Tech Lust: How to Cope with Gadget Envy

Yesterday morning was a rough one for me. It’s a day I both dread and crave every year: Steve Jobs’ Macworld Conference keynote address. I’m a Macintosh fanboy from way back, and as other Mac fanboys can attest, there are few things more dangerous to our wallets than new products from Apple.

In fact, there’s almost a ritual to the whole thing. In the weeks leading up to the Jobs’ speech, the rumor mill begins to grind. Will there be a new iPhone? iPod upgrades? A tablet computer? After the holiday hubbub has died, visions of shiny new laptops begin to dance in our heads.

On the morning of the keynote address, geeks everywhere eagerly refresh browser pages containing live coverage of Jobs’ speech. Yesterday, Nickel and I sat drooling over our keyboards and chatting via instant messaging while watching the updates stream in.

Obviously, this sort of behavior is not conducive to saving money. When you build up a product in your mind, when you allow yourself to become obsessed with it, it’s easy to find yourself buying something you do not need.

Resisting the urge

The best thing a geek can do to prevent himself from succumbing to temptation is to limit exposure to his weaknesses. It’s folly for me to submit myself to the Apple marketing machine. I know I’m weak against it, so why participate? If I didn’t know what was out there, I wouldn’t know what I was missing. I’d be satisfied with what I already have, and wouldn’t long for something new.

Here are a few ways a geek can mitigate the lust for new technology:

Avoid advertising

Beware the insidious power of marketing. You are not immune. We are all subtly manipulated in ways we cannot possibly imagine. When I watch the Macworld keynote addresses, I’m acting as a willing consumer of advertising. Don’t do this. Steer clear of advertising whenever possible.

Avoid temptation

The best way for me to avoid buying video games is to stay out of the electronics store. If your weakness is audio equipment, keep away from the stereo shop. It’s easier to avoid temptation when we don’t submit ourselves to it in the first place. If you know your weakness, don’t set yourself up to fail.

Remember it’s not a competition

You’re not going to “lose” by choosing not to purchase the latest equipment. There’s no need to keep up with the Joneses. If your best friend buys a MacBook Air, don’t let it bother you. Don’t buy a new Treo just because your sister got one.

Make the most of what you have

If you’re a gadget-hound, you already own lots of toys. Resist the urge to upgrade when your current option still works fine. I used to buy a new computer every year. Now I can’t imagine doing that. I’d rather use a machine until it could no longer keep up with me.

Remember your larger goals

What is it you want to accomplish in life? Will buying a new iPod help you or hinder you in pursuing your dreams? I’m not saying that you should never buy new toys. But before you do make a purchase, be sure that your decision doesn’t stand in the way of a greater purpose.

This advice doesn’t just apply to geeks with gadget envy. The same techniques can be used by audiophiles, car enthusiasts, and knitters. These principles work no matter what it is you covet.

Giving in

What if you’ve tried to resist the urge, but it’s just no use? What if you’re certain that new Robotronic 2084 would make your life complete?

First, do one last check to be certain you’re not rationalizing your “need” for the item. I used to tell myself, “If I buy this new camera lens, I’ll be able to take better pictures. It’ll pay for itself in no time.” Unfortunately, that was never the case. That sort of thinking is just a rationalization to buy new toys.

If you’re certain you’re going to buy the new Robotronic 2084, do two things:

1. Save for it

Don’t purchase the item on credit. Going into debt to purchase a tech item is foolish. I should know — I’ve done it many times. I’d let myself get sucked into the “need” to have a Lappy 386 now now now, and rush out to charge it on a credit card. The following year, I’d buy the brand-new Lappy 486 even though I still owed hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on the first machine. Now, however, I use targeted saving to buy new toys. When I decided I “needed” a Nintendo Wii, I saved for it. I’m glad I did.

2. Wait for it

I want a Mini Cooper, but I’ve decided I’m in no hurry to buy one. I’ll drive my current vehicle into the ground first. A car is a very big gadget, but the same principle applies to smaller items. I’ve also wanted an iPhone for a long time. It hasn’t made sense to get one, though, when my current phone works fine. Because my current phone is a company phone, I’ll soon be losing the use of it. Now I can purchase an iPhone and not feel guilty that I’ve done so.

If you really want to buy a new gadget, be methodical. Save your money. Wait until the purchase makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with upgrading to new technology when you need the new features and you’re able to pay cash.

Focus on your goals

After yesterday’s Macworld keynote address, another geeky friend sent me a short e-mail:

Seen it? MacBook Air. Pant, pant, pant.  Want, want, want.

I agree — it’s a fine looking machine. But you know what? This year I’m not taking the bait. This year I’m not even tempted. My current laptop is only 15 months old, and it runs well. A new computer would be nice, but right now I have more important goals — tech lust is just a distraction.

Update: This morning, Lifehacker asked its readers “How do you deal with gadget lust?”

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