Number Based Consumerism

Number based consumerism is when a consumer bases their buying habits on one or more numbers typically part of a products specifications. You likely see this all the time, and perhaps even have been guilty of it yourself. It’s most prevalent in technology though it exists in other sectors.

Diagonal width and depth of a TV

People are obsessed with getting the biggest TV, measured by diagonal width and the thinnest TV that they can afford. Of course anyone who knows even a bit about TV’s knows that you can actually an optimal TV size based on the viewing distance in your setup. THX standards are that the back row of seats have a viewing angle of 26-36 degrees. My understanding is that movie theaters standardize on 30 degrees. If your TV is too large for the distance between the screen and the viewer, your angle will be in excess of 36 degrees. That’s a bad thing.

Screen depth is nothing more than a novelty in most cases. Even the larger TV’s on sale today will mount easily and are no more than a few inches at worst (mostly plasma’s). Your paying a lot of money for something you can only see if you stand at the right angle, normally with your face pressed against a wall.

MHz (now GHz) clock speed of a computers processor

This is one of my favorite myths. Apple was right, clock speed really isn’t a good indicator of computer performance. This was true 10 years ago, and it’s even more true today. Most of the time a computer slows down because of memory limitations. When a computer runs low on RAM it uses the slower hard drive (swap). At this point the memory and the disk I/O are the bottleneck, not the CPU. Almost nobody knows what their disk I/O is. Few know how much RAM their computer has or what they really need (hint: today you want 2 GB per physical core).

Bus speed? Number of cores? HyperThreading enabled? 64-bit (makes more of a difference on Mac than Windows since most still run 32 bit)? Turbo Boost?

I’ll take a slower Intel i7 over an Intel Core 2 in most cases. Especially true on a laptop where the integrated graphics will mean better battery life.

In most cases Microsoft’s Windows Experience Index, part of the Windows System Assessment Tool in Vista and Windows 7 is a better benchmark for performance than CPU clock speed.

MP (Mega Pixels) camera resolution

This is another pervasive myth. The higher the MP rating on a camera, the better the camera. It’s largely false. The greater the MP, the larger the file size. It also means you’ll need more memory cards or higher capacity ones to take the same number of pictures. In most cases you’ll end up reducing the picture anyway since no printers out there is printing 12 MP of data onto a 3×5″ piece of paper. Your monitor doesn’t support that resolution either.

The biggest factor in camera photo quality is the lenses. Most consumer grade cameras, especially on the cheaper side use terrible plastic lenses, or low-grade glass at best. Optical grade glass and lenses are expensive. Plastic is cheap.

Most cameras do OK in well-lit situations, they suffer in low light situations. A larger sensor will often (but not always) do better in these cases (large sensors can matter in many ways). A cheap LED used for flash can also be problematic when its color is really off, this is common on cell phones and cheap point & shoot cameras.

The last reason your photos likely don’t look good is because most cameras automatically write JPEG files to your memory card. That’s really nice and convenient, but remember JPEG is a lossy format. Data is lost just between the sensor and your memory card. RAW however uses more space on your memory card but ensures that the whole photo is saved. Then you can save as JPEG on your computer and choose how much data you want to sacrifice for a smaller file size. TIFF can do fine as well. Many people (and almost all professionals) fire up Photoshop or another photo editor and do some basic corrections to get the photo how they want it. Just a few tweaks by someone with a good eye and it can make a bad photo look very good.

Getting a high MP camera just means you’ll be spending more on memory cards, it doesn’t mean you’ll take better pictures.

24kt Cabling

Would you want anything less than the highest quality gold connecting your consumer grade electronics? Of course not. 24kt all the way!

Truth is, if you have consumer grade gear, you’ll likely get no benefit from these insanely expensive cables, than from the cheap stuff on MonoPrice.com or Amazon’s house brand with no mention of what purity the gold plating is. Your equipment isn’t that sensitive if you bought it during a 4th of July sale at a national chain and got a coupon for 50% off 1 DVD with your purchase.

The reason gold is used for the connector is that gold has good conductivity but doesn’t corrode. Silver is actually best but tarnishes which could impede your connection. In most cases aluminum, steel, or copper will do just fine and never corrode on you.

In many cases those generic cables are made in the same factories as the brand name ones. They just don’t carry the branding and marketing hype.

Make your internet faster with 802.11n

802.11n is up to 300Mbps! Your old 802.11g is only 54Mbps. ‘n’ comes after ‘g’ so it’s better! You’ve seen that before. Just remember this: Most consumers even in good areas have connections that burst at up to maybe 20Mbps. Unless you have some serious broadband you won’t see any benefit speed wise. 802.11n does have better signal strength thanks to MIMO, assuming you hardware supports it, and you actually need it. Most devices that support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz aren’t dual band. Instead they are selecting one or another which doesn’t help as much as a true dual band access point. Most people won’t see anything other than placebo effect at best. They may have faster CPU’s but generally speaking they shouldn’t consume much CPU anyway. My 802.11g averages around 1-2% with a fair number of firewall rules.

5Ghz can benefit some folks, as can faster local network access if you move lots of data within your network. For most people however the benefits just aren’t there today despite what the numbers will make you think. It’s a Ferrari in a traffic jam at best.

Linen thread count

Linen lately is all about the thread count. The higher the thread count, the better quality and strength. Largely this is actually true, at least when taken at face value. Of course there’s diminishing return somewhere around the 300 mark. Truth is that many actually lie about their thread count. Shocking right?

Conclusion

People buy things and make insane purchases simply based on a number which they presume is all-encompassing and correlates with quality. In practice however, this is often not the case.

If you ever find yourself fixated on a number when shopping for something, stop and wonder if you’re falling for this trap. Marketers use this very effectively. Just a little digging about what the number really represents will generally show you that the number is a marketing decoy.

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