Monday, April 19, 2010

Novelty vs. Utility vs. Reality


It’s no secret that I love gadgets.  I love getting a new thing, poking and prodding it to figure out what it can do, then selling it off once I’ve figured it all out.  Living in the Bay Area of San Francisco means there is no shortage of new toys available on craigslist, and a good market for selling them off again.  There’s always Gazelle for the other stuff.

Why do I get so much enjoyment out of gadgets?  Why does anyone enjoy any hobby?  I think for me it’s the thrill of discovery – new devices that do new things in new ways.  Also, there’s a strong pull towards shiny things.  I do like shiny things.  I’ll figure out what they actually do later.

Perhaps the other factor is that all of these devices come in squarely in the “toy” category.  I like to think they will be useful as tools, and some do gain “tool” status eventually, but not many.  I try to keep only one “toy” class device at a time, so there’s a lot of coming and going of gadgets as the novelty of the latest “toy” wears off.  The only way a device can hang around is to either move to the “tool” category, or be cooler than all the other “toys” currently catching my interest.  To become a tool, a device has to fill a utility role (that is not already covered by a current device) in my current work/entertainment flow. 

I realize this is backwards from the way a lot of people do things.  Most people want to do something, then find a tool that will do it for them.  Perhaps that’s what separates the gadget nerds from the general market.  For me, the potential of the device is exciting whether or not it actually fills a need.  So many in my field will grudgingly have a computer around for email, but could really care less about technology and have no vision for what it can do.  Considering what we do has remained the same for hundreds of years, with very little electronic intervention, there’s not really a pressing need for new devices or new ways of doing things.  But I’ve found a few interesting options….

Utility coming soon, reality will hit after that.


  1. Actually, as opposed to that being backwards from the way most people do things, I find that most of my co-workers do just that - have to have the shiny new toy, then sell it off a few months later.
    I work with engineers.

    So, perhaps it is the technical, engineery side of you struggling to be heard thru all that artsy music & stuff.


  2. Indeed, I am the child of two computer engineers who managed to forge a career as a classical musician. It makes for a very interesting set of um...interests. I can't wait to get the next post up about all the gadgety tools musicians do use.