my ticket and, eventually, came back with a rather smallish box. I was ready to take it and disappear, but she explained she has to open it to make sure the bundled memory card is included. Fine with me.
The memory card was not included. Worse, I had to point out that the other promised components of the kit were missing, too. Oh, said the woman, and then disappeared for a few minutes (making me really popular with the queue of people now behind me).
She came back with an apology. Manufacturer’s error, she said; we can’t sell you the camera. WTF, I said (politely): you have a display selling this kit, you just took four digits out of my credit card, and now you’re telling me “no”? How come you’re still offering it for sale?
I had a point, she admitted to that. She called another woman and ordered her to remove the product from the store. And after some more toing and froing that further enhanced my popularity with the people behind me in the queue, she gave me a refund.

It’s not like I rarely use the four letter word, but this fuck was a particularly justified fuck, if only for the waste of time and emotions. But mostly for all the build up. I am genuinely surprised by how this simple matter of shop inventory issues has left me devastated. And shattered.
I won't elaborate here, but it really did.
I guess I should look at the bright side: the case of the quest for the best camera ended up giving me one of the best lessons one can imagine on the fallacies of our consumerism culture.

Image by Falcon® Photography, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence

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