Mustachians are a tech-savvy bunch. From what I’ve heard, engineers and other professionals are way over-represented in the audience compared to the general population. We may think we’re pretty smart, but we are actually some of the biggest suckers out there when it comes to the unfortunate condition known as gadget addiction.
I’m right there with you. I am a recovering gadget addict, which is similar to a recovering alcoholic in the sense that you never really cure the addiction, you just learn not to indulge it. I have gone over a year since my last electronics purchase of any type, but if you put a Newegg catalog in front of me, my heart will speed up, a column of drool will start to hang from the corner of my mouth, and I will read and memorize every word of every product description in there, and fantasize about buying it. Thankfully, I will then proceed to buy nothing.
I wasn’t always so successful in non-buying of electronics. As a six-year-old I used to string miles of colorful wires between a grid of bent-over nails stuck into a board and pretend they were an advanced computer. In 1984 I saved up $25 of cold hard cash and blew it all at the local Men’s Accessories store on a big nerdy “calculator watch”. Later I bought an AM radio watch at that same store and briefly entered Heaven when listening to a scratchy rendition of Toto’s Africa on it late one night.
By age fifteen I had over a thousand dollars of stereo equipment piled up in my bedroom, and a couple of computers as well. I bought one of the world’s first, and crappiest, digital cameras in 1997, and I’ve owned six more since then. Even after cutting my inventory, I still own at least eight pairs of speakers and four amplifiers. Parents and former roommates have commented to me that the most lasting memory of having me around is the cardboard boxes filled with wires and connectors that I seem to generate and then leave behind when I move. And we haven’t even talked about computer upgrades yet.
So yeah, Lady Gadget and I have had our time together. But in the last few years, I have really gotten control of the situation. And it feels great. Even better than continuing to indulge the addiction.
This week, one of the most significant gadgets in history is being released for sale. The Apple iPad 3. It’s a tablet computer that incorporates every electronic feature and technology that has ever been invented by the human race, all in a glossy and paper-thin case that is beautiful and sexy enough to wear as a bikini bottom.
I’m not going to pretend to you that I don’t have an irrational desire to own one. I have had detailed fantasies which involve me kicking back on the couch and luxuriously fingering my way through fascinating novels with the feather-light device effortlessly palmed in my hand. Later I’d be hunched over the iPad at a bar table, surrounded by beers and friends, as we put the finishing touches on the world’s best hip-hop track. At other times, it would be cradled in a home-made wooden stand on my kitchen table as I use a wireless bluetooth keyboard to write MMM blog postings like this one. Later that night, the Mrs. and I might fire up Netflix on it to watch a documentary in bed.
Would I enjoy it? Sure. Is it convenient? It seems so. Can I afford it? Definitely. Am I going to buy one? HELL NO!!!
Why? Because the iPad 3 is just another one of Lady Gadget’s classic siren songs. It is the most advanced example yet of Hedonic Adaptation at work. While it may sound confusing to the more Junior Mustachians among us, I am not spending my days searching for immediate enjoyment, thrills or convenience. Instead, I am gunning for the much more elusive goal of lifelong happiness.
So when deciding whether I want an iPad 3, I don’t ask myself if it would be fun or convenient. That’s the wrong question. I ask myself, “will this thing really increase the level of my lifelong happiness?”.
This is a very interesting question for me, because I am already super, duper, ridiculously goddamned happy these days. I’ve worked and studied hard to attain this happiness, so I have learned that for me it comes from freedom, my family and friends, hard work which features both mental and physical challenges, a chance to help others, and constant learning. I’ve also learned that my less happy days are the ones where I become addicted to playing with gadgets and computers, and I end up missing out on the things that make me really happy.
From what I can see, the iPad offers a compelling distraction, but it’s not going to get me out on any more camping trips, and it also won’t help me meet any more great people than I would otherwise meet. It would make my computer life better, and my real life worse.
I’ve also developed another trick to help ease the desire for new electronic toys: I take out some of my obsolete electronic toys and look carefully at them. Just a few years ago, these things were brand new and amazing. I wanted them just as much as I want the iPad. But now they are clunky and junky. Many of them broke after a very short service life, or didn’t work as well as I had hoped.
My 2007 Asus EEE pc netbook lost the ability to type the letter “l” and the headphone jack cracked. My 2010 Nikon P100 digital camera has always taken awful outdoor pictures. My Black and Decker home energy consumption display was never accurate and it constantly drops its connection to the outdoor unit. After a lifetime of getting annoyed at obsolete and broken electronic things, I finally learned that the problem is not with the gadgets, it’s with the guy buying them. So I stopped buying them.
For most of us, there’s yet another reason to avoid buying the new iPad: we already have stuff that does everything it does. I have a desktop computer. I have a laptop computer too*. I even have a pocket computer (an Apple iPhone 4) that fills in the remaining small gap in functionality that the other two left unfilled.
Even with this antiquated set of devices, I am a goddamed computing machine. I can read, write, communicate, and take and edit pictures, movies, and sound from almost anywhere on Earth. If pressed, I could jack into a sound system as I whip out a virtual turntable on the telephone, and mix an impromptu rave for the entire population of Europe, who would dance below my podium on the main balcony of the Vatican. With only a few minutes’ notice. How much more gadgetry could I possibly need?
And if I have this many options open to me with my 7-year-old computers and dusty previous-generation telephone, who the hell are these people who bought the iPad 1, the iPad 2, each of the iPhone versions, a couple of Kindles, and are now Jonesing to get their hands on the Three when it comes out on the 16th? (I actually know a person like this).
They are people who are deeply in need of a Punch in the Face from Mr. Money Mustache, if you ask me.
Sure, there are still a few groups of people for whom an iPad 3 purchase might be reasonable. If you don’t own any other Apple stuff, and have only a big beige desktop computer with a squeaky fan: investing in a tablet might actually help you get more work done. If you’re a wedding photographer and you need the full 2048×1536 resolution of the new iPad to tantalize high-end clients during your pitches to get celebrity wedding gigs, it might be reasonable as well.
But for the rest of us, I think a much better goal is to live with the smallest number of gadgets possible.
If you haven’t even reached Financial Independence yet, the decision is really easy: you can’t yet afford frivolous gadgets – get back to work, and save that money instead. It’s Maximum Mustache March, for goodness sake!
But even if you are infinitely wealthy, dig deep into your soul, and make a list of what you want to do more of between now and the day you die. If one of those activities really is surfing the web even more than you do now, then go ahead and buy the iPad.
But if not, let go of your desire and let’s go out for a bike ride instead. I can see it’s a beautiful 72-degree day and I am closing up this very old computer right now.
* Thanks to a generous MMM reader, I now have a functioning laptop computer again! My old one died last month, and I made a point of not buying a new one, figuring there were surely plenty of old, free ones that would do the job. The one she sent me is missing the letter “B**” (I have to press the rubber nub where the key used to be to get that letter), and it came with a few scratches, cracks, and even bread crumbs. Because of these flaws, it is an absolutely perfect way to get my work done with less risk of gadget addiction. Thanks again friend!
** I will probably be gluing on a new letter “B” eventually, although I do like the idea of the word “Badassity” requiring some actual badassity from my index finger every time I type it.