Amazon has been busy.
But let’s be clear: this article is in no way intended as an indictment of the retail giant’s latest toys, the sleek and shiny new Kindle models that launched earlier Wednesday morning. I’m as enamored with the new tech as anyone else, and it seems I’m not alone — all the media furor has been appropriately big-picture in scope, standing Amazon’s latest offering up against Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc. in the portable reading arena.
But here’s the funny part: we’ve seen this before.
The new Kindle tablet is being touted as a challenger to Apple’s iPad dominance. Before this, the iPad was called a serious threat to the Kindle’s eBook mastery, and before even that came a lot of discussion about whether Barnes & Noble’s Nook had the chops to dethrone Amazon’s earliest efforts.
Look beyond all this blatant name-dropping and you’ll start to piece together a pretty stale pattern: Big Company Releases New Product, Other Big Companies Scramble to Release One As Well. Call it the nature of technology, if you like, or at least a culture of the Next Big Thing — our endless desire for whatever shiny new gadget lands on the market, and our habitual tendency to turn our brains off whenever they do.
This second installment of Modern (Un)Necessities, then, wants to talk about toys. I want them. You want them. So what can we do, then, to break the endless cycle of buying them?
A Little Bit About Marketing
Let’s be blunt: the Kindle, as a topical example, is cool. Sleek in form and useful in function, it’s not hard to imagine why the mere thought of owning one has so much appeal. Carry your entire library in your pocket! Download books on the go! Read outside without glare!
The success of these products, however, hinges on more than the cool factor alone. They have to be useful. They have to improve our lives in some significant way, and they have to leave our minds afire with the thoughts of every incredible thing they can empower us to do. Whether they actually do that is arguably irrelevant — when they’ve sold us on unlimited potential, the sale is pretty much made.
That’s the power of marketing.
And that, at long last, is the Big Damn Problem with The Next Big Thing — this endless succession of big promises, bigger price tags, and the realization, long after the purchase, that the Next Big Thing really didn’t change much at all.
And the Thing with Technology
This is how technology works.
Every piece of tech is a tool, at the end of the day, meant to enhance our lives. The latest gadgets promise us the capability to do things better, faster, and smarter than ever before, in exchange for our hard-earned coin — a worthy trade in some cases, but a slow-sinking disappointment in most others.
As a self-described tech geek, then, allow me this one simple truth.
The Next Big Thing isn’t special. It’s just new.
The iPad lets you browse the internet — much like your old computer.
The Kindle lets you read books — much like, y’know, a book. Or a library.
The To-Do list application you just bought in the App store is just that — a post-it note and a pen both dressed up and stuck behind a screen.
Again: technology is a tool. The latest version of it, believe it or not, doesn’t dramatically change that fact.
All of the devices above empower you to do one thing better than before — but at the end of the day, it’s that thing that makes all the difference. It’s not the eBook reader, or the slick new tablet device, and nor is it that latest piece of software you bought in the (likely) vain hope of dramatically enhancing your workflow. It’s not the next iWhatever to come crashing out of the gates, capturing the public eye as the Next Big Thing meant to radically transform our lives.
Happiness doesn’t ask for the Next Big Thing.
It asks, instead, that you take one step back and take a serious look at what you need. It asks, instead, that you step out of the mad-cap rush to grab the latest technological gadget, focusing your attention on what can change your life for the better.
Your friends can. Your family can. Books can, movies can, traveling can, food can, etc. Technology can help with all of these things, but here’s the catch: you don’t really need the Next Big Thing to enjoy them properly. You don’t need to shell out big bucks for the latest and greatest gadget, and you don’t need to rush out the door with your wallet in hand whenever the latest marketing blitz promises us a brand-spankin’ new way to live.
You do need to realize that we’ve walked this road before. You do need to remember that the Next Big Thing, for all of its clean, glamorous lines, doesn’t really do anything your old tech can’t do. It’s easy to think otherwise — the iPad I just had to have can attest to that — but still immensely valuable to keep this one truth in mind: the Next Big Thing isn’t all that special.
It’s just new. Keep that in mind whenever the latest torrential marketing wave makes promises it can’t honestly fulfill, and keep that in mind whenever you’re next strolling through the mall — one eye on the new gadgets, and one hand on your rapidly-shrinking wallet.
Why not spend that hard-earned coin on something that genuinely matters instead?