Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Gadget and the Petrolicious Time Machine

Long live the gadget.

I get asked all the time how a guy infatuated with bicycles also justifies a love of cars.  Well I can only answer that I don't just love cars or bicycles.  Cars are not inherently evil.  The evil part about the automobile is the car-centric culture and wasteful land development and mass consumerism that so many people believe has to come with a car.   All of that is a conversation for another day though, so lets just keep it simple.  In the end I just love all things Gadgety. Gadgets are awesome!

Like the bouncing lights on a stereo equalizer.  You'd better be in love with those little goofy lights and all those slider button doodads because today those equalizer things have little to no value because the capability of modern home audio components mean that they can nearly think for themselves, and messing with an EQ is admittedly just that, messing with it.  So what? They are fun!  Mess on!

Or the floppy power meter needles on an amplifier.  Most high-end amps seem to be happy with finely finished aluminum casings or anodized heat sinks, but not this Onkyo 504.  It has bouncing needles and boy does it make a difference in sound to watch them wiggle. Like little people enjoying boat-drink cocktails and dancing in a tiny disco in your living room.  A toast to you, Gadget.

Like the clear station preset buttons on a vintage 80's Alpine 7347 car stereo that glow green at night.  You know the one.  It came in a Lamborghini Countach back in the day, which was the epitome of 'slathered in useless gadgets'.  The poster children for useless decoration, hand in hand, Countach and Alpine. Today these vintage Alpine's fetch nearly as much money on eBay as a Countach.  Buy it for looks, buy it for life!

Like the glowing tubes in a McIntosh amp.  If you've never sat in a dimly lit room and listened to something mellow and flowing on a McIntosh amp and just watched the tubes dimly glow like distant Christmas lights in a tiny village far far away, then you don't know the meaning of the word 'warmth'.  Yuppy excess?  Fine. It will still be the last yuppy excess you'll ever buy.  I'll take two, please.  After all, they are mono.

Like an Omega watch, which has a Helium release valve to purge pressure buildup in the case when diving at depth.  Never mind that I no longer dive, or that I never dove to a depth great enough to require a Helium Purge in the first place.  The valve even has a little 'He" on the crown of it. Over the last 20 years I've probably bought 20 watches hoping to feel for my investment and to love my decision and I probably spent thousands doing it.  Why didn't I just buy the one in the first place? Because it was 'just a watch'?  But it isn't. It's a Gadget.  Gadgets are awesome.

Like my affinity for stickers.  Nobody knows why and I can't explain it.  Stickers are wonderful.  The colors and logos.  The shapes of the die cutting.  They serve no purposes but to essentially advertise for somebody else's business success, but they sure do help the imagination carry you to a distant place or memory like a well composed photograph.    

Or the absolutely useless Niner headset top-cap, which actually covers a functional bolt necessary to adjusting bearing pre-load on a bicycle headset with something that is admittedly a piece of garbage.  Oh, but what a cool piece of garbage it is. Color, shape, detail, silhouette images and shaded relief.  Simple and small can still be lasting and valuable. My personal Niner top-cap is crowned with a Left Hand Brewery bottle cap that I harvested from a beer in Colorado in 1996.  When I ride the Turner, I get to remember that beer.  Gadget meets Gadget, sparks memory.

Gadgets that last are the best.  Have a relationship with your Gadgets.  Make the investment in time and thought like you would with the people you know.  See we all buy these things, we just don't embrace the Gadget.  We almost all have watches, stereos, bicycles, cars.  We use these things daily without thinking about it.  What a shame!  The opportunity to have something that lasts long enough to be a reminder of an experience or a pleasurable moment. Things? Yes.  Just things?  Not so fast.  With memories and experiences they become so much more. Gadgets are our friends. Gadgets need us.  Gadgets can miss us.  They like us.  They like me and I like them.  You can trust a Gadget.

 Sometimes the hardest part of getting rid of a gadget is thinking about it after it's gone.  In 1993 I bought a Cannondale M800 Beast of the East mountain bike.  It creaked a lot, and a year later I sold it, only to buy another one a few years ago, not with the intention to ride much, but with the intention to just have.  I did the same thing with a Klein Rascal that I rarely ever ride, and the original EWR that I also ride sparingly and gingerly even though I know it is built like a tank and will probably outlast me.

Now imagine a family connection to your gadgets, a personal historical connection. Multi-generational Gadgets! Your grandmother's Steinway, or your father's VW.  Imagine you had a chance to own a gadget similar to one your father or grandfather owned many years before and you grew up with but they had to sell.  Maybe they even had to sell it off under dire circumstance. You buy the replacement, love it, make it like you remember it as a child.  You keep it as a reminder of a simpler time.  It warms you like the tubes in that McIntosh amp.  It is a Gadget.  It speaks to you.  It makes you feel.  Makes you remember.  Maybe even tingle.

Time Machine indeed.
Long live the Gadget.


Paul said...

I love gadgets. Do you have a McIntosh AMP? I have always wanted one but Caroline doesn't like music enough to justify it

Steve Reed said...

Oh, gosh, equalizers. I haven't thought of them in years. What a silly invention.

As you know, I don't really share your gadget fascination. (With one or two exceptions -- ball radio!) To me, a machine is just a machine. I've especially been bewildered by your fascination with watches.

BUT I have other items that I invest with the same degree of sentiment and personification -- books, or tchotchkes or old toys. So I can see where you're coming from there.

At some point I realized that the memories embodied in an object are still with me -- at least until the Alzheimer's sets in -- regardless of whether the object itself is. That freed me to get rid of a lot of objects, and for the most part I don't miss them. Occasionally I do, though, and I do feel sad when I think of objects that have been sold or given away, and stripped of their associations -- their past, their peculiarities.

You just can't keep everything, though! Well, I can't, anyway. My life is just too mobile for that.