Confessions of a Recovering Gear-aholic

Hi everybody, I’m Mike and I like to buy stuff . . . lots of stuff. 

 I have all the latest and greatest cameras, computers, iPads, iPods, iPhones, routers, receivers, amps, speakers, TVs, and every other conceivable gadget and gizmo. If it’s new and techie, I either already have it, or am planning on buying it.

DISCLAIMER: The above statement is not totally true. I don’t really have all of that stuff, but only because of limited funds, and a wife that isn’t nearly as enamored with gadgets as I am.


Houston, We Have a Problem

For anyone unfamiliar with 12 Step Programs, the first step is always the same, admit you have a problem. Well, I have a problem, and I’m not the only one. I suspect that many of my fellow MacForums members struggle with and identify with the above. So in the interest of my recovery, and to aid my fellows, here are my confessions and observations regarding the scourge of gear-aholism.


Warning Signs

Before I go too far, some would ask, “What are the symptoms, or how do I know if I or someone I love is a Gear-aholic?”  Glad you asked. Look for these warning signs:

1)      More time is spent fantasizing about that next great acquisition than actually using the current one.

This is a major sign with me. I’m an engineer and spreadsheets are an engineer’s way of entertaining himself while giving the appearance of doing actual work. Any time I buy something or make any substantive decision I create a spreadsheet. Here I capture all of the ‘pertinent data’ (translation: Marketing Specs that probably have no real relationship to my actual usage of the item, but sound cool). Next I develop an algorithm to massage the data and create a rating. Last, I add a value analysis section and I am done . . . Not!

Now comes the really fun part, hours of research, reading and sifting on-line reviews and user comments, then updating and modifying my spreadsheet as required. This process can take months, even years. Sometimes it takes so long that newer models are released before I am finished and I have to start all over.

Sadly, I generally get more pleasure out of this effort than in using the ‘whatever it was’ I end up buying. In fact, I have recently discovered that I can save a lot of money with little loss in overall enjoyment and increased functionality in my life, by deciding at the very end to not purchase anything and wait for the next generation. This is good for my bank account, my wife’s patience, and allows me to relive the fun part of the process multiple times before I have to commit to an actual product.

2)      Your closets and drawers are filled with previous generations of items that languish unused because your affection now belongs to a marginally improved version

Somewhere in my house is a stack of CPM Floppy Disks and a pair of 8 inch Drives to use them in. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about,  I will say that CPM predated DOS (the precursor to Windows).

My first digital camera was an AGFA ePhoto 307, that I bought back in 1998 (as I remember). It was a wonderful device and I loved it (for a time).  The pictures it produced were awesome on my 13 inch EGA CRT monitor, the 350K pixel sensor and 43mm equivalent f/2.8 fixed focus lens delivering screen filling images from a little camera that looked and felt a lot like the current crop of film-based compacts.

It wasn’t long, however, before something new loomed upon my horizon, an Olympus camera with a 3X optical zoom and larger 512K sensor. Obviously I had to have it and the AGFA went to reside in a drawer somewhere. It wasn’t to be a lonely exile for long, though, because the Olympus soon joined it, displaced by a new love. And so it went, with me averaging a new camera about every 18 months.

My current compact cameras (I won’t go into DSLRs in this post) sport 10M pixel sensors, advanced controls, vibration reduction systems, and quality optics. So, have my photos seen a 30 fold improvement, as one would expect from the improvement in equipment specs?

Short answer: No . . .

Yes the pictures I get today are better, especially if printed, but since the overwhelming majority of my pictures are only viewed on screen, the visual improvement is more on the order of 4 to perhaps 10 fold. This raises the basic question, “Would a truly sane person purchase and replace a half dozen cameras over a 15 year period for relatively modest gains in true performance?”

Short answer: No . . . but I did tell you upfront that I am an engineer, so I get a free pass here.

And now for the last sign I will give (though there are many I could list)

3)      Your enjoyment of your current device, thing, whatever, is always limited because you can’t seem to get it to do what you really want it to do. It is obvious to you the answer here is to buy a better/improved model.

This last sign really grows out of the first two. You can’t buy experience or skill. This is a terrible truth, and I wish it were otherwise. I am an inveterate Operating Manual non-reader. My opinion is, one is generally better off learning by doing. And, while there is some logic behind this truism, what I find that I learn more often than not is 101 ways to be frustrated in trying to do something that would be simple if I had bothered to read the instructions.

Add to that some basic practice so I can remember and quickly do those things and the performance of my device or system skyrockets. Hours spent researching that newest, greatest, fastest, whatever-est gadget or software package is probably better spent on learning how to effectively use what you already have, but it isn’t nearly as fun.

Do you see yourself or a loved one in any of the above?  If so, don’t despair; there is help.


Recovery Guidelines

Here are some guidelines that I attempt to apply (with some backsliding, because I am after all in recovery): 

1)      Focused purchasing beats the heck out of shotgun spending. Buying only what you need, when you really need it, makes limited dollars go much further.

2)      Learn to use what you already have before you decide to replace it. How can you know where your equipment needs upgrading, if you don’t really know what it can do?

3)      Realistically assess your needs. Include your near and mid-term goals. Forget long-term for now; technology evolves too quickly to successfully plan more than 3 years ahead. Who knew five years ago that I REALLY NEED an iPad-mini Retina model? (especially since the original iPad version 1 is only 3 years old).

4)      Give priority to gaps or weaknesses in your current capabilities, rather than minor or incremental performance improvements. In other words, ask “What can’t I do now, that I would like to be able to do?” instead of, “Which gadget should I buy, that will let me do XYZ 12.3% faster than I my current system does?”

Which leads us last of all to, 

5)      Aim for 80 to 90 percent of the current state-of-the-art performance. Unless you are already on the bleeding edge, pushing your current system to its limits, you will never notice the difference. And, in my experience, performance in this target range generally costs about half what a state-of-the-art system will set you back.


Based on the above guidelines, construct a reasonable budget and stick to it. This is your best protection from impulse buying. Remember, if it isn’t in your acquisition plan, regardless of how neat and sexy it is, don’t buy it. If you feel yourself slipping, call someone (just not someone with a worse problem than yourself or you’ll both end up with a hole in your credit card).

Remember, there is hope for the gear-aholic. With loving support from family and friends, and adherence to the principles I have shared here, you can recover and get control of your gadget buying addiction. You don’t have to live with your private shame any longer!

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go and work on my spreadsheet for that fancy new DSLR I want to buy . . . . .  ;~P