In 2003, I owned a Dell computer that ran on the Microsoft Windows operating system. Checking my inbox one day, I noticed an email from a good friend. The email had an attachment. My friend being a trusted source, I didn’t hesitate to open the attachment. But what I didn’t consider was that my friend’s computer had been hijacked; and that some anonymous, insidious, multi-tentacled digital bug was forwarding diabolical emails to all addresses listed under his Contacts.
Not so pleasantly infected, my hard drive crashed. And I went into full on panic mode, thinking I lost a mountain of vital information and my very survival was at risk (such is the mindset of a workaholic, stressed out, caffeinated, unbalanced, ego driven male species … that was me, back then).
Once panic subsided, slightly, I hurried to find someone who knew way more about computers than me, hoping that my prized data could be retrieved and rehabilitated. The computer repair guy recovered some but not all of the data, and I recovered some but not all of my mental balance. On his way out, computer repair guy made an off hand comment: ‘have you considered buying an Apple computer?’
At the time, Apple was teeny, tiny potatoes on the desktop / laptop scene, claiming less than 3% global market share. Apple products weren’t trendy, didn’t have mass appeal, and the iPhone wasn’t even a twinkle in Steve Jobs eye. However, the benefit to me, a consumer, of Apple’s minimal market share was that the vast majority (we’re talking 95-99% depending on your source) of viruses targeted Windows based operating systems, not Macs.
The following weekend, I went out and bought a Mac desktop. And in the ensuing 13 years, I’ve gone through a few more Mac computers, not once having fallen prey to a predatory virus. Of course, I also don’t open email attachments unless I absolutely, positively know the source.
Price is What You Pay … Value is What You Get
My current MacBook Pro laptop cost about $1,800, including extended warranty. Not small change, I know. But I don’t judge whether to buy a product based solely on price. No question, price matters, price is a hugely important factor. But its not the only factor that goes into my decision-making.
Value also matters big time. And from my perspective, the MacBook gives excellent value measured by security, reliability, durability, functionality, apps such as iBook, iPhoto, iTunes, and stunning design. So all these factors go into my decision to pay the hefty up front cost. That said, keep in mind that ‘value’ is personal, i.e., you decide what matters to you aside from price.
I’m now into my sixth year with this laptop. And I plan on keeping it until the last drop of juice runs out. Why not? The way I see it, the longer I own this laptop, the more value I squeeze for my money. I don’t need or want the bells and whistles on a ‘new and improved’ version when the current model works just fine.
Blinded By The Light
Aside from rationalizing purchases (and lack of purchases) on economic grounds, I have to admit (because it’s true) that, on an emotional level, I enjoy Apple products. The simplicity of design and ease of use fits with me. So, sure, I could choose to spend way less dough on a competitor’s brand that would satisfy my practical needs.
But you know what? As long as I’m not creating financial hardship for myself or going into debt, and as long as I’m making thoughtful purchase decisions and not losing bodily control and drooling over shiny stuff, I figure it’s okay to open up my wallet from time to time and indulge, treat myself to a luxury.
I mean, it’s not like I’m a consumer programmed Apple groupie, traveling to their shareholder meetings or marketing events introducing new products. And I don’t venture on an annual pilgrimage to worship at Apple’s flagship New York City store on Fifth Avenue, the one that’s open 24/7/365 (http://www.apple.com/retail/fifthavenue/).
Think about that: the store is always open. Who is shopping for electronic goods at 3:00 am? And why, according to knowledgeable employees whom I happened to chat with, is the store just as busy at 3:00 in the morning as it is at 3:00 in the afternoon? I don’t know, maybe you wake from a bad dream and instead of soothing yourself in the wee hours with a blanket, you seek solace among shiny aluminum machines within the confines of a brightly lit, busy retail store?
One may prefer to snuggle up under a cozy blanket while another chooses to brush up against a metallic machine. Both are fine. We do not judge.
Right, right, I know, I’m still learning to accept that we are creatures of social programming, too often grasping at whatever we think will soothe our existential angst. Okay, look, judgment aside (because judgment does nothing but fill the mind with negativity), the fact is that Apple astutely saw an opening in the marketplace and people responded.
Though I don’t have a teenage crush on Apple products, consumers whose eyes bug out at the thought of being inside an Apple store, among like-minded devotees, smelling, touching, listening to these precious products, these consumers LOVE their Apple.
Consumption, What’s Your Function?
And Apple loves them back. Because they are the ones who upgrade every new product cycle. They are the ones that make Apple one of the most profitable companies on this planet, earning so much money the company doesn’t know what to do with it (at last count, Apple was sitting on a cash pile of about $240 Billion!). These are the consumers that feel less satisfied with their iPhone 6 because the iPhone 7 was just released. Never mind that the iPhone 6 is as amazing today as it was a year or so ago. The thing is, the 6 is now out of date, out of fashion, yesterday’s news and, well, you gotta keep up, you gotta stay current, you gotta have the latest gadget because … because???
My point is not to trash Apple devotees. If you want to stay current in the product game, well, that’s your call. There is no scorecard, no better or worse, for buying stuff. You do what you decide is best for you. That said, what I’m trying to do is get you to think about what is best for you, and the value you are getting, if any, from staying at the forefront of the electronics product game. In a broader sense, think about what ‘value’ means to you, and whether each purchase you make (computers, clothes, gym membership, travel, whatever it may be – since the use of Apple is only for illustrative purposes) is fulfilling your idea of ‘value’.
I bought an iPhone 5c three years ago. And for two of those years, I resisted hounding from my consumption happy teenage son to upgrade, to start living in the year 2016 as he would say. But a few weeks ago I caved, upgrading to an iPhone 6. Not because the 5c didn’t serve my purposes. In fact, it was just fine. The reason I upgraded was because the 6 cost me nothing in exchange for agreeing to lock into a two-year plan. The added bonus? My new plan is less expensive then the previous plan.
How did I pay less for a so-called ‘premium’ (‘premium’ phone is marketing jargon for, we will charge you more for the newest model phone because we can) phone on a new plan? Bargaining. You can negotiate with all the phone companies. They are fiercely competitive with each other, they want your business, and are generally willing to toss in incentives to get and keep your business. If one phone company doesn’t offer you a satisfactory deal, tell them you will walk down the road to their competitor. And be willing to do so. The downside: time and effort researching and contacting different telecom companies. The upside: lower phone bills, more money in your pocket.
A consumer oriented economy encourages us to consume (nothing like stating the obvious). Like most of us, when making a purchase, the endorphins fire and I experience a sense of pleasure and control whether I’m buying a new car, a shiny toaster, even a meditation cushion. This feeling, however, is nothing more than a temporary adrenaline kick and it does pass.
Okay, so the squishy feelings pass. That’s all good. There’s nothing wrong with buying stuff that’s useful, and why not enjoy the adrenaline while it flows. What matters here is the perspective that you bring to your buying decisions, i.e., knowing that while the act of consumption may be a pleasure filled activity, it does not, it cannot, bring any sort of genuine or lasting satisfaction.
Once you’re aware of the limited benefit of consumption, and have knowledge of the social pressure to consume and adorn yourself and your home with status elevating STUFF, you set the stage for a little look-see inside yourself. Meaning, you’re able to bring a whole lot of wisdom to the consumer aisles. Before buying stuff, you’re asking yourself questions that matter, examining your personal values, and considering the costs and benefits of each purchase.
When this happens, when you reflect on yourself like this, your values inform your buying decisions. And the beauty of walking through this process is that peace of mind and clarity follow simply because you have considered who you are, thought about your needs and wants, and thoughtfully determined whether the stuff you want to buy is a good fit for you.
Return of the Buddha
The Middle Way avoids the extreme of overindulgence or reliance upon pleasure for perfect happiness. In a consumer society, stuff may claim to offer permanent happiness. We may think, if we can only get enough of it we will be happy. The marketing pitch, whether through advertisement, movies or other misleading portrayals, can be intoxicating.
If we fall for the delusion that sensual pleasure, i.e., seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, thinking, whatever it may be, is going to provide lasting happiness, then we are lost because lasting happiness is an inside job. Healthy, happy people find a Middle Way, their own Middle Way, that speaks to Balance, and are grateful for what they have.