Today a nice young man helped me get my daughter a new mobile phone. It's an early 16th birthday present, plus she dropped her old phone during band practice and it now displays everything only in virulent shades of green and pink.
The process of buying the new phone took almost three hours, during which the nice young man did his best to sell me more services and gadgetry. This included something that wirelessly recharges all your gadgets; evidently putting a plug into a wall socket has become too much work.
"Along with your mobile, you can charge your iPod, eReader, game controller, and your [Netbook or laptop. I can't remember which] all at the same time," he assured me.
I politely refused. "I don't own any of those things." I've been thinking about getting my daughter an iPod for Christmas but I'm not crazy about the potential damage it might cause her hearing. If I do, she can certainly plug it into the wall to recharge it.
He gave me the usual weird Huh? look but recovered quickly and moved on to the final phase of the purchasing process, when he explained the features of the new phone. When we got to the apps, of which there were apparently several million that could be downloaded, he asked which ones I happened to use on my own phone.
"None," I told him. "I don't use any."
Now he stared at me. "You don't have any apps on your phone?" In the same tone someone might ask, "You don't have any panties on?"
To show him I wasn't lying, I took out the disposable cell phone I've been lugging around for the last four years. It still has nearly all of the 1300 minutes I got for free when the disposable phone company forced me to give up the original phone I bought (seven years ago) because their equipment no longer supported the clunky old thing (they also gave me a newer, slimmer phone for free.) P.S., it also has another 1200 free minutes I've collected over the last four years when I renew my airtime.
The nice young man examined it with the awe of an Egyptologist discovering a lost king's tomb. "What does it do?"
"It sends and receives phone calls." I thought for a minute. "And it rings. That's pretty much it." Before he could launch into the "But don't you want a phone that can take pictures, check the internet, play music, access Twitter and Facebook, realign the Hubble" speech I added, "That's all I need it to do."
He wasn't giving up. "I could transfer this line over to your existing plan with us for $9.99 a month."
"Sorry," I said. "It's thirty bucks cheaper to buy a year of airtime from them in advance. Plus every time I do, they give me another 400 free minutes I'll never use."
He was speechless.
"It's okay. It's a great phone, and it does exactly what I need to it to do: it sits in my purse in case of an emergency while I'm on the road. Plus it costs me less to use for a whole year than I will pay you guys for my daughter to use her phone for a month." I smiled. "Isn't technology wonderful?"
I think he was still muttering to himself when I left the store.
When you pursue publication, you can be persuaded to invest a lot of money in a whole pile of gadgets and special software, all designed to make storytelling easier. I'm sure they even have how-to phone apps for writers now. You can also pay to attend conferences, workshops and seminars; you can join writer's organizations and guilds and subscribe to indy rags and what have you. For every bell and whistle out there, there is someone to convince you of how much you need it. This is because their priority is to get you to buy it.
I won't tell you what to do with your hard-earned cash; what writing stuff we buy is something we have to decide for ourselves. If it weren't for the Dragon, I know I couldn't write my novels, so there's one example. Another is the AlphaSmart Neo, which other writers tell me is as helpful as it is durable. It's only logical that some other products out there are equally worthwhile.
But before you whip out that credit card or write a check, just ask yourself: Do I need this, or am I being sold this?