Reality Distortion Field

This week was the Consumer Electronics Show out in Las Vegas. CES is a tech lover’s Olympics, every new gadget—from super thin TVs to super useless iPhone cases—shows up on the gigantic show floor. There’s a lot of gee-whiz, “Imagine a world” technology shown at CES, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement. To keep their minds in check, the guys at Tested.com (my favorite tech site) frequently talk about the reality distortion field.

The reality distortion field is usually created around a product by a spokesperson, PR representative, or a charismatic CEO (think Steve Jobs); though sometimes a product can feature an element so stunning that it creates a reality distortion field without the help of a talking head spewing marketing bullet points. When trapped in a RDF, you lose track of logic, reason, and your personal budget. All that remains is desire.

This week, I noticed that the Tested crew was quick to point out when one of them was affected by a RDF. Maybe it was a super high resolution screen, the presence of an A-list celebrity, or the sheer novelty of a mostly useless gadget. I appreciate that they can fess up to that, because it adds a bit of honesty to their coverage, a pinch of salt if you will. Sometimes things are much cooler in the moment. Sometimes, being there, basking in the glow of that 75 inch TV is enough to make you forget that you could never fit it inside your home. 

Have you ever been trapped in a RDF? It doesn’t happen to me often, despite being a super tech geek. I’m typically a frugal and well-informed shopper. I do my research, read reviews, and then I purchase something I know I want. The danger of the RDF is the impulse buy, which could lead to buyer’s remorse. That’s not to say I’ve never succumbed to a RDF. Here are a few items I own that trapped me in a reality distortion field and didn’t let go till the money left my wallet.

Original iPod Nano

Remember that first Nano commercial? My wife and I were in our last year of college, and we were both thinking about taking the mp3 player plunge. Then that commercial aired. We literally ordered two—one white, one black—the same night. As a young married couple in college, two 2GB iPod Nanos was not a small purchase. Looking back now, I can’t believe I was okay making it, but hey, sometimes those impulse purchases are a lot of fun. Especially when you have someone egging you on.

Verdict: My iPod Nano was my constant companion for several years. It’s funny how expensive 2 gigs were back then, and how quickly I hit the 500 song limit. Still, I loved that original Nano and used it daily. It eventually got to the point that it couldn’t hold a charge longer than 30 minutes. So I moved on to a 4th gen Nano, then to a 5th gen after I accidentally washed the 4th gen one. I still held on to that original Nano though, which is great, because Apple recalled it and now they’re sending me a new one. Hooray!

Barnes & Noble Nook

When the first Nook was announced, we lived right across the street from a shopping center with a Barnes & Noble in it. We would go there frequently to sit in the coffee shop, browse books and share a sweet treat (our low-cost nerdy date night). After playing with a display Nook, I was sold on ereaders. I’d seen a Kindle before, but something about the design—the big speak and spell keyboard probably—turned me off. But the Nook was sexy. No keyboard, just a sleek full color touch screen on the bottom of the device. I had to have it. I mean as often as we went to Barnes & Noble, it wouldn’t make sense not to own it.

Verdict: It’s been a couple years and I’m still happy with my Nook, though I do have Kindle envy now that Amazon has refreshed their ereader design. The touch screen on the Nook is terribly laggy and unresponsive, but my time spent using that is minimal—I purchase books through the Nook website. It gets the job done, and makes reading gigantic books like the The Name of the Wind and its sequel much easier.

Nintendo 3DS

I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to buy a 3DS early on, and then I got an email from an editor of one of the sites I write for asking if I had one. That was all it took to get me to pick one up. I reviewed a ton of games on the original DS, and I figured I’d be doing the same on the 3DS. So I traded in my old system and some games and picked up a shiny new 3D handheld for almost half the $250 selling price. The reality distortion field was strong with this one. Playing a game in 3D without 3D glasses is nothing short of magical the first time. It’s a testament to the power of technology, plus it’s really freaking cool. I was immensely satisfied with my purchase.

Verdict: And then there was nothing to play. For several months, absolutely nothing worth playing. Then Nintendo dropped the price, released a second analog add-on, and apologized to early adopters with free games, making me regret waffling on my early decision to wait for the inevitable redesign. I didn’t pay full price for mine, and I did eventually review a game on the system, so I wasn’t as upset as some, but I wouldn’t say I’m as satisfied as I once was. Thanks a lot Nintendo RDF. I won’t make the same mistake with the Vita.

Have you ever succumbed to a reality distortion field? Was the purchase worth it in the end?