The Yodabashi Camera in Akihabara. A Godly Place.
ow then, as the title suggests we’re going to talk about something that is technically impossible. Technology is not cheap. Gadgets are not cheap. Because of this, we’ve actually made life not cheap, which is kind of sad. Many things we now consider a regular part of our everyday life cost more than the TV’s and radios that use to be among the most expensive things in the house. If you had any sort of “toy” that cost more than $50 back in the 80′s it was considered extravagant, silly, or excessive. But bear with me, I’m not trying to talk down owning such things, just the ridiculous standards that have been set for regular people up to gadget lovers these days.
Gadgets were always expensive, but I don’t think they’ve invaded our everyday lives so thoroughly until recently. Calculators use to cost hundreds of dollars, computers were in only 1 of 50 homes, and the most complicated thing you had was the microwave or the TV remote. But I am a gadget person. I’m kind of expected to have the latest and greatest, right? Well, it’s not that easy. Gadgets cost money, something I don’t really have.
When I visited my parents this winter, they had 2 desktop computers, a netbook, a Kindle Fire, and my father had just got his first smart phone. I didn’t think anything of it, as I had guessed that many households are like that now. But growing up, my parents somehow got us a new family computer when I was 12 years old. They have 6 kids and we were by no means wealthy, but I’d say more than half the kids I knew didn’t have one at home. It was the most amazing thing in the world for me at the time. I had been obsessed with gadgets since I was young and this was a huge deal.
The first part of this story is pretty crazy. Our first computer was a 486 Packard Bell from Wal-Mart. I’m not sure how much it was at the time, but my father got some kind of warranty on it. About 6 months later, it stopped working. My father brought it to Wal-Mart and… we got a new one. If I remember correctly, the new one was cheaper than what we paid for the first one. So we got a new, better computer and CASH BACK. I remember that part because it felt too good to be true. A year later? Monitor started flicking. New computer. This time, we got a Pentium (ooh). One of my friends got his first real family computer and it was a new Pentium. I was really jealous. Some time later… still less than a year from the last, we moved into a new house. If I remember correctly the computer was damaged in the move. Well, back to Wal-Mart. New computer. I’m not sure if it was Wal-Mart or the warranty, but we may be the reason warranty companies are so stingy. It was the last time they let us do that. Still, every time was like Christmas.
Back then, planning on keeping a computer for more than 5 years was thought as normal. Your TV was more than 5 years old. So was your microwave and refrigerator. But during those 4 years of switching, each computer we got was a HUGE jump from the last. We’re talking talking double the RAM, double the hard drive space, double or triple the speed of the CD-ROM. I still think the reason for the huge boom in the late 90′s was that so many people finally upgraded, and the difference was like coming out of the stone age. Technology was moving faster than we were use to, but it wasn’t yet a money-sucking monster for most of us.
Now we not only have computers, we have tablets, GPS, USB drives, smart phones, smart TVs, smart watches and almost everything else that can be made “smart”. If you look at the basic living of a family 30 years ago, it was lavish to have more than two or three TVs. Other than kitchen appliances, a cordless phone, and maybe a video game system, your life wasn’t ruled by technology. The fact that they have been so ingrained in our lives on TOP of everything that we’ve already had makes me wonder where this money is coming from.
What did was spend it on before? What did we stop buying to compensate? (if anything…) Well, without getting too personal I’ve observed my own buying patterns. I’ve often wondered what I could live without or what I would do without what I have. My history is rather terrible.
As I said, I AM a tech/gadget person. I have been for as long as I can remember. But up until 2000, I didn’t really have much. My first personal computer was an old Tandy 1000 that I bought for $30. I was given an old Austin 486 laptop with a back & white screen and I had that for awhile. I got a new computer for college and then my aunt gave me her old Centris 610 CD Machintosh before I started film school. I fell in love with the Mac and I later bought my first, real new computer: The white iBook G3.
I got it on a student loan. It was a huge deal to me and I even got a nice case for it. But it was after that when things started to get crazy. External hard drives. The first iPod. Thumb drives. WiFi stations and cards. DV cameras with FireWire. USB MIDI and instruments. I never needed any of this before, but now I suddenly had all of it. I look back and I don’t even know how I afforded it all. It took me forever just to pay off that laptop. It was the start of a problem. Not the gadgets, but the obsession and the money that is needed to feed such an obsession. I’d say some drug habits are cheaper, especially with the way new stuff is coming out lately.
But I had a savior. Ebay is a mixed blessing for us electronic and gadget fiends. I was never really scared to buy anything on ebay, and in 14 years I have relay only been burned twice. I appreciated older, special technology. Usually that meant something that was really, really, expensive new and currently out-dated but had something that even most new stuff lacked. I got a Sharp Zaurus SL-C760, which was one of my first forays into micro computing. I had a NEC MobilePro 800 and then a 900c, which I only recently sold. I had countless music and USB MIDI devices, cameras, and storage devices. I still have the first SanDisk 256 MB Thumb Drive and it still works. I was also taking in broken computers from friends and co-workers that I fixed and kept or sold. At one point I had 9 computers. I am ashamed of this, but I can’t remember them ever getting me into financial trouble. If I needed money, I sold stuff. I usually bought weird things that had a good resale value and sometimes I made a profit. But my core setup was a desktop, a laptop, and a “PDA” phone. Even that, to most people, was excessive a few years ago.
Then I moved to Japan. This kind of put a halt on all of my ebay buying adventures. I sold a ton of stuff before the move, but I was going to the Land of Gadgets! Oh, the fun things I would get! Unfortunately, an international move was a huge financial burden. I did get an iPhone when I first came here, which was a lifesaver. Still yet, I had my Mac Mini, my Macbook, my iPod, a PDA, 5 external hard drives, and various other items. I bought a monitor, a printer/scanner, and that was it.
Was I done? Did I really need anything else? Why not just use what I have for a few years and deal with it? I’m far from rich and I have student loans to pay.
Well, for starters… I like gadgets. That’s kinda hard to change. I’m not totally broke, though I have massive student loans and the guilt of buying anything at all outside of groceries really gets to me sometimes. I’m lucky that I don’t drink or smoke, as I’m sure some of you know how much of your budget goes to those. I’m also single (Of course!) and I don’t have any pets or children. So it’s not like I have any other obligations, vices, or needs. It’s not all bad. Everybody has a hobby, right?
OK then, let’s get down to it. How can you keep up with the latest gadget trends and be a fan when you have little or no money?
First, you kind of have to actually WANT them. And don’t mean want them, I mean WANT them. Having less money means less frivolous purchases. If I see anything that I WANT and could be within my reach, I research the hell out of it. It keeps me from buying a lot of junk by accident. There was this two screen laptop that came out a few years ago that I instantly wanted, and tried my hardest to justify buying it. But after plenty of research and reviews, I talked myself out of it. Or better yet, it talked me out of it. If I remember correctly the processor was just terribly slow. I do video and animation so it would be stupid to buy it no matter how cool it was. Not only that, when you work and save for something, do extra jobs, and wait for something, the more you have invested in it. If you really want it, you will buy it. If it’s worth it after all that, you made a good choice. This is after school special logic here, folks.
Second, you can get away with getting something cool for something you NEED. Needs are much easier to justify. Only problem is there are fewer needs than you think. All I really NEED is a computer and a phone. Computers are harder for me, as I do such processor-heavy work. I was lucky enough to get a lot of extra freelance and contract work a few years ago, so I got my first new computer since college. (I usually buy used) After I got it, I sold my mac mini and retired my near broken macbook. I’ve lived with only one computer since and it’s been quite easy. As for phones… if you are patient, getting an awesome new phone is really easy. Carriers all over the world have crazy deals on even the newest phones.I recently switched from iPhone and Softbank to Docomo and a Samsung Galaxy Note 2. I need a phone to get by and for work, so why not get one of the best? And as for money, Docomo paid me 20,000 yen to switch and my monthly bill is lower. Kinda hard not to justify that!
Third, everything is getting cheaper. You can get Android tablets for well under $100 now. I have owned a few, and if I had to I could totally live with just one of those. (though the main reason I had them was for beta testing friend’s apps) Little fun things like cameras and such keep getting cheaper as well. I’m a big fan of all the fun Bluetooth gadgets coming out recently, but my research says that they still have a ways to go as far as reliability. If anything, cheap stuff like this feeds the need for something new and is usually still satisfying if you still follow the WANT rule.
Fourth, as I said before, buying used is a great idea. You can usually save a ton of money. If you do your research first, you can find a lot of deals on stuff that’s just as satisfying or useful as something new. Even though I try to keep my love of older gadgets in check, (try to do that in Akihabara at the used shops!) sometimes getting something old and quirky is even better than new. Retro is awesome.
Last, window shopping and hands on therapy is amazing. It helps with all of the above. While I know big electronic and gadget stores are disappearing elsewhere, I live in Japan. I can go to Yodabashi Camera, Yamada Denki, Bic Camera, K’s Denki, and many others to try and test out almost everything on the market. Online shopping is great, but going into shops and actually seeing, feeling, and using everything is still king. While many, myself included, go to these places and then buy online anyway, nothing beats store browsing. This has kept me from buying many wants after trying them out, but it’s also created just as many wants. Some of my American friends who have lost their local electronics superstores really miss them, even as just a place to go and play. It’s sometimes more than just a quick fix and helps keep you up to date on all the trends you may miss online.
We don’t NEED most of the things we have. I have gone a year or more without buying anything and I’d have no problem doing it again. I’m not writing this to justify frivolous spending. I’m sure many of you buy things that I’d see as a waste of money too. We can’t help what we like, and I’m not going to judge anybody about their hobbies or passions. I will agree that the gadget market has gotten way out of control and the turnover is ridiculous. Right now there are too many people who get the newest thing as soon as it comes out. You don’t have to be that way to be a gadget fan. Not all of us can be a writer for an electronics blog, magazine, or an over-paid programmer. (heh heh)
One personal thing I have to get over is selling things in Japan. My Japanese is terrible, and if I want to sell anything on Yahoo Auctions I have to get somebody to help me. I went to America this winter and sold a bunch of things on ebay, which was great. The used market here is odd. (unless you’re willing to practically give them away) I still have my old iPhone 4 sitting on a shelf because I don’t want to let it go for nothing. My closet still has old hard drives, a projector, two almost broken laptops, and various other items that I just can’t give away, and yet I have little use for them. It’s just a pain to sell things here.
I’d love for my love of gadgets to someday pay for itself, but I hope that with my current background I will never let it get out of control. I’m pretty content with my current setup and consider myself lucky to be able to have what I have. The only thing that I many actually NEED soon is a powerhouse editing station. Until I’m ready for that, it’s going to be a lot of fun wanting it.
How about you? What do you do?
Or, how about we go shopping?
Let’s go to Amazon! or Let’s go to Amazon Japan! アマゾンに行こう！