Jun 23, 2012

Driven to Consume

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

In early 2011, when Apple released yet another useless and over-priced piece of consumer electronics, I found myself talking to a young friend about why he would be compelled to buy this thing before he knew what it could do. Unfortunately (as after hearing the explanation of most consumer motivations), a year later I remain clueless. The young man provided a series of scenarios that included the world "need" which had to be translated into "want" and several descriptions of silly apps/diversions that a couple of good hobbies could cure. Along with two million other consumers, he ran out and bought one of these silly toys the first week Apple released it. Six months later, he still hadn't found a useful application for the thing, but it wasn't because he didn't try. For two weeks, he practically let his whole life slide while he loaded apps, modified the iPad's preferences, and tried to find a practical justification for his new $1,000 toy (after adding the Apple-recommended accessories, but not including the $30/month charge for 3G service that almost makes the toy usable). After this extended experiment, he demonstrated how indispensable the Apple toy had become by showing me how it--and his desktop computer, laptop computer, and cell phone--combined to bring him all the power of a tiny television set, a mediocre laptop computer, a poor quality telephone, a low-res still and video camera, and a few pieces of paper.
Yeah, I know. I don't get it. He can ask his friends "wht r u doin" any time, any place without giving the syntax or the purpose of that idiot question a second thought.
I can't. I won't.
I have absolutely no reason to care what my friends are doing unless we're hanging out together and I can see what they are doing. I don't need a $1000 device with which to watch micro-movies, wherever I might be. Of course, I prefer to watch movies at home in my entertainment room or in a theater where the sound system is property aligned, the screen is large enough to make the experience entertaining, and where nobody is able to ask me "what r u doing" because I'm not taking a telephone into a movie theater.
Lucky for us, Apple doesn't make motorcycles. What passes for "design" in Appleworld wouldn't impress most Harley owners. In 2010, a New York kid pulled in $100k making white covers for the new black iPhone, because Apple fans couldn't wait for the official white version. Some people have infinitely more money than brains, even if they don't have much money.
There are some Apple-like approaches being taken to motorcycling, though. Harley and the designer 50's cruiser crowd made a stab at that lifestyle marketing tactic for a successful 20 years. Boys and girls bought expensive bikes they wouldn't ride and clothing they rarely wore, just to be one of the cool-kids'. Particularly BMW, but also Honda, Ducati, and the rest of the pack are coming out with bikes that have all sorts of doo-hickies that the average rider needs at least as much as an iPad. Traction control, automatic transmissions, adaptive headlights, rider-selectable control/throttle map modes, linked ABS brakes, air bags, electronic keys, electronically adjustable suspensions, iPod, MP3, USB, Bluetooth and satellite radios, sophisticated screens that rival home entertainment systems, and features that I can't even imagine are getting tacked on to motorcycles that are becoming more complicated than NASA space vehicles.
All these attractions are intended to make you and me think we're getting lost in the technology race; falling behind, not keeping up with the neighbors, or something equally depressing. An upside to being old is that I know I'm not keeping up with anybody these days. I'm still running WinXP on my laptop and my Mac is permanently stuck at OS 10.4 because it's not an Intel machine. My cell phone is a minimally-featured, dirt cheap Nokia that can probably text but I haven't bothered to investigate that feature. I use the phone about 100 minutes a year and only turn it on when I want to call someone. So, I'm on a 500 minute, $50/year pay-as-you-go plan and, when I remember to do it in time, I recycle about 400 minutes a year. I usually forget about the annual cell phone bill and, when I do want to make a call, discover it's been disconnected for a couple of months.
My main motorcycle is a 2008 WR250X Yamaha and with only 10k on the odometer, it's barely broken in. My back-up long-haul bike is a 2004 Suzuki 650 V-Strom . My back-up carbureted 2000 Kawasaki Super Sherpa hasn't been ridden for a year because of its refusal to start when the mercury drops below 30F. Fuel injection is my idea of technology worth chasing. Style is for kids. About 30 years ago, I discovered that--if I keep wearing jeans, long-sleeved t-shirts, denim and plaid work shirts, hiking boots and running shoes, and cheap watches--I'll be back in style every half-dozen years. That's good enough for me. 

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