When I think of mornings as a kid, I remember the excitement of getting the newspaper from the mailbox. Now let’s be clear, I had zero interest in reading the news. There were only two useful sections of a newspaper to 12-year old Brady at the time: the comics section, and the computer store flyers.
I’d open the Best Buy insert and just to the computer section: “512MB hard-drive”! “GeForce Video Card”! Moore’s law was playing out weekly before my eyes as computers incrementally got more powerful. And in doing so, our home computer slowly became more obsolete…well, as far as I was concerned anyways.
And after months and years of pining over flyers, our computer finally exhausted its life (likely as a result of my visits to virus-ridden gaming sites) and my parents would arrive home with a shiny new box full of chips and wires.
And that’s how it went for a while. A gadget would die, and you’d go and replace it with whatever the budget allowed for.
Upgrades were convoluted and took a tech-nerd to decipher which was better than the other. From a distance, they all looked like clunky boxes:
But today it’s totally different. Upgrades are laid out for us in easy-to-follow steps: iPhone 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8……(wait, X? Okay, maybe not so easy to follow right now).
And now we’re on plans.
Yep, specific deadlines that we’ve signed up for, upon which we toss aside our faithful phone companion into the nightstand drawer (you know, in case we need a spare) for the promised sleek new beyond.
Surely a 6 is better than a 5! Version 9 is better than Version 8. The 2007 Edition is better than 2006…. right? We don’t question it, so on and on it goes. Within a few short years we hear “wow, you have the new iPhone 5s?” to “you still have an iPhone 5s? Do they even make updates for that anymore?”
And we only become more loyal passengers the longer we’re on the upgrade train. In fact, we start to search for flaws in our current products to justify the new one. “It’d sure be nice to take slow-mo videos for my travel video project.” “16GB just isn’t quite enough for my podcast collection.” “This phone is getting slow, it’s been taking 10 seconds to open up Google Maps, it used to only take two.”
This goes well beyond technology.
Cell phones are the obvious example, but it’s everywhere in our lives. Cars, bikes, appliances, tools and beyond to even non-material things like new-age parenting techniques, new diet regimes, new fitness routines. The newer it is, the better it is assumed to perform.
Now again, don’t get me wrong, lots of things have improved for the better. But I’m also well aware that companies exist to make money. And if Norco Bikes just kept selling the same well-made mountain bike design they made last year and the year before that, or Nike just kept selling cotton workout shirts, well it wouldn’t have been very lucrative.
Instead, there’s heaps of profit in selling futuristic silver-lined polyester workout shirts; in touting the latest downhill bike suspension technology; in releasing the 9th edition of “What to Expect when You’re Expecting.”
But you don’t have to fix what ain’t broken.
I cringe at how much money we spend to replace perfectly functional possessions.
My old mountain bike works great. I liked my last phone better because it fit nicely in my pocket and felt more durable. And I go for 20+ km runs in a cotton t-shirt and what-do-you-know… I’m not drowning in sweat! In fact I prefer cotton for running, it doesn’t get olfactory-punishingly smelly three months after I buy it.
I’m all for progress. I know I certainly wouldn’t be thrilled to have our 1996 HP Pentium 133 MHz Desktop back.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t snap out of the mindless upgrade treadmill. I think the first step is to be conscious of the fact that newer isn’t always better. Actually don’t you find sometimes they’re worse? Your headphones suddenly aren’t compatible with the new phone design, your new bike seat is way less comfy than your old broken-in one, and your new backpack doesn’t have that same handy pocket for your keys your last one did.
So when the next phone comes out (iPhone Y? Who knows), remember this blog post. Be content with the already mind-boggingly powerful computer in your pocket. Then repeat with other upgrade-able items in your life. It’s a practice that will boost your bank account big time.