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Published: Tuesday, 2/20/2007

Some users lose spark for fun of new gadgets

The electronic lifestyle leads to those inevitable moments when adding so much as one more charger can upend your home s delicate balance.

These days, for example, I m trying to get more from my iPod.

I m leaning toward one of those docks that both charges the iPod and gives me decent external speakers. (And yes, I recognize the irony in seeking this out, since the initial iPod lure was a highly portable personal music experience. )

But adding yet more equipment demands a commitment, almost an electronic marriage.

If I sink even more money into my iPod experience, I m gambling it won t be outmoded before I get at least a few months use out of the darned set-up.

And if I lose the gamble?

Then it s just one more item around the house with a plug that sits there, gathering dust.

And I m not alone. This phenomenon is especially true if you share your home with teens.

In a recent New York Times story (headline: For Sale by Teenager: Lightly Used Gadget. Cheap ), I learned from the Consumer Electronics Association that homes with teenagers have an average of 35 electricity-sucking gadgets cluttering up the place.

Compare this with the 1980s remember, a Sony Walkman seemed so amazing?

According to the CEA, the typical household back in the New Wave era had no more than five electronic gizmos.

Downright primitive

I read the Times story about teens who commonly sell off outdated laptops, early-generation iPods, and who knows what else and it made me think back to another story, this one from USA Today, that I d come across a few days earlier.

It was about a phenomenon known as function fatigue, which is apparently what a lot of us suffer as a result of our over-performing cell phones.

You do know what cell phones are, right?

They re the gadgets that let us take and show photos, that record our on-the-go voice memos, play our downloaded music, and give us streaming video.

Oh. And they do phone calls too.

But the abundance of cell-phone features, according to a survey by the Forum to Advance the Mobile Experience, simply overwhelms many of us.

The director of FAME was quoted pointing out that many of our phones come equipped with too many product features that consumers don t use, or don t know how to use, and it frustrates them.

We get all ga-ga about new phones in the store, but end up toting them home without knowing much about them.


Function fatigue.

But I would argue that cell phones are the least of it. I would argue that function fatigue is really the compounded experience of all our electronics.

Hey, it s exhausting to buy hundreds of dollars worth of stuff and then realize, deep in your heart, that you don t know too much about them.

It s an updated version of the age-old VCR Programming Problem this time, to the 5th power.

Or even, if you re the typical American household with teens, the 35th power.

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