Is it stupid to pay for beautiful things?
July 18, 2013
Last week Amar Bose died. As expected a thread on every major discussion platform emerged. Sadly I have seen the same pointless discussion, as you would normally find in an Apple-centric thread, claiming that people buying Bose or Apple and paying for design are obviously stupid.
Every time I see this discussion I wonder how narrow minded people can be. I am aware that the "functionality and efficiency above everything" mantra is a valid attitude to life. What those people likely do not understand is that "I want beautiful things" is one, too.
Would I buy Bose speakers if the sound quality would be absolutely horrible? And I mean horrible, not this "OMFG I am so audiophile, even bats are jealous of my hearing abilities" stuff every second self declared sound engineer posts to convince everyone how bad anything beside his favorite brand of headphones is. Of course not.
When I was 14 I told my dad that I wanted some speakers. After explaining some basics and things I should look for he took me to his shop and showed me a pair in every price segment and let me listen to them. One pair, Jamo 507, was exceptionally beautiful and the sound was great. He kept them as sample till I could pay the prime cost. Nearly two years later I could afford to buy them.
I could have bought cheaper speakers. I was not and I am nearly sure I am still not able to tell the difference after a certain point, my hearing just is not that good. But they looked and still look great. 13 years later I still enjoy listing to and looking at them. It was worth working a year longer to buy speakers which also look great.
Depending on what I am currently doing and working on I am looking at my MacBook for 8 to 14 hours a day. Beside iOS development I could work with a Lenovo laptop e.x. But every time I look at a MacBook I see aluminum without gaps, a nice screen - you can call me crazy but I like the screen - and when I carry it around, start working or a presentation I see a beautiful piece of hardware in front of me.
I am aware that there are several other systems which are more powerful and have other advantages. But none of them comes near the beauty of a MacBook. I am willing to compromise on extensibility for a slimmer case. I am comfortable buying a new system when the old one is not fast enough anymore. From time to time the glossy screen annoys me, but it is so rarely that the joy of it while in my office or living room outweighs it.
I know that I can get a cheaper system which is as powerful as a MacBook but I still happily pay $1000 more to get one. Because it's beautiful, on top of all the functionality.
For all those who prefer Emacs: You can just replace vim with Emacs in the following text. It does not make a difference.
I used vim for nearly eight years. But after I switched to OSX I started using Textmate. Currently I am using Sublime Text till Textmate 2 supports split windows.
The productivity decrease after switching to another editor was not significant. There were some things I was missing and they were easily available using plugins. Why did I switch to Textmate and why am I willing to do it again? Sublime Text provides all features I want.
It's about a native look and feel. Vim is ugly. Sublime Text does a better job but still does not provide a native look and feel. Every time I use them I am reminded that they are not first class citizens. They just do not match the rest of my system. This has nothing to do with productivity it is only a matter of aesthetics.
The same thing applies to many SaaSs. Why do people, after using both, choose service A over service B if they have nearly the same features? Why do some of them not even try both services after looking at the feature list and screenshots? One of them likely looks better, feels better or has a clearer workflow.
Beauty is an important factor for my productivity
If I can choose between two things which provide the same features I will always choose the one which is more beautiful. Even if I have to pay a premium for it. Could I get better speakers? Likely. Could I get a faster laptop? Of course. Would I be able to save 15 seconds a day using vim? Maybe. Does it make a difference for me? No.
I do not need speakers which can produce a sound only my dog can hear. I need some that produce a sound I like. I do not need the fastest machine available in front of me. I need one fast enough for everything I do. I do not need all features mankind can imagine in an editor. I need something to write Python, Ruby and Go.
But what I definitely need are beautiful things. I just feel better looking and things I like. If I like to interact with something I want to use it more often and I enjoy using it. If this describes the things I am using on a daily basis to make a living I happily pay a $1000 premium.
Everyone saying Bose, Apple and other brands are over-priced because you pay a premium for design will likely not understand my point of view. It is not about efficiency, it is not about something you can measure. It is about a feeling I have while interacting with something.
People use open source software because they believe in freedom, the spirit behind it and for many other reasons. People use proprietary software because it gets the job done, because they like the way it works or because they have to. What I am trying to communicate is that paying a premium to have beautiful things is the same as choosing open source or proprietary software. A choice about what you feel is important.