Gear Acquisition Syndrome

I have just read an interesting post about Gear Acquisition Syndrome [1] as applied to the guitar industry. Apparently it’s common for people to spend a lot of time and money buying guitar equipment instead of actually playing a guitar. I think that this problem extends way beyond guitars and to most aspects of human endeavour, and that actively trying to avoid the problem is a key to getting things done. I believe that the author however makes a strategic error by then going on to advise people on how to buy gear that won’t become obsolete. Sure it’s good to have gear that will suit your future needs and not require replacement, but if you are repeatedly buying new gear then your problem usually is not that the gear doesn’t do the job but that you want to buy more.

I used to suffer from this problem to a degree with my computer work, and still have problems controlling myself when I see tasty kit going cheap on auction.

Here is a quick list of things to do to avoid GAS:

  • Recognise the problems with getting new gear. It costs money (thus requiring you to do more paid work or skip something else that you enjoy). It needs to have the OS installed and configured which takes time away from other things (unless your job is related to installing software on new machines). Finally it might be flawed. Every time you buy a new computer you risk having a failure, if it’s a failure that happens some time after deploying the machine then it can cause data loss and down-time which is really annoying.
  • Keep in mind what you do. I primarily do software work (programming and sys-admin). While some knowledge of hardware design is required for sys-admin work and the ability to make my own hardware work is required for my own software development I don’t need to be an expert on this. I don’t need to have the latest hardware with new features, the old stuff worked well when I bought it and still works well now. My main machine (which I am using to write this post) is a Thinkpad T41p, it’s a few years old and a little slow by today’s standards but for everything that really matters to me it performs flawlessly. If your job really requires you to have experience with all the latest hardware then you probably work in a computer store and get access to it for free!
  • When you have a problem think about whether new gear is the correct solution. There are a couple of areas in which performance on my Thinkpad is lower than I desire, but they are due to flaws in software that I am using. As I am primarily a programmer and the software in question is free it’s better for me (and the world) if I spend my time fixing the software rather than buying new hardware.
  • Buy decent (not hugely expensive) gear so that you don’t need to continually buy new stuff. EG if a machine is going to store a moderate amount of data then make sure it has space for multiple hard drives so you can easily add new drives.
  • Don’t buy the biggest and baddest machine out there. New hardware is developed so quickly that the fastest gear available now will be slow by next-year’s standards. Buy the second-fastest machine and it’ll be a lot cheaper and often more reliable.
  • Determine your REAL requirements that match what you do. As I do software it makes sense for me to have the most reliable hardware possible so I can avoid stuffing around with things that don’t interest me so much (and which I’m not so good at). So I need reliable machines, I will continue buying Thinkpads (I plan to keep my current one until it’s 5 years old and then buy another), I believe that the Thinkpad is the Rolls-Royce of laptops (see the Lenovo Blogs site for some interesting technical information [2]) and that continuing to use such hardware will keep me effectively using my time on software development rather than fooling with hardware. For desktop machines I have recently wasted unreasonable amounts of time due to memory errors which inspired me to write a post about what a company like Dell could do to address what I consider the real needs of myself and other small business owners [3] (note that Dell is actually producing more suitable hardware in this regard than most companies – they just don’t market it as such).
  • Keep in mind the fact that most things you want to do don’t require special hardware. In fact for most tasks related to computers people were doing similar things 10 years ago with much less hardware. If you believe that it’s just the lack of hardware that prevents you from doing great work then your problem is self-confidence not hardware availability.

It’s interesting that a sports-shoe company has a slogan “Just Do It” while trying to convince people that having special shoes is required for sporting success. Most professional athletes started training with minimal equipment. Get some basic gear and Just Do It!.


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