Hell No, One-Point-Oh!

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal's Chin Music (13-Aug-2007)

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Why is there such a need among certain people to be the first to buy and own the latest software or techno gadget? It's not as if they're racing to be the first to scale an untouched mountain or to discover an unknown island in the Pacific. Their names won't be forever remembered in the annals of history as a pioneer or fearless explorer. No, they will simply be one among several million that will follow them, identified by that collective and less-than-distinguishing noun: user.

Yet there are throngs of mostly twenty-somethings with plenty of disposable income waiting in line—sometimes camping out in front of a store for several days—to get their hands on the techno toy du jour. They must have it, and they must have it now or all will be lost. Is it simply a matter of instant gratification? Lack of patience? Or are they doing this under some misguided notion that they will be elevated several rungs on the evolutionary ladder, so they can cast aspersions and look down on the rest of us poor single-celled amoebas that are using last year's technology?

The euphoria people get from being the first owners of new technology is short-lived and often gives way to a biting dose of reality. There's always an inherent danger in buying into brand new technology—like being the first person to own a new state-of-the-art concept car and then finding out it has trouble making right turns.

But this doesn't seem to bother many consumers because the great marketing machine convinces them that they not only want to be among the first, but that they have to be among the first. This desire to own overshadows reason and logic—two characteristics missing entirely in some. It's not as though they're waiting in line to buy tickets for a once-in-the-lifetime concert; the product they're waiting in line to buy will be the same product in a week's time.

Lest we forget those masters of economics who just had to have a Sony Playstation 3 the moment it was released. They were more than willing buy it from eBay at two to three times the sticker price because they just couldn't wait until stores restocked. A few weeks later, stores had a surplus of PS3 inventory and couldn't even move them. Now, prices are being marked down.

Other bleeding edge adopters, however, suffered more than price gouging on eBay. There were those who waited in line to buy Microsoft's XBOX 360 when first released only to return to the store the following day and wait in another line because the unit had a tendency to overheat and melt discs into modern art. And, more recently, there were those who waited in line to get Apple's iPhone and couldn't even use it because they encountered activation problems when the network was flooded by other must-havers—not to mention the bugs that were discovered shortly after its release. These are just a few examples of how history is a poor teacher to some.

I've always advised anyone who cared to listen to avoid version ones—especially true nowadays since techie toys are getting more and more complex. The more that something can do, the more that can go wrong. Version ones are basically glorified betas, except the products are tested by paying consumers rather than engineers in a lab. Instead of subjecting yourself to the growing pains of many new products, it's always best to allow new technology to "settle in" before jumping on board.

But perhaps we need this antithesis—a sort of technological yin and yang. We need this duality between those who camp out in front of stores and those who prudently wait to see what happens when a new technology product is released. Perhaps the sensible ones among us need people to wait in those lines and suffer at the hands of the bleeding edge so that we don't have to.

I admit that it used to irk me when I watched the news and saw some poor lost soul explain to a reporter why he missed three days of work to camp out in front of Best Buy. I'd shake my head and ask myself, "what's the point?". I didn't know whether to laugh at him or pity him. He probably wouldn't even understand why I'd do either because he will always be a line-waiter. He will always be in some line waiting to pick up the next "it" product. Then I came to a realization: Better him than me.

Copyright © 2007 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
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