Monday, November 20, 2006

PlayStation 3 and the Fourth Circle of Hell

Ken’s recent rant about consumerism and the antics at the PlayStation 3 lines got me thinking about Dante’s “Inferno.” In Canto VII, the poet runs across the hoarders and the wasters in the fourth circle of hell. They’re locking in perpetual combat, never realizing that they are two sides of the same coin. Dante’s guide Virgil remarks:

"Now canst thou, Son, behold the transient farce
Of goods that are committed unto Fortune,
For which the human race each other buffet;

For all the gold that is beneath the moon,
Or ever has been, of these weary souls
Could never make a single one repose."

So we have people waiting in line for two days to purchase a PlayStation 3 – in order to immediately put it on Ebay. Is it really essential to get the very first PlayStation 3? How much above retail price is it worth?

I admit I never really understood the importance of being the very first one to get the hot new gadget. In my experience, it takes a generation or two to work all the bugs out – and by that time the item is much improved, and far more reasonably priced.

Consider the iPod. The first ones held 5GB and cost $400. That’s less than the $250 8GB iPod nano holds now. Anyone who stood in line for one of those first generation iPods still have them? How about the original “Tickle Me Elmo” or even the first xBox?

In another post I’ll tackle the thorny concept of collecting vs. hoarding, but this holiday season as the ad campaigns ramp up to full strength, I’ll just ask that you take a moment to ponder your “must-have” item from last year. Do you even remember what it was? Do you still have it? Is it still absolutely essential to your health and happiness?

It’s easy – especially with consumer electronics – to get caught up in the acquisition of things. And if something makes us fleetingly happy, well surely an even bigger one will make us happier still. Dante’s hoaders tried to hold onto everything that came their way in life, accumulating as much as possible. The wasters appeared to be the opposite, frittering away all they had for momentary diversions.

But consider this: as we gather more and more cool gadgets around us, maxing out our credit cards in the process, are we hoarders, or wasters, or both? And, while we may subscribe to the philosophy that “Whoever dies with the most toys wins,” we may want to ask what exactly the prize is. Can a PlayStation 3, a Nintendo Wii or even a Zune buy our weary souls repose?

- Ralph

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