The Flanger Syndrome

By Dave Johnson, ITworld.com |  Hardware

This is an edited transcript of a video blog. Listen to the original version here.

A few years ago, when I was studiously trying to become the next David Gilmour -- or, at the very least, the next Eddie Van Halen, I started collecting accessories for my electric guitar. In particular, I was obsessed with effects pedals. I showed my new flanger to my dad, who was decidedly unimpressed with the whooshing effect it gave my lurching, clumsy rhythms.

In retrospect, he was probably right; if I spent more time practicing and less time fiddling with gadgets, it might be my name in lights today, not The White Stripes.

I didn't realize how much of an impact my gadget purchases had on my dad until a few years later, when I showed him my first PC. His first words? Prophetically, "Don't go buying a flanger for that." On one level, that makes no sense at all. On another level, if only he knew how right on the money that warning would turn out to be.

Heck, the electronics industry thrives on flangers. That is, on accessories. No purchase, large or small, is complete without accessories. And accessories beget accessories. Think about it: a PDA is really nothing more than an accessory for your desktop PC, right?

So then how come there's a huge add-on market for PDAs? Screen protectors, memory cards, software, battery chargers. It never ends. Even memory cards -- which are accessories for accessories of other accessories, if I haven't lost count -- have their own accessories in the form of cases, emergency recovery software, and backup tools. That's an accessory to an accessory to an accessory of an accessory.

Then there's the motherlode for accessorizing -- the iPod. Keep in mind that Apple didn't invent the MP3 player. I've owned several MP3 players over the years, and never felt the urge to dress any of them up in a pretty bonnet or get them a special night light.

So why is it that Apple rolls into town with the iPod, and suddenly I'm buying it accessories like my iPod is a long-lost brother at Christmas? There's the requisite FM transmitter so I listen to tunes in the car. And the cup holder thingy to support the iPod while it's there. Don't forget about the wireless headphones for the gym. And even a digital camera adapter, so I can transfer pictures from my camera to the iPod while I'm on the road. Don't get me wrong; this is a handy little gadget, since it lets me back up my photos when I'm thousands of miles from my computer. But really, I bought it because it's a $30 accessory. It's a flanger, and when it comes to flangers, I guess you can just call me Eric Clapton.

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