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“Whoa, is that your phone?”
We were at Chautauqua Greece and I had whipped out my smart phone to take out a picture. And as soon as I did, it was snatched out of my hands, passed around the group like an alien baby as a crowd of onlookers gawked at my trusty…iPhone 4S.
I remember when I first bought that, all the way back in 2011. Despite working in tech all my life, I had resisted the smart phone revolution for the longest time, instead relying on those quaint little “cell phone” devices that primarily, you know, made calls. I had one of those flip phones where calling someone was easier than texting them because to type each individual letter by tapping a number multiple times. Like getting the letter “C” meant pressing “1” 3 times, and so on.
Nowadays, those flip-phones are now mostly used as burner phones by drug dealers on The Wire or Breaking Bad, but back then I didn’t care. I may have been a gadget guy, but I just couldn’t stomach dropping $800 on a gadget that used to cost $100. Yeah, it’s got a camera, but…so what? I had a cell phone and a seperate sports camera, and together they didn’t cost $800.
But over time, as the smart phone revolution went on and what a phone could do went from “make calls” to “damned near everything,” I found the allure of a smart phone more and more difficult to ignore. Finally, when I found out I could now talk to the thing and it would understand me using this newfangled voice assistant called Siri, I took a deep breath, looked one more time at the $700 CAD price tag and finally took the leap.
And boy am I glad that I did. Out of any one purchase, no gadget has been more important to me while travelling than my iPhone. Now when I land into a new country, I can pop in a local SIM card and instantly be able to message my AirBnb host, map out the subway system, translate road signs, use GPS to guide me to my destination, all the while snapping pictures and uploading them to the Cloud. It’s now faster and easier to tap out a text message and attach a video than it is to call someone.
Not a day goes by where I’m not constantly amazed by how this white plastic-and-glass square has revolutionized all our lives. I think back to that back-packing documentary A Map For Saturday, where the guy was trying to figure out where to go using an outdated guide book, while trying to make a call on a pay phone using a phone card and having it constantly cut out on him. Poor guy. If only he had a smart phone.
That being said, 7 years is a long time in smart-phone land. The average person upgrades their phone every 2-3 years (take that environment!), and while I don’t mind not having the newest and greatest features, this little guy was starting to get seriously clunky.
“Siri…Siri…hello?” I would say before my phone would spontaneously shut down. Super.
Siiigh. So I guess it’s time for a new phone.
A Tale of Two Companies
I used to swear by Apple phones. Back in 2011, it really wasn’t a competition. Apple phones worked while Android ones…just didn’t.
But 7 years is an eternity in the tech game, and boy have things changed.
Well first of all, Apple got caught deliberately slowing people’s phones down in an OS update. That pissed me off, and that’s what eventually did my poor 4S in. Their defense was that the slowdowns were to protect the aging batteries, but I had long ago stopped caring about my 4S’ battery life by using a battery pack. But what that did was it made my phone unusable, since if I didn’t upgrade my iOS version, I couldn’t run any apps. But when I did, my phone became too slow to function.
Now, you could argue that Apple is not alone in this. Other companies like Samsung have also been caught doing this. The thing was, Apple has always been able to charge a premium based on the quality of their products and the understanding that they cared about the consumer and would never deliverately screw us over using cheap tricks like this. I always held Apple on a pedestal above every other tech company out there. Now, I see them as just the same as everyone else.
So when I started researching my smart phone replacement, I looked at everyone, not just Apple. And what I discovered was how different the smart phone market is now than when I remembered it back in 2011.
Back then, it was basically Apple leading the pack, and everyone else playing catch up. Now, it was totally different. It seems the introduction of truly cool features peaked right around the 4S with the introduction of Siri. After that it was just a whole series of incremental improvements that were kinda cool but weren’t really that fundamentally different than the previous iteration. Now with Touch ID! Now with Retina Display! Now slightly bigger!
And that’s fine, technology saturates at a certain point where not every iteration can be the earth-shattering innovation that it once was, but because of that, it’s inadvertantly created the most entitled people in the world: cell phone reviewers.
The Hedonic Treadmill
I’ve written about the Hedonic treadmill before, but I’ve never seen it in more obvious than in reading cell phone reviews. I guess it’s the incremental nature of technology as it saturates. The first iPhone was like “HOLY SHIT I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS.” The next one was like “MIND BLOWN AGAIN!” Then the next one was like “Wow, still amazing!” The the next one was like “Pretty good, but it could have been better.”
Until twenty years later you have people bitching about 11 MP cameras versus 12 MP cameras. Or a 12-hour battery life versus a 10-hour.
And I get it. I’d make the worst cell phone reviewer in the world, because every one of my reviews would be like “WHAT AN AMAZING PIECE OF TECHNOLOGY!” But people don’t read reviews to marvel at smart phones in general, they want to figure out which one to buy. And to do that, reviewers have to pick on flaws and point out differences between each cell phone brand and model, which these days to be honest isn’t really all that much. So they have to nitpick about things that really don’t matter.
Take a recent camera comparison “shoot-out” I read, comparing two cell phones (I don’t even remember which ones) and trying to point out the differences between the phone’s cameras using side-by-side photo comparisons.
At the end of the article, the review had declared a clear winner, but I’m not even sure which picture was which camera, because these two pictures look exactly the same to me.
Comparison is the Thief of Joy
I think Roosevelt said that quote, but it’s totally true. Happiness is a tricky thing, in that there’s an Absolute component of Happiness, where if you have a fundamental human need like food or security that’s not being fulfilled, you’re not going to be happy until that’s fixed.
But there’s also a Relative component of Happiness, and that’s totally a mindset thing. If you were to buy a cell phone, and keep reading cell phone reviews every month, you’d go “Damn! Now they have a 13 MP camera! If only I had waited!” But if you stop reading reviews like I did after my first iPhone 4S purchase, I was able to enjoy the HELL out of that phone for 7 years!
The key difference was I was able to keep my frame of reference with that phone the same as when I bought it. It was am amazing leap of technology back then because I was upgrading from my burner flip-phone that couldn’t type out a text message. And even though we’re up to iPhone XS now, I always compared my trusty 4S to that original flip-phone, not the latest-and-greatest version. So I was always happy with that phone, even though it’s a dinosaur by modern standards.
Keeping the right frame of reference is so important to happiness. Occasionally FIRECracker wakes up all stressed out about the book. “Is it going to be good enough? What if it could be better? What if it flops?” And then I have to remind her that just 5 years ago, the idea of us quitting our jobs, travelling the world, writing a book for Penguin, and actually being paid enough to live on to do it, would have been beyond the wildest fever dream we could have come up with. We went from house-horny cubicle-chained tech workers to millionaire world-travelling professional writers!
That usually calms her down.
The Hedonic Treadmill is super easy to fall into, and something that requires active effort to control.
Even from my teenage years when I used to trade video cards for my gaming PC on eBay, I had a rule that once I bought something, I’d stop shopping for it. Because if I happened to find a better deal somewhere else later, all that would do was make me depressed, while being unable to do anything about it.
Same goes for everything. If you compare what you have now to what you could have, you’re going to be perpetully depressed. But if you keep your frame of reference to what it was like when you were worse off, you’re always going to be happy.
Oh, and what phone did I eventually get? The LG Q6+. It does everything I want and more, it has a dual-sensor camera that can get DSLR-like depth-of-field shots (so expect some cooler pics on the blog in the future), and they massively dropped the price on Black Friday so I was able to grab if for $225 USD, or less than half the price I bought my iPhone 4S for way back in 2011.
And in case you’re wondering, I will now stop reading phone reviews for the next 7 years 🙂
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