Don't Be Blinded By 'Gadget Lust'

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Anybody who’s even mildly interested in technology has felt it. It’s why people stand in line all night for the new Xbox or Playstation, or one of those products whose name starts with an “i."

It’s gadget lust.

Companies like Apple have become so good at slowly amping up the mystique and hype around forthcoming new products that it’s easy to get swept away by the excitement. The process starts long before the launch, in the tech media and blogging communities, which busily pump out gossip, speculation, and half-baked analysis--because people like to read it. I do too. It’s fun.

As the launch date gets closer, the story of the upcoming hot gadget spreads throughout Blog Land and into the mainstream media. By that time, it’s being widely discussed in the tech community--at conventions, meetings, and mixers.

Then the ad campaign starts, and the excitement kicks up a notch as we learn more about the product, and about the lifestyle it fits into. The ads are cool-looking, the work of some of the best ad agencies money can buy. They’re also very scientific: The words and pictures shown in the ads are the product of exhaustive market research. And then there’s the star of the ads (usually)--the gadget itself, which has been carefully designed and built for the wants, needs, hopes, and dreams of the target market.

Next comes the launch event, a lavish live event where the tech company’s revered leader spells out the true story of the product. Magic ensues. A swarming tech press reports the event on real-time blogs--and this is only the beginning of a whole new wave of coverage around the product.

Bad Romance

With all this going on, what chance to we have?

Somewhere along the way, the new gadget captures your imagination, and you get that “ooooooooh” feeling--like when you bought your first Sony Walkman as a teenager--and then, somewhere deep inside, you’ve given yourself permission to lay down the plastic and bring the coveted gadget home.

As launch day gets closer, the anticipation and excitement build to a fever pitch.

On the eve of launch day, you’re sitting at the computer, checking out all the leaked photos and specs for the product. You imagine yourself using it, carrying it around, and being seen with it. Not only is it going to be superfun to use, but it’s a blingy new accessory that will improve your image and pump up your tech cred. You set your alarm for 6 a.m. Your heart beats fast as you imagine yourself at the front of the line--about to buy the product.

The magical feeling is sustained even after you’ve laid out your plastic and driven home--and up to the moment when you break the seal and carefully remove the gadget and any accessories from the box. You assemble it and turn it on. . .

Then as you use your new device, you realize something has changed. All of a sudden, something’s missing. The excitement and anticipation are over, the adrenaline rush has faded, and the realization begins to set in that your new toy is just another gadget.

Illustration: Tomer Hanuka

And worse yet, the marketing cycle for the next hot device has already begun, and you can only watch because you’ve just spent all your extra money and you might even be locked into a service plan.

For some people, the whole experience described above is enjoyable and well worth the gadget's cost. But for others, especially those of us on a budget, it’s important to take a more utilitarian approach to the way we buy our tech stuff. This is easy to do, of course, if you’re not ga-ga over some product that might or might not be a necessary part of your line-up.

Following are some creative approaches to defeating gadget lust and confronting the question of whether the gadget du jour is really worth your money.

Examine Your Thinking

When you’re attracted to a gadget, ask yourself why the thing is appealing to you, and answer honestly. Is it the design and look and feel of the device that attracts your eye? Or will the device actually perform a set of tasks that are necessary to your life and work?

Accessory or Tool?

I’m not saying it’s always bad to buy a tech gadget that you value most for the image it projects of you. A small business owner might benefit by showing potential clients that he or she is tuned in to the coolest new tech. It may benefit one’s social life too.

What I am saying is, be honest with yourself about your reasons for buying. If you’re buying something mainly for accessory value, measure the expected improvement to your image against the price of the product, and make sure it’s worth it.

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