Spontaneous Obsolescence

Dozens of over-privileged gadget hounds have suddenly found themselves with outdated electronic equipment. Won’t you please help?

As an electronic gadget obsessive with more disposable income than common sense, I’m well aware with the trials of being an “early adopter.” (That’s a euphemism for the older term, “impatient doof.”) We buy overpriced things, we watch them go down in price and up in specs and features, we sell them or donate them once they’re four or five years old, we buy a new one. It’s all part of the Great Circle of Life.

Rarely, though, is this delicate ecosystem hit with such a wide-spread cataclysm like the one we’ve seen this week. In just a few short days, I went from being blessed with pristine examples of consumerism at its finest, to being burdened with obsolete relics. It disgusts me even to look at them.

What’s worst is that all of the new models fix the one most annoying thing about each. For instance:

We all knew that The iPhone 4 was coming out, so it wasn’t a surprise. (Well, it wasn’t a surprise to most of us — apparently Apple and AT&T didn’t get the memo). This version has a faster processor and a much improved camera, which were my biggest complaints about the old version: now I don’t feel compelled to take a point-and-shoot everywhere. So I set aside some money — that I would’ve wasted on charity or something frivolous like that — and was prepared to make an informed purchase.

But then E3 happened! A new Xbox 360! Styled after the PS3, with special dust-collecting coating and barely-sensitive touch-activated not-buttons! And it, theoretically, fixes the two biggest problems with the old Xbox 360: catastrophic system failure from poor ventilation, and the fact that turning on the console is like having a leaf blower pressed against your head while standing on a runway at LAX.

And then: A Nintendo 3DS! Which fixes the biggest problem with the older Nintendo DS: that, err, it didn’t have 3D. Okay, that one is kind of weak, but I still want one after hearing everybody on the Twitter going nuts over it.

But then out of nowhere: A new Mac Mini! I’ve spent the past couple of years trying to piece together a decent home theater PC using the enormous, Brezhnev-era Mac Mini; an external drive; a USB TV tuner; an assortment of remote control apps; a Microsoft IR receiver; various DVI-to-HDMI adapters; and snot. Now Apple has said, “Oh right! HDMI has existed for several years now!” and upped the hard drive size and built an HDMI port right into the back, making it an HTPC right out of the box. (And by the sound of it, fixing the problem Mac has with overscan/underscan on my TV). It’s still overpriced to use as just a home theater PC, but it’s the best version of the mini that Apple has made yet.

And of course, the Microsoft Kinect business, which solves the problem of “I don’t look stupid enough while playing videogames.”

Now looking on ebay at all the listings of used Mac minis and Xbox 360s is positively heartbreaking; you can almost hear Sarah McLachlan wailing in the background as you scroll past one “0 bids” after the other. And now I actually feel kind of gross for writing all this, so I’ll start browsing elsewhere.