When I’m looking to buy something, I want to buy the best I can get for the money I have to spend. This is true of everyone, really, but it seems that geeks take to it with an uncommon zeal. For example, I know several programmers who dabble in photography, and it seemed that every one of them went straight from the basic point-and-click, to dropping a couple grand on a DSLR with a few lenses and who knows what else. Without much prior experience in photography, they immersed themselves in the available resources and researched all the possible options, and went for pro-level (or prosumer, I suppose) cameras. And, incidentally, they take some incredible photos with said.
I came of age during a time in computing when doing this kind of research was easy. You pretty much had to choose between Intel and AMD. The processor speed was clearly indicated in megahertz. A Pentium III would be faster than a Pentium II. 256 megabytes of ram was better than 128. You just got the highest numbers you could for your budget, because there weren’t multi-core processors, or different memory speeds, or SSDs, or anything else. The graphics card was probably the toughest decision to make, but even those had a specific amount of memory.
Just as things in the Wintel world started getting complicated—when they stopped using regular numbers for processors and made it all weird—I switched to Mac laptops, so I really only had one decision to make: pick a screen size, then customize it to the extent my budget allowed. At this point in my life, that works for me: I know how long I can agonize over different options when presented with too many of them, so it’s best if I just avoid having those options to consider. The Mac lineup is started to have that problem for me again, though: retina screen or regular resolution? Regular Macbook Pro, or Air? Core i5, or i7? (Is that going to matter for me? I have no idea.) This is why it’s sometimes best for me to just decide, “I’m buying a thing today,” and then drive to a store that stocks a couple of them and just pick one.
This point was driven home just yesterday. I’d like to get some camping gear: having just moved from DC to Denver, there’s a lot fewer people and a lot more space, so it’s reasonable to find a quiet camping spot without having to drive four hours out of the city. I pulled up the list of tents on REI.com, examined it thoughtfully for a minute or two, and politely closed the window because I had no idea what I was looking at.
I spent several years in Boy Scouts and went on a handful of camping trips, but all I really learned is that it sucks when it rains. I don’t know what I need now! I suppose we need a two-person tent, though having a bit more space is never a bad thing. Do I need a four-season? Probably not, we won’t be camping in the snow. They come with two doors now? What’s the difference between backpacking and mountaineering? What are combi poles? Do I want that or a pole hub? Why do some of these look like they were designed by Frank Gehry?
The customer reviews don’t help me any. I can check them out on REI.com, but a lot of the tents don’t have any reviews, so I could look up the same tents on Amazon to see what people there are saying, but then maybe I should also search forums to look for horror stories…
And then I remember: you are not a camper! You idiot! You will drive your car to some campground, and pitch your tent within 10 yards of that car, and it will be warm outside because otherwise you wouldn’t be there in the first place. If a couple trips like that go well, THEN we can worry about getting a smaller, lighter one for actually hiking in somewhere to make camp, but to worry about that now is just stupid (or “aspirational” if you want to put a more positive spin on it).
And so, I will ultimately do what I know is best for me: I will drive to REI, and I will look at the tents they have there, and I will choose a cheap-ish one, and I will actually make plans to go camping instead of debating the merits of various tent-pole arrangements.