I used to have a Breville blender. It had all sorts of bells and whistles – electronic controls, cool settings, a digital display, and sensors that magically knew when the job was done. And that brushed nickel finish looked awesome in our kitchen.
Yeah, it sure looked great on paper and in person. Too bad it didn’t work.
The crushed ice setting didn’t crush ice; it pulverized it. Great for a slushies, not for martinis. Instead of making smoothies, it made lumpies. It leaked. And after a while, the sensors became so sensitive the thing wouldn’t even work unless you literally held it down with both hands.
Just making my morning breakfast shake became an epic struggle of man versus machine. Great for a TV drama, not to start the workday.
I eventually got fed up and sprung for a Vitamix. I practically had to mortgage my house to buy it, but everyone said they were amazing, so I went for it.
Guess what? Everyone was right. It is amazing. No tricks, no drama, no high-tech flimflam. It just works ... flawlessly. Now I don’t have to do a thing.
But where’s the fun in that?
We love our smartphones and tablets because they’re amazing. A few clicks and gestures bring us a world of information. We can call, text – even see – anybody anytime, anywhere. It’s a great feeling to be that connected … until the boss or a customer needs something when you’re on your third beer watching a ballgame.
Like it or not, we’re now always on, 24x7. There’s no escape, no real down time. If you even try to disconnect, you get the inevitable “Where were you? Didn’t you get my texts?” grilling.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m also finding that people are a lot less helpful than they used to be. A simple question brings on the new snarky standard, “Google it!”
I asked a guy for directions in San Francisco the other day. He looked at me, glanced down at my iPhone, then gave me a look, as if to say, “What am I, your servant? You’re an able-bodied man. Use the Map function, you dope.”
Well excuse me. Maybe I have arthritis. Maybe I’m tech-challenged. Maybe I was just looking for a little old-fashioned human contact. I don’t, I’m not, and I wasn’t, but he didn’t know that.
And what about Windows PCs? On the surface (no pun intended), I’ve got to believe that the only reason for its breakout success is because, for the longest time, it really was the only game in town. You had to have one for work so all the software bugs, security holes, device conflicts, and inopportune crashes just came with the territory.
You just had to deal with it, like death and taxes.
But I suspect there’s more to it than that. If not, we all would have gotten fed up and dumped them long ago. Granted, a lot of us did. When my Sony notebook (with Vista, of course) crapped out for the hundredth time, it took every bit of restraint I had to keep from throwing it across the room.
Instead, I took a deep breath, said a prayer, went to apple.com and bought a MacBook Air. That’s right, iSwitched. And while it is a lot easier to use and Apple’s stores and service are convenient and low-stress, they’re far from perfect.
Still, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I had to go out and get an iPhone and an iPad. Now there are millions of apps to play with, not to mention the whole Cloud thing to figure out. I have two Apple IDs I can’t reconcile. My music and pictures are all over the place. It’s like Deja vu all over again.
Still, I have to admit, the Apple (AAPL) ecosystem is a lot less nerve-racking than the alternative. Which makes me wonder why in the world anybody who spent years struggling with PCs would actually go out and buy Windows phones and tablets? If that isn’t just a little masochistic, I don’t know what is.
So why do we do this to ourselves? We must derive some sort of deranged pleasure or kinky emotional fulfillment from all the gadgets we insist on inflicting upon ourselves.
I’ll tell you why. For the same reason we stay in broken marriages, stick with dead-end jobs, and hang out with friends and relatives that annoy the crap out of us.
They may be endless sources of problems and frustrations, but they’re still our problems and our frustrations. They make us feel needed, wanted, useful. They’re the devil we know. They’re our frenemies. And there is comfort in that.
If nothing else, our gadgets give us the illusion of control in a chaotic world. It’s comforting to know that, on this crazy miserable planet, we can still get a printer to work or resolve an IP conflict.
We live to conquer those problems because, when we do, we feel great. They may be small victories, but oftentimes, that’s exactly what we need.
The truth is, we’re all in codependent love-hate relationships with our gadgets. And if you’re not willing to admit that, then you’re just living in denial, my friend. Embrace the dysfunction. It’s good for you.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.