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technology, education, other sundries

Thoughts on Technology (March 2021)

Technology 100DaysToOffload

Overwhelmed by Choice

For the past few days I have been considering how we are completed inundated with choice, especially when it comes to technology. I feel confident when I have to make a decision by myself (if I have to buy a new computer or phone, for example), but I am also the type of person who likes reading reviews and comparing things. The little things that struck me recently is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a decision when faced with the number of available options, comparison bias and other tactics used by marketers and advertisers, and trends.

Take a moment a really think about it. Not too much though. Just half a thought experiment. What if you had just recently finished high school and decided to go to university and needed to by a computer. For many people, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but there are just as many people out there who would be stuck. How would you come to a decision if that were the case for you?

I would tell people to decide on a budget and do a few different things:

  • Look at the recent options on the Internet using different sites.
  • Go in the local shops and see what they try to push on you, but also look at the actual computers.
  • Talk to a friend (I know exactly who I would talk to, and I will probably ask his advice before the end of 2021).

Then, go home, notes in hand and head, and ask yourself what your needs are.

As a professor, I will tell you that 95% of your needs as a student will be fairly basic:

  • The computer needs a browser.
  • It needs Office Software.
  • Some light desktop publishing depending on your programme.
  • Maybe a game at the weekend (but it is just a bonus).

Finally, look at your budget, your options, and your needs and make a decision.

All done!

But, it isn’t that easy today. I love having choice and brands to choose from, but there is just no way that our current situation is sustainable.

You walk in the shop, because you want to buy it from a physical brick and mortar shop, Amazon is bad after all. You have already made up your mind when there in front of you is that choice, all over again.

On the right, Apple’s offerings. They are sleek and sexy. The choice can be determined with your budget. Everyone has told you that Macs are easy and fast and durable.

On the left, 50 rather similar black or silvery-coloured pieces of plastic with nasty stickers all over them touting their characteristics. *We forgot to figure out what all of this i3, i5 and i7 stuff is about. Why is this computer with an i3 faster than one with an i7? Why are these two very similar laptops priced differently? Hold on, there is a really cheap one! What is a Chromebook?

What does the shop do with all of these unsold computers?

Stop!

We’ve already made our decision.

Apple computers look nice, but our budget won’t allow it.

Our wallet will decide! But, comparison bias is kicking in. There is just too much. Let’s look on our phone again…

screenshot from the website fnac.com

FML

That is a screenshot from the website of a large chain of stores in France. There are other places to buy computers, but this is essentially the first stop for many people because it offers choice. I chose the category for “General Office Use” and sorted by “New”. The first options, the MSI laptops, are clearly placed there like ads. €4,000 to browse the web and write essays is too much. Next up come all of the variations of the Surface. Then some Dells. Everything is too expensive! This is ridiculous. Even if I start filtering by things like weight the next thing after the Dell computers will be Chromebooks.

That is not choice.

You need to scroll through pages of options, compare video cards, processors, RAM, number of ports, screen size, while keeping in mind that the goal is to buy a computer recent enough that you won’t need to buy another until after university.

This non-choice is designed to fatigue the consumer until they give up, and the tactic is not limited to technology. It is unfair, but we prefer this to monopolies. In the case above, many would opt for the Surface or just go buy a Mac and be done with it.

Pre-Deciding and Being Content With What You Have

I put too much time and mental effort into purchases. Although I teach marketing, I fall victim to it every time. In order to lessen the mental load, I spread out my decisions. I occasionally look at what is new, sometimes I bookmark something for later. I put those bookmarks in a “wishlist” folder. I empty that folder regularly, because whenever I look at it with a clear head I realise that I don’t need it. My computers turn on. My phone’s battery lasts 2 days.

Aside on Linux: Being content with what I have, in terms of computers, would not have been as enjoyable if it had not been for Linux. There is a lot of choice there too, but that is a topic for another blog post. Getting some extra mileage out of a computer is fun. Watching a rather old computer boot up in under 10 seconds is cool. Logging in and discovering it comes with the office software you needed and a browser is refreshing. Knowing that it will work again tomorrow is relaxing.

If you are fed up with your computer and think you need a new one, at least format and reinstall your OS before getting out your wallet. If that doesn’t help, think about replacing part of it. A new hard drive or SSD is cheaper than a computer, right? If that still doesn’t help and you decide to just spend some of you money on a new computer, be kind to that new device. Turn it off when you travel with it, close some of those tabs, turn off some of the background apps. Uninstall that bloatware too!

NOTE: If you are considering purchasing a new computer be sure to donate, recycle or sell (for a fair price) your old computer (or phone or whatever).