"No one is so old that he does not think he could live another year." So said the wily Roman orator and political mover-and-shaker Marcus Tullius Cicero, in 44 B.C.
In a similar way, no one is so rich that he has everything he wants. In our materialist culture, unless you are a crank, no matter how well set you are at any given point, your aspirations simply move up the ladder another notch. Why does Warren Buffett, age 86, buy another company? I used to say I'd be happy if I just had a car that worked reliably and never broke down. Now I have that, yet I'm looking forward to buying a different car (I have my sights set—aspirations never resting [or should that be rusting?] on the new '17 Mazda CX-5, although it will be '19 or '20 before I get one. At my age I'm reasonably sure of another three or four years. I'd buy a new car every year or two if I could afford it.)
I wrote a little while ago about The Demotion Effect, although I didn't call it that. That day when your camera, once the latest thing and the object of discussion and shared admiration, is superseded. You have the same camera you were once happy about, but when it gets replaced, somehow it ceases to be so desirable. Having done nothing, having made no move at all—you are innocent!—you're all of a sudden behind the times, outmoded, a second-class citizen of the churn, the leftovers in the fridge, last month's news.
Lately, as you might remember, I switched from a one-piece, all-in-one iMac to a third party display that I'm driving with my two-year-old laptop. I would love to get a new computer. Do I need it? Not really. The reason I want one so much is not that the current one isn't adequate, but that it isn't optimal. I'd love to optimize my new, reorganized setup.
Of course, optimizing is a luxury.
When I wrote about the computer, I heard from a reader who happened to have exactly what I want—a top-level 2015 MacBook Pro with a 15-inch Retina screen. He wanted to sell it. And I happened to have exactly what he wanted—he was planning some traveling, and he wanted a smaller, lighter laptop—and mine is a smaller 13-inch 2014 MacBook Air.
Stands to reason we could just have adjusted with a dose of cash, and swapped.
But a strange thing happened. When he and I crunched the numbers, researched what our respective machines were worth, both of us decided that we couldn't afford to trade. He would have been taking a loss on a less powerful computer that was only a pound and a half lighter. I would have taken a big depreciation hit on a machine (mine) that was originally in the "very expensive" range given my budget, ending up effectively paying more for his used computer than a new one costs. Strangely, it didn't seem to work for either of us, logical though it sounded on the face of things.
We called off the trade.
Same day, I got a call from a friend who sounded a bit weary and bored. He mentioned at one point that he wanted to go out photographing but he said he doesn't like his camera very much. (I won't name it.) I asked him why he didn't replace it, and he said, "I own this one."
We ended up talking about how sometimes, if you've bought it, it's yours. That is, you're gonna get stuck with what you bought. Often, you'd like to make a change, but it's not the practical thing to do for one reason or another. Usually, I suppose, because you don't want to have to throw more money at a problem that's essentially already solved.
You end up using what you have because...you have it.
Is there a moral to this story? Not sure. But I suppose it's that once the return period is over, it might be a while before you can justify another change. Maybe you don't like that new car as much as you thought you would. Seemed perfect on paper, but you're just not getting along. Well, too bad, right? You're gonna drive it for a while. Stuck now.
Fortunately, I like my X-T1. I'm happy enough waiting for the X-T3 or the X-Pro3. Or even the X-T4, who knows? There's nothing wrong with life after The Demotion Effect. It's a bit harsh at first; you adjust. And my car works reliably and never breaks down. I'd really like a different computer, but...well, I bought this one.
Maybe the moral is just to be happy with what you have, and count your blessings. You'll never be Warren Buffett that way, but then, consider what William H. "Billy" Vanderbilt said, nearing death in 1885: "I have no real gratification or enjoyment of any sort more than my neighbor down the block who is worth only half a million." Billy Vanderbilt's net worth was $200 million. (The inflation factor since 1885 is about 25X.)
Oh and by the bye...Cicero, caught in the change from the old Republic to the tyranny of emperors, was assassinated in 43 B.C.—yep, one year after he uttered those words up at the top.
(Thanks to Charlie Ewers)
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Herman: "I wish I had one of my old cars: 1929 Model A Ford or 1936 LaSalle Coupe."
[Herman is TOP's oldest reader. Also, as is often clear, one of the youngest at heart. —Ed.]
Mahn England adds: "Hi Mike, I wanted to post this image for Herman:
"It is my partner's 1928 Model A. She (the car) sits unwillingly in our shed waiting for me to make a project of her. Maybe you could get the IT guy to embed it as I failed code!"
Dan: "I think by now Cicero could justify a new computer."
Jeff Dionesotes: "For all of my life, I have felt immune to the Demotion Effect—cars, film cameras, housing, wardrobe (for better or worse)—until digital cameras came along. Oddly, in that realm I'm just another citizen consumer."
Gary Bliss: "Mr. Nugent [See the main Comments section for Richard Nugent's comment —Ed.] has an excellent point about the time and effort required to really learn to use and exploit a new piece of gear being a major throttling factor on new gear acquisitions. For bodies that involves not just the myriad of focusing, white balance, drive/buffer properties, and exposure modes, but more importantly the nuances of the raw files and the related implications for exposure, highlight preservation, and shadow detail. With progress in sensors I replace my bodies 'every other generation' (they are 'digital film') to improve my delivered prints but probably wouldn't do so more often even if they were much cheaper.
"Lenses—particularly zooms—take me even longer to learn their properties, strengths, and weaknesses. I would vastly prefer to do what we did in the film era: acquire a good lens and use it for decades. The problem is that sensor resolution improvements combined with some other tech advances (e.g., VR or various optical features) keep raising the bar for lens performance, particularly for zooms. The binding constraint that drives me to replace them is when pixel density of a newer body makes optical flaws visible in my work. A Nikon D810 body is a cruel mistress. So I regret it but end up replacing them every five or six years.
"I do not think that any of this is really motivated by a demotion effect."
Sean (partial comment): "I've not bought a car or camera since 2008, and this Epicurean needs them to live longer than Cicero did."
Juha Haataja: "When the Panasonic LX100 developed problems due to dust getting inside the camera, I went ahead and bought a new camera—another LX100. Luckily there is no LX200 yet available so I'm quite pleased with it."
Andy Munro: "Ah, stuff. Funny thing is I like a lot of my stuff, power drill (tools in general), main computer—I have no itch to change them. Not the same with cameras and phones. I want to change them all the time. I know why with phones—the camera keeps getting better, the storage gets more and the processors gets faster. But I just can't come up with a good reason why I change or buy a new/different camera."
Thomas Paul McCann: "'To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.' —Robert Louis Stevenson. Sometimes the anticipation can be better than the reality."
Darlene: "Our local paper ran an article today about my photography program. Here is a photo from the article with a student and me in the studio:
"Look at that beautiful camera. That is my personal camera that I bring in for my students to try when I feel they are ready to experience medium format. I have been shooting with that camera model longer than that student has been on Earth. I added a digital back a couple of years ago when the technology was finally there that made it practical.
"I have made camera purchases in bursts. I buy when new technology catches up with the best of the past. Like when Fuji put the aperture settings back on the lens, and when Hasselblad made a digital back with Live View. I love it when camera manufacturers think like photographers."
Stephen Scharf: "The Demotion Effect was really prevalent with the guys I used to ride sport bikes with....the '600 wars' were, and probably still are, brutal. Guys would buy the latest model 600...whether it was a Honda, Yamaha or Kawi. The thing is, the newest hot super bike did not mean that last year's bike, the one I was riding, was any worse a bike than it was when it was new. And, when it comes to ridin' bikes, it's 95% rider and 5% bike. I could usually make up 'differences' from a lot of experience and years spent roadracing. You know the saying, "Old age and treachery will beat youth and exuberance..."
"Same could be said of photography as it turns out. It's still 95% photographer and 5% camera, for the most part. Yeah, I bought an X-T2, but I bought it, like Ken Bennett, to meet a very specific need: to finally get the weight of all that frickin' Canon pro gear off my back (literally) when shooting motor racing. My back simply cannot take it anymore.
"Still haven't taken an image with my X-T2 yet that is as good as one I've taken with my X-T1 or my X-Pro1, though I expect that will change with time.
"And speaking of my X-Pro1, I recently sold mine to a friend who really wanted it after seeing the images I've taken with it over the last four years. Thing is, now I miss it and regret selling it. I loved the image quality from that camera. It was, and still is, really special.
"So, I am thinking of buying a nice clean used X-Pro1 again. How's that for ironic? So much for the Demotion Effect."