Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kindle Envy

Every musician knows what it’s like to suffer buyer’s remorse in a gadget or equipment purchase. This is the feeling that manifests itself sometime between one minute and 24 hours after you finally plunk down your hard-earned cash. You suspect that the company you’ve just supported by buying their product will instantly relegate that model to the scrap heap and release something more powerful, cheaper, shinier, and happier. And inevitably, they do. If you stay in the technology-buying game long enough, you will swear that the company is simply waiting for you to buy before they announce their new releases.

To look at it from a non-musical perspective for a moment, let’s take the case of the Kindle, which I own. To say that the new version, just released last month, is an improvement over the original laughably understates things. It positively trumps its predecessor in every conceivable benchmark. The new Kindle costs less, has a smaller footprint (while retaining the same viewable screen area), is lighter and thinner, faster, more readable, has more memory and a better keypad, offers a choice of configurations (you can buy a cheaper Wi-Fi-only version or the full wireless version), and it even looks better (a more mellow charcoal-gray versus glaring appliance-white). And the biggest kicker: if you have an old one, you can’t update it for any of the newer features.

All of this made me resent Amazon for its closed-system approach to technology. I can’t even upgrade my memory? I have to buy a new unit altogether? I have to dispose of my working version in a landfill to keep up? What is this, 1980?

But then I got a grip. My original still does every single thing it does the day I bought it. My experience reading everything from Moby Dick to the Eleven Rack manual on my original Kindle would have been no better than on the new Kindle. The realization opened my eyes to a bad habit: I’m focusing on the tools again.

Let’s go back to music technology. How new your interface is has absolutely nothing to do with the music you create on it. Wouldn’t you rather have a five-year old audio interface than no audio interface? Among other things, it would mean that you’ve been producing work on it while your careful friend waits for the preamps to get just a little more transparent. Thinking about the next one down the line takes your eyes off the prize and will make your crazy. And there’s actually a paradox in updates: The only true hedge against obsolescence, the only sure way to make sure you buy only the latest model, is to make your purchase the day before you die.

Buy the best thing you can afford today, run it into the ground, and when you come up for air, look around to see what’s happened while you’ve been busy working. Isn’t it the best feeling in the world to be able to say, “I can’t upgrade my OS this weekend because I’m on a creative roll. No time to do anything but write.” This time the artist wins against Big Technology.

Jon Chappell ( is the author of six books in the well-known “For Dummies” series, including Rock Guitar for Dummies and Blues Guitar for Dummies, as well as The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Digital Home Recording (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill).

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