When electronic devices enter my life, they often do so in groups of three or four. Maybe I'm destined to temporarily surround myself with a entourage of new gadgets and their companion cords, cables, headsets and batteries to show me why these objects are superfluous, confusing, and burdensome in my life. Nice pens are no problem. Cell phones and wireless network cards and digital music players are.
As these objects cover tabletops and fill junk drawers, and the packaging from which they've hatched piles up in the corners of my apartment, a couple of patterns in behavior typically manifest themselves:
I have a love-hate relationship with technology, as I do with most things I enjoy. If I need something for practical reasons (e.g. a cell phone or a remote control) I tend to throw myself into the purchase and, rather than invest $50 in a clunky-looking but highly useful cell phone, I will add another $100 to the purchase and take home some attention-grabbing, flip-open, fussy hip-hop jewel that requires an extensive learning curve, multiple calls to tech support, and completely disappointing workaround for all of my existing electronic equipment.
The new object excites me, and this excitement naturally triggers an intense feeling of shame. I have this irrational belief that, despite all evidence in my life to the contrary, I am a down-to-earth guy who needs nothing more than a comfortable denim jacket and a reliable cigarette lighter to get from town to town. A free-wheeler. A contemporary model of the classic buddha. Who just happens to own a used leather couch, an iPod, and a Chinese language import of Cannonball Run on DVD. As such, my new things make feel like a phony who isn't keeping it real. If you've ever visited me, you know the great hangdog look that grips my face whenever someone discovers the tremendous universal remote in my living room. As useful as that thing is, I hate it, and I hate what it says about me, which can be summed up as, "I OWN A LOT OF THINGS AND THIS LARGE, CONFUSING DEVICE THAT LOOKS LIKE IT WAS BUILT IN A PROPULSION LABORATORY IS THE ONLY WAY I CAN FEEL IN CONTROL OF THEM. TiVO, ANYONE?"
My remote is only the beginning. I have a loud (often legitimate) excuse for everything I own. In fact, if I pull out an object and, unsolicited, begin explaining its origins, you will know this is something I happen to be very ashamed of. Here are some recent examples:
- Universal Remote: "Honestly, I had six different remotes sitting on the coffee table and, while this object is actually larger and more intimidating than six remotes combined, it is incredibly convenient for me. Please don't touch it." Sometimes, for economy, I'll just say, "I bought this many years ago, when I was rich."
- 15" Powerbook (sitting next to an older, unplugged model of the same laptop): "A client bought it for me, as compensation for some writing I'd done."
- Nintendo DS: "A client bought it for me. He has made me the video game gadget equivalent of his drinking buddy."
- TiVo: "I won it in a contest, many years ago. I paid NOTHING for it." (here, i carefully omit the fact that, upon bringing it home, i still paid $200 for the lifetime subscription fee that did not come as part of the prize. and you know what? fuck you all, because i love tivo so much it makes my heart bleed.)
- 40GB iPod: "My 15GB iPod died, and I loved it so. A friend convinced me to upgrade to a 40GB model, even though I think this is overkill. It's her fault. Here's her phone number."
- New cell phone: "The '3' key on my existing cell phone stopped working. What was I supposed to do?" "Also, this phone is cute. Yes, you can hold it."
- Black Leather Couch (i don't know why i catalog this with other gadgety purchases, but i guess it carries the same bachelor significance for me): "I bought that from a friend when I moved into this apartment, over six years ago. I couldn't afford anything else. Will you help me find a new couch? Please?"
Nothing goes smoothly when I purchase a new piece of electronic equipment. NOTHING. Every item requires multiple tech support calls, and at least 1-2 issues which usually remain unresolved for the life of that product. For instance, I never figured out how to use my previous cell phone to get online, nor did I figure out why I would want to use my previous cell phone to get online. And now, as you know, the '3' key is broken and I remain in the dark.
I can't think of a single gadget I own that I did not, at one time, consider returning for a full refund. However, my initial feeling of shame usually provokes me to discard the cardboard packaging for everything. I run around my apartment, looking at all the shiny housing, and start behaving like Lady McBeth crushing it down, flattening it, trying to remove all traces of its existence. Sometimes, when I bring this refuse out to the recycling area in front of my apartment buliding, I will rip off the mailing label. I do this for two reasons. First, I'm embarrassed that all of these fancy items have been shipped to my address. And second, I don't want my neighbors to think I'm wealthy because I'm afraid they'll ring my bell, requesting a cup of gold.
Of course, because my shame made me so fastidious that I've removed all traces of packaging, manuals, UPC codes, etc., I have essentially rendered any chance of receiving a refund impossible.
It has occurred to me that perhaps the foolish gesture of clearing out any traces of packaging for everything I own, repeated over and over again despite the known consequences, is really just my love of electronic objects undermining my shame over them. I'm sure there's a prescription drug that cures this specific dilemma. In the meantime, does anyone want to buy a universal remote? Or a couch?
[Addendum: I found out last night that someone read this post and her first reaction was, "is todd a snob?" I think she interpreted this post as my effort to share/lord over readers a detailed list of all the awesome material goods in my possession. Have I been the victim of my own game of (brag)? Anyway, the criticism really affected me. When I went to bed last night, I couldn't sleep because I kept thinking about what that reader said. I spent most of the evening, tossing and turning in my 800-count Egyptian cotton sheets. At one point, I absent-mindedly knocked over my Tiffany lamp, which shattered on my Italian marble floor. I'm still looking at its shards, radiating out from its point of impact. I should call the maid.]