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Monday, October 20, 2003  

Buyer's remorse can taint high tech purchases

My friend Richard Einhorn of Tristero brought my attention to a revealing article about high tech and buyer's remorse in the New York Times. I last grumbled about some high tech gadgets when I discussed the Palm Zire 71 personal digital assistant I had received as a gift, but was ambivalent about. The premise of the article in the NYT is that much of the high tech sells bounty ends up unused.

People acquire these things -- hand-held personal digital assistants, flatbed scanners, compact disc copiers and a host of other objects -- because they promise to make life more efficient, more fun, or, some confess, simply because they appear to help them keep up with what their "wired" friends and neighbors have.

But many such products are simply too complicated for their own good. And all too often, the buyers find that they cannot really change their lives just by acquiring something new and different.

A fellow resident of Puddletown is among the people profiled.

Veronica Vichit-Vadakan, 29, a freelance film editor in Portland, Ore., is all too familiar with the problem of buying things she does not use. Her digital camera sits, as if glued in place, on a bookshelf in her bedroom. And Ms. Vichit-Vadakan's CD burner, which was supposed to allow her to make copies of music she loves for her friends, is the embodiment of a promise gone awry.

"I was hoping to get organized about backing up my files and burning CD's for friends and making copies of CD's and making copies of my software, which they say you're supposed to do," she said. "But nope, I never did any of that."

It's not all her fault. She never did get the CD burner to work on her computer. Weeks, then months passed, and she finally boxed it back up to get it off her desk. Now she is trying to sell it on Craig's List, a Web site built around classified advertisements, but so far there are no takers.

"I guess CD burners have gotten a lot faster," she said. "No one wants this one."

My experience echoes Veronica's. I have a brand new year-old all-in-one printer, copier, fax and scanner, that I purchased late in its sales cycle for only $100. However, I have never actually used my bargain. Epson never produced drivers for Macintosh OS X for most of its printers, scanners and all-in-ones, including the Stylus Scan 2000. Since I rarely venture into Classic, I don't employ this lovely hunk of high tech for any of the things it can do. Efforts to resell it have been unsuccessful. My guess is that people can't believe someone is selling a new whiz-bang device so cheaply; for about the cost of replacement ink cartridges. I did sell my unused $169 Scanmaker SCSI scanner to a neighbor for $30, though. I was able to score another $20 by reselling the unused software on eBay. Since Apple had dropped SCSI ports and I had to replace the last computer I had with one, there wasn't a better option. My newest digital camera, a Pentax Optio 330 is dandy, and much neglected. As is my cordless mouse and an unopened Apple Plaintalk microphone that resides in the back of the hall closet.

A psychiatrist and remorse buyer interviewed by the NYT sheds some light on why we do this.

Julie Marcuse, 57, a psychoanalyst in Manhattan, has the advantage of knowing how to apply cogent psychological analysis to a behavior pattern she knows all too well.

Not long after buying a Webcam that eventually ended up back in its box, Dr. Marcuse bought a scanner. That, too, was a bust. The scanner software created a series of conflicts with other software on her computer. She gave it away.

"I just wanted it out of my house," she said.

"I think we're usually pursuing a fantasy of empowerment when we buy these things," Dr. Marcuse said.

Asked why people have trouble learning to be more wary, Dr. Marcuse referred to "an endearing optimism" on the part of consumers. "Hope springs eternal, you know."

But what about the Palm Zire 71, you ask? I exchanged it for a Palm Tungsten C. I wanted that PDA because I like to use Wi-Fi. My thinking was that I would take it with me instead of my laptop some of the time. I would be able to read my daily sites using the Web service Avantgo and maybe even blog from the PDA if I purchased an attachable keyboard. So far, Avantgo has refused to sync with the Tungsten C, which uses Palm's new operating system, OS 5. There is no Mac software for OS 5 from Avantgo. I also have not located a browser that will fit material to the small screen. (Netspring, a browser I used with my Palm m500 series PDA is not compatible with OS 5.) The MP3 player capability will require I purchase compatible software and yet another pair of earphones. I may need to buy a new microphone to use the voice recorder.

Buyers beware.

2:29 PM