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Gadgets

The Yooks and Zooks were the two warring tribes in Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book. The Yooks ate their bread with the butter-side up. The Zooks preferred theirs butter-side down. (Assholes.) This caused a serious rift not unlike many of our own in the fully dimensional world. And while we haven't quite reached Seussian apocalypse, we are divided Americans in almost every way. By political affiliation. By race and gender. By class and religion. By Amazing Race participants and matters as frivolous as breakfast food. As much as we claim to crave consensus (hey, we even let our Supreme Court elect us one heck of a uniter), our default setting seems to be "schism." We want to be different, pursue different paths, act as a bundle of separate confederacies, coalescing around our narrow passions and sniping at the other clans dotting our cultural war zone. We can't, by my count, consolidate behind a shared interest 99 times out of 100!

...Except when it comes to those gosh darn gadgets.

We adore those gadgets. Love, double love, many times over love -- gadgets. And I mean everyone. There was one guy over the past 30 years who didn't like gadgets, and that was the Unabomber. Everyone else: very much on board with gadgets. If RadioShack launched a congressional candidate and sponsored his support with gift certificates, electoral results would look downright North Korean. Gadgets are for everyone, because everyone has his or her gadgetrical niche (technical term).

Our love doesn't have to come from a place of know how or technical expertise. That's the point. We don't know a thing! But we like pretending that we do. And we like machines -- however simple, however complicated -- that smooth over our mistakes. Gadgets are suited for the deficient. And for everything! What do you like to do? Fish? Golf? Garden? Bowl? Cook? Ski? Knit? Drive? Sleep? Breathe? There's a gadget out there waiting to find you. There are a thousand gadgets out there waiting to find you.

There are two or three magazines still alive that are dedicated just to your hobby's gadgets. There are sites debating those gadgets' merits. There are 1800 used ones on eBay right now, just waiting.

So as I was saying... there's a problem. Gadgets: not always so great. In fact: gadgets are decidedly un-great. For one thing, they're expensive. They also consume a ton of energy -- not just the world's but our own personal reserves. They wind up costing us at least as much time as they save. They break. Oh, and they enable our obsessive multi-tasking, which serves to truncate our attention spans and our real lives. And they're almost instantly obsolete. Did I say they complicate our lives? If we were handed Occam's razor in 2008, we'd probably add eight blades and a motor, make the damn thing run real-time NASDAQ updates and tell us when our water is boiled.

Yep, gadgets are addictive and debilitating. Crackberrying would be funnier if our national obsession with gadgetry began and ended with hand-held communication devices.

And that brings me to... Why do we love these little bringers of misery? They're fun. We like playing. We like them because they're status symbols. We like to brag and covet. We like that gadgets afford us the opportunity to indulge two of our greatest pleasures: regression and obsession. We get to be children--socially acceptable children allowed in First Class without anyone sighing. We get to fixate on something unworthy of our focus. What's new? What's it cost? Who has it? How does it work? Does he have one? Does it come in black? Can I thinker here? Will it work there?

Ah, come on, you know it's you. Gadgets speak to our inclinations in ways we'd rather they didn't. Those LCD screens shed more than a single kind of light. On the one hand, they reveal the precious American desire to want to do something or anything better/faster/more efficiently/more mobile-ly than before. This is not a bad thing. It is striving and didn't Michael J. Fox just tell us on ABC "It's good to just be striving" (gag me). No really. It is ambition. It is the pursuit of excellence. It is good.

This might also be construed as the symptom of an illness that has settled into our soul, restlessness writ large. Our choices and behavior do not provide nourishment we need, and we don't want to look at the big picture. So we are thus preoccupied with the small. (Have I gone on too long! I'm writing this on a new gadget! I can't help myself!)

We can't perfect our lives and our world is far from it, but we can perfect the perfect PDA. Or nose hair trimmer. Or card shuffler (note to self: time to get one of those). And when we buy and show off and then lose interest, we'll only be down a few bucks. It's not like we won't purchase a new distraction.

Tomorrow.

If you agree, tell me.