What's left to desire?

Before I make a significant technological purchase, I like to spend a lot of time thinking, reading, or talking about it. Be it a computer, a speaker, or a smartphone, I take weeks, sometimes months, to arrive at a decision.

The obvious reason would be that I like to make sure that I am getting value for money. I try to get at least 4-5 years of usage out of these products. So of course I need to satisfy concerns of both today and tomorrow.

But that’s not why I engage in this prolonged window shopping voyage. Often times I spend weeks researching a product (category) and then don’t buy it. In fact, I research products that I know for sure I won’t ever buy – DSLR cameras for example.

Why do I do it then? I enjoy it. I love technology and knowing the finer details of products satisfies my itch.

In my voyage I’ll try to see behind the curtain put up by companies, reviewers, and consumers. How is Samsung cutting corners in the A series vs the S series of Galaxy smartphones? Which products is MKBHD choosing to review? What kind of consumers do most commonly leave reviews on Amazon? At what price do products become “decent across the board”? Are Indian tech reviewers trying to distinguish themselves from the Western pioneers? What kind of marketing phrases do companies invent to sell incremental updates? That kind of thing.

Anyway. I thought I’d finally make a big purchase for my birthday. Last year I nearly bought a GoPro camera. This year I can’t think of a single damned thing that I would want to buy. Because my desires are interwoven with my needs. It is an oddly minimalistic lifestyle choice (habit?) and I wouldn’t want to change it. But in this buy-now-think-later consumerist economy, it confuses you to no end.

What could a late 20s man like me desire? Clothes? Video games? Accessories? Books? A motorcycle? “Have enough”, “won’t use it”, “don’t like it”, “too much hassle”, “prefer it the other way”. Whatever you throw at me, I have a ready reason for why I do not need it.

Thanks to my mom, I cannot spend money on subpar products. I’ll spend a few thousand extra rupees today if it makes my complaints go down in half. Compound this with the mentality of trying to extract as much value as possible. And you’ve got yourself a man who will prefer keeping a 4+ year old MacBook with a damaged battery, chipped screen and a broken keyboard over buying a new one. All because “there’s nothing wrong with the internals!” and “some people use their MacBooks for over 10 years!”.

Our parents would use things for decades. But technology didn’t update as fast back then as it does now. Technological advances of their time were always about hardware. Today software pushes new frontiers every week. Which in turn has a knock-on effect on hardware. Plus, companies are forced to release new products every six months to stay relevant. So we get incremental updates which do not help buying decisions.

I have made impulse purchases before. I own a BlackBerry Classic that I bought only because the company was shutting down and I wanted to own a piece of history. I bought a drum machine that I have never used. Last year I got a MIDI keyboard that I made a couple of tunes on.

But these are exceptions. Often when I am almost done making a purchase I will stop myself. If I am thinking of buying a new laptop on an impulse, I’ll tell myself – “This isn’t going to write your newsletter on its own.” Today I nearly bought a new phone but I stopped myself by saying – “The YouTube videos are going to look the same on it.”

Such behaviour leads me to conclude that nothing interests me anymore. Which is true but also not true because I actually enjoy the process more than the end result.

To be clear, I don’t do this with all purchases. If it’s an interesting book, I’ll buy it before I realise it. If I am out with my friends, I won’t care how much it costs so long as we are all having a good time. If something is going to make my life better (a knife sharpener or a subscription) or is a no-brainer (Uber vs public transport in the rain), I’ll buy it in minutes and with half as much planning. So long as I can afford it.1

The common thread underlying all these aspects of my behaviour is that every purchase must have a good reason. Is it making your life better? Is it going to make you smarter? Are you going to enjoy using it? “I bought it because I could” doesn’t work with me. It’s a very utilitarian perspective of consumerism – things must serve a purpose. Which is in fact similar to my subconscious belief that we must always be productive. That even sitting idle must help us achieve some goal. This thought sits uncomfortably as I learn to embrace the ideas of entropy and the meaningless nature of existence.

Anyway. I bought a French press. The coffee is nice but the method is exhausting.

Is getting older all about finding reasons to live? I will ponder next time.

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Cheers! See you soon.

  1. Remember: “If you can’t buy it twice then you can’t afford it.” ↩︎

Last modified: Jun 26, 2022