Wants, Needs and The Quest for the New Shiny

iPhone 4SBig doings today in the world of tech as the overlords of Cupertino, California (Apple) rolled out the newest/shiniest/most-gotta-have-it device in their arsenal, the iPhone 4s. I will be the first to admit I am definitely a bit of a gadget/computer sort of nerd where all the newfangled gizmos and doohickeys fascinate me. And yes, I know that’s some heavy jargon to be using, but I just can’t help myself sometimes.

But for just a second… let’s get past the hype of the announcement that surrounds any release by Apple and the near-endless debate between the cult-like followers of Steve Jobs and those who hate anything Apple because… well… it’s Apple.

Instead, let’s focus a bit on something that I can barely believe my fingers are typing out this very moment… what in the world is really necessary?  I know, it’s borderline heresy as a gadget geek to focus on necessity versus “Dude… that’s just freakin’ cool as hell.”

What got me thinking about all of this was a post by Leo Babauta (of Zen Habits fame) on his refreshingly stripped down blog mnmlist.com, which if you have never seen, is devoid of nearly everything but text.  Heck, it’s hard to even tell Leo writes the thing since you have to search around a bit to figure that part out.  I should know… I just did that myself.  Leo wrote something today on the release of the iPhone 4s and it’s accompanying fanfare.

But it was one line, in particular, that stuck out at me more than most:

Five years ago, the iPhone didn’t exist. It wasn’t a need in your life. You were able to live perfectly without it. And now that it does exist, all of that is true.

There you have it. If I sat here thinking critically about the numbers of things I’ve purchased and truly thought about what I could live without… yikes. It’s not a short list.  True, I really enjoy my iPad 2 and use it all the time, but it’s not as if my life would have a gaping void within it absent it. I am not somehow a different human being for having that device… or my XBox… or my big screen TV… or… you get the idea.

As silly as it may sound to some, I think my gym equipment has allowed me to make fundamentally positive changes in my life in a way that the nearest replacement (belonging to a commercial gym and paying dues for the rest of my life) does not approximate. That feels like a pure win to me, even if it was not a cheap investment.

But overall, it’s rare for me to find many things… scratch that… material things that I simply could not go without if required. I learn this lesson most acutely a number of years ago when I looked at a credit card bill with a balanced that had carried over for a little while and thought, “Damn… I’m not even sure I can remember what I bought that I am still paying off.”  People, if you cannot even remember it, how critical could it be? That was one of my big financial epiphanies for certain… it’s bad enough to buy with credit… but FAR worse to still be paying for them when you can’t even remember what those things are.  Just… I mean… ugh.

This will remain part of my struggle going forward… fighting the allure of the shiny bauble of tomorrow. My self-awareness is good on this, but certainly not great. Hopefully it just gets a little better all the time.

In spite of the glossy finish, sharp lines, crisp details and seemingly unbeatable functionality found in any new gadget that is rolling our way down the consumer highway… if we let it pass by, we usually only “miss out” on something we never even knew we “needed” in the first place.

And that’s a curious place to be indeed.

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