Tech Media & the Hedonic Treadmill

When visiting any modern technology news website, you’re going to see a lot of product-related posts. Reviews flood websites like The Verge, Engadget, as well as many tech YouTuber’s regular videos. Surely the average person isn’t looking to purchase this many gadgets at a time? Right?

Much of tech news is centered around hardware purchases. Affiliate revenue increases with large purchases. Everyone wants to know about the next great thing. People line up for pre-orders and complain when we can’t get them on time. We collectively hold our breath as we wait for Apple to release the latest version of their phone after months of rumors and speculation.

And for what? Do these new gadgets save us time, make us more productive, or provide another major benefit? In some cases, yes. Early phone iterations often brought substantial camera improvements that were immediately noticeable, even on small screens. Today, we have to place photos side-by-side and blow them up to 100% to find the differences. We use these differences to justify costly upgrades disguised as low monthly subscriptions. Other times, upgrading a device is necessary as the old one grows tired and slow. For people who rely on their gadgets to work as tools, such upgrades are understandable. What I lament are the rest of purchases that serve no immediate purpose other than to acquire the newest piece of hardware available, even if the cost can’t be justified.

I’m sure this all sounds judgmental. But I’m mostly writing this for myself. My previous post is an iPhone 12 review. I had the iPhone 11 Pro. I paid for a new phone because the sides were rectangular instead of curved. What. I am proud to announce that I returned the phone and for the first time in my entire lifeam planning on holding on to this phone for a second year. But don’t let me off the hook. After all, I’m typing this on Apple’s new M1 Macbook Air. Yes it’s fast, it’s great, but did I really need to upgrade? No.

In the past few months, the concept of the hedonic treadmill has been stuck in my mind. The idea is that as we accumulate money, we spend it on more things, and/or things of higher quality, thinking that it’s going to make us happier. Once the initial happiness wears off, we move on to the next level, waiting to purchase whatever is slightly better than what we already have. Many consumer-grade electronics seem built for this treadmill. It’s easy to get lost in the world of high-end audio, for example. Sure, you were happy with the computer speakers you got for Christmas, but you think you’ll really be happy when you can listen to the new Taylor Swift album on those mid-range Klipsch speakers. Same goes for cameras, phones, drones, keyboards, mice, PC hardware, laptops, and just about any other consumer-tech category you can think of. 

There’s always something better out there. Keep running on that treadmill, and you’ll find yourself exhausted and/or out of money. Get off the treadmill, enjoy what you have, and use that money to get your time back and experience the world.

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