As I watched Tiger Woods coast to victory in the final round of the US Open yesterday, it dawned on me how much I love my television set. It’s a nine-year-old Toshiba, manufactured in September 1993, and it still does exactly what I originally purchased it to do: bring me all of my favorite shows, from CNBC’s SquawkBox to PBS’s Frontline to golf. The only time I ever think about the box itself, or the underlying technology, is when there’s a storm and the cable goes out. Otherwise, I’m oblivious to it all. I can’t imagine a day when it won’t fulfill my needs, except for perhaps the day it dies, and I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
The same goes for my circa 1991 Nakamichi stereo. It plays all of my CDs, from Natalie Merchant to Diana Krall to Ivy; tunes in all of my favorite radio stations, including NPR; and still produces that crisp, clear sound I enjoyed so much when I first bought it. And, of course, it still looks great.
For some reason it never crosses my mind when I’m watching that TV or playing that stereo that there are newer models with better technology. It’s not that I’m not aware of things like flat-screen technology or HDTV, it’s just that I’m satisfied with the status quo. Someday I’d like to have that same mindset with all of my other electronic devices.
I’m starting to get to that point with my Motorola V series cellphone. I imagine a day when I’ll forget about WAP, SMS, GPRS and, ultimately, the device itself. All I’ll be aware of is that it is something that does exactly what I want it to do: call people and receive calls. The only thing that can stop that is if the telecom carrier (in my case Sprint) changes its network so that my current telephone doesn’t work, something I don’t anticipate. Still, I occasionally wonder if I’d be more connected, and more moto-hip, with a Bluetooth enabled model, so I know I’m not quite there yet.
The same holds true for my 2.1-megapixel Epson PhotoPC 850Z digital camera. It does nearly everything I wish, but sometimes I spot a 4-megapixel model and get a mild case of pixel envy. Still, there’s nothing Epson can do to prevent me from using that camera for the next ten years. And I just may do that.
But then there’s my computer.
At least once a week I wonder whether I should upgrade my two-year-old IBM ThinkPad T20 to Windows XP (it’s still running 98SE), trade it in and join the gigahertz world, or even dump it altogether and fully embrace my Apple iBook (which I’m increasingly falling in love with). (Oops, can’t wait to read those "why do you hate Microsoft so much?" emails.) The question is, can I still use my ThinkPad or my iBook ten years from now and still be as satisfied with it as I am now? Probably not.
Still, worst on the love chain is my PDA.
Just when I had developed a relationship with my Palm-size PC, Microsoft changed the rules by modifying the operating system. What that essentially did was to make my current "TV set" (i.e. my Palm-size PC) unable to play the new "TV shows" (i.e. Pocket PC software). The solution–buy a new "TV set" (i.e. a Pocket PC)–turned out not to be a complete solution. Yes, the new "TV shows" played on it, but the old "TV shows" didn’t. (Believe it or not, Microsoft pulled this on us twice, and there’s every indication that it may happen again within the next year.) Yes, software matters, and it’s killing me.
Things aren’t much better on the Palm OS side. Adapters are constantly changing, obviating investments in accessories, and a new operating system, Palm OS 5, is just around the corner. But at least Palm OS 5 is half a solution. With Palm OS 5, your old "TV shows" (i.e. Palm OS 4 software) will still work on your new "TV set" (i.e. Palm OS 5 device), but your current "TV set" won’t be able to play the new shows. That’s fine, unless you happen to see something "new" on TV that you’d like to watch.
Imagine if television worked that way.