Until recently, I owned a mobile phone so chunky and ridiculous that people had started to laugh at it – including, memorably, the staff at the shop where I’d originally bought it. (In their defence, I’d had it since 2007, which is the Mesolithic period in phone years.) But if there’s one thing psychology has taught us, it’s that buying shiny gadgets is a guaranteed path to fulfilment, so I’m now the proud owner of a Nexus 4, a sleek, blemish-free slab of glass, 9mm thick.Well, I say “proud owner”. “Proud but with a background hum of anxiety” is more like it. Because it is, after all, a blemish-free slab of glass – which means I can never quite forget the risk of dropping or scratching it.
This affliction – some sufferers call it “gadget paranoia” – turns out to be widespread in this era of aesthetically wondrous smartphones, tablets and laptops, many either conceived by or copied from Apple’s chief designer, Jonathan Ive. “OK, this is ruining my life,” writes someone using the name Daikyouju at MacRumors.com, “and maybe it’s happening the same to some of you, too. I’m tired of buying microfibre cloths and expensive polishes, just for seeking perfection in my Apple gadgets, and worrying too much about them. How can I get over this?”
This underlying phenomenon isn’t new: we’ve probably all known people who keep the plastic covers on the sofa, or who won’t open books properly, for fear of cracking the spine. But never before has such fragile gorgeousness been so basic a part of the daily routine.
What’s strange about gadget paranoia is how the standard I feel under pressure to maintain seems to emerge, so to speak, from the object itself, not from me. I bought the phone for its functions, not its beauty; but I got the beauty, too, and now that demands upkeep.
There’s an echo here of Nassim Taleb‘s advice, in his book The Black Swan, to stop running for trains: “Missing a train is only painful if you run after it! Likewise, not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that’s what you are seeking.” Since reading that, I’ve stopped running for underground trains (and buses). I’ll break that rule if I’m genuinely in danger of being late. But the mere fact that a train’s about to leave isn’t a reason to hurry – just as the fact that a gadget’s blemish-free isn’t a reason to keep it that way. How many other such dictates am I unwittingly following? It’s unsettling to speculate.
The standard advice to gadget paranoiacs is, in essence, to get over it (or buy a protective case). “A few knocks along the way add character,” argues Jamie Condliffe at Gizmodo.com. “Those little scratches will remind you of things that actually happen in your life. I have a ding in mine from when I walked into a wall drunk. That was a good night.”
Others tell of smashing their phones, then realising they’re glad: the pressure’s off. The easiest way to eliminate the stress of maintaining a perfect record in anything is to fail: thereafter, perfection’s no longer an option. “I was at someone’s house when they accepted delivery of their brand new motorcycle,” recalls one contributor to the community site Ask MetaFilter. “First thing he did was reach down and grab a handful of gravel [and] throw it at the gas tank: ‘There, now I don’t have to worry about that.’ ”
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This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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