Tech journalists, delusions and the hedonic treadmill
For a few years I was a tech journalist and nothing else. These days I have the luxury of writing about technology and music and pop culture and more complex stuff like state-sponsored cyber-terror.
My work is pretty eclectic now and I love that but I can’t say I wasn’t enthralled with being a pure gadget journalist when that was my job. But now I write tech news for Electricpig for two hours in the morning and then turn to other things, the problematic parts of being a gadget journalist are in sharper relief.
To be a tech journalist is to comprehensively commit yourself to a life on what economists call the hedonic treadmill. The hedonic treadmill is the human desire to quickly return to a stable level of happiness regardless of major positive or negative events to the contrary.
On the hedonic treadmill the latest mobile phone can be the pinnacle of technological achievement one day and a total piece of crap the next. It’s the treadmill that keeps the children of technology execs in expensive shoes and their dad’s in frameless specs.
The life of a gadget journalist is about speeding up the hedonic treadmill. On a magazine like Stuff which is dedicated to fuelling gadget lust, your task is to press the fast forward button on the hedonic treadmill making your readers disgusted by their current kit and getting them craving the latest shiny slab of tech fluff.
And, of course, chief among the engineers tweaking the hedonic treadmill is Mr Steve Jobs, the king of stoking gadget desire. One year he will tell you the iPhone you are about to buy is the most wonderful piece of aluminium and plastic to ever bounce out of Cupertino, the next he’ll have you staring at your palm and openly laughing at how antiquated last year’s model is.
I held on to the iPhone 3G for two years before finally upgrading to the iPhone 4 six months after it launched. It worked fine. Though the hardware was behind the models that followed it, it used the same OS and was a good phone for my purposes.
But when I used my iPhone 3G, other gadget writers looked at me as if I had just pulled a little bag of fresh faeces from my pocket: “You’re still using THAT?!” Living on the hedonic treadmill, you’re expected to keep running ahead of your readers. You need the newest phone, TV, laptop…whatever shiny slab of metal the corporations have just told the world it needs.
I jumped off the hedonic treadmill for a while but it always ends up sucking me back in. My 13in Macbook Pro 2009 model is still a beautiful computer. I used it for about 6 hours a day and yet the 11in Macbook Air exists now and in the back of my mind I keep thinking: I should get one of those! I don’t need one. I want one.
The hedonic treadmill still has me running. And as you open your new iPad on Christmas morning, beware – the hedonic treadmill is getting ready to trip you up. The iPad 2 is coming in the new year and that sliver of the future you’ve just got will suddenly be written off as prehistoric.