Opinion: Cutting-edge tech hurts, but somebody needs to take the scuffs

spendy gadgets macbook pro retina intel core ivy bridge samsung 75 inch 3d smart led lcd tvAs a dyed-in-the-wool, truly hardcore, enthusiast-class geek, saying this is going to hurt. But I’m going to say it anyway.

You don’t need the latest and greatest.

Yes, every day, the headlines are filled with news about faster, bigger, better tech — headlines I often write! But unless you’re a technology writer, graphics pro or something similar, your life is just fine without it, in fact.

At least for now.

Geeking ain’t easy

Being a bleeding-edge geek isn’t a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. That’s not just hyperbole, either; in order to afford the latest and the greatest, the average guy or gal with the average U.S. income often has to make a few concessions. You know, like skimping on retirement savings or eating ramen for a month. All for a Retina Display, a (hopefully) soon-to-be-released OLED TV, or Intel’s latest Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor that doesn’t even overclock as well as its Sandy Bridge predecessors.

The average person doesn’t need any of that.

Technology has progressed to the point where most of what’s mainstream and affordable also happens to be plenty powerful for the everyday user.

solid state drives flash memory storage hard driveThink about it: Solid state drives are awesome. There’s no two ways around it. Ask any tech reviewer and they’ll say that once you’ve played around with an SSD, it’s hard to go back to pokey traditional hard drives. But mechanical drives aren’t actually all that slow; they can open the browsers, email clients and productivity tools most people use in around a second, and they’re much, much cheaper than SSDs. Good enough for the everyman!

The same goes with computer processors. Whenever I’m asked by family members what type of computer or laptop they should buy, I always recommend one built around a Core i3 or a high-end Trinity APU. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. For the average person — who basically only browses the Web, checks email, opens the occasional Word document and watches funny videos on YouTube — a Core i3 or Trinity A8 or A10 is perfect. They’ll handle all those basic tasks without a lick of lag, and better yet, systems built around those processors are dirt cheap. Why buy more?

While high-res Retina Displays, OLED TVs and 4K projectors all make me drool and twitch uncontrollably, I’ve never heard any of my friends and family say “You know what, Brad? My 1080p HDTV just isn’t HD enough.” You can find a basic 40-inch HDTV on Amazon for as low as $300. Samsung’s big, bad OLED TV is expected to launch with a price north of $8,000.

I could go on — about true surround-sound headphones, 300Mbps broadband speeds, 7.1-channel home theater, “hero” phones, high-end tablets and more — but I think my point is made.

Do believe the hype

Don’t let my miserliness fool you: Tech that makes your eyeballs bleed is still very, very important to the everyman. Not for today; for tomorrow.

Remember how I said the headlines are filled with all types of drool-worthy tech? Companies live for that. Not because it drives sales, necessarily, but because it drives brand recognition. Or, as editor Nick Mokey put it in a discussion, it’s the equivalent of the big motor companies working with NASCAR or Formula 1; there’s prestige at stake — as well as the chance to develop technology that will eventually trickle down to your Corolla.

That same transfer from cutting-edge to mainstream occurs in consumer technology, too, only much faster than it does with cars.

Consider broadband speeds: less than fifteen percent of all U.S. citizens subscribed to broadband Internet in 2005, with most subscribing to slow DSL connections. Now, most Americans have broadband connections — some costing under $20 per month — and 300Mbps or even gigabit-speed options are appearing.

intel core i3 processorIn 2005, the top-of-the-line Pentium Extreme Edition 955 processor won widespread praise for its dual cores and HyperThreading support. Now, Pentiums are the budget options in Intel’s lineup, and even basic Core i3 chips have dual cores and HyperThreading.

Heck, quad-core mobile processors only just showed up in $500 tablets last Christmas, and now they’re in the $200 Nexus 7.

Give a geek a hug

No, most people don’t need the best technology money can buy; mainstream gear is more than capable enough. Simply put, cheaper is probably better for almost everyone you know.

That’s why hot new tech doesn’t often move many units; witness the sales struggles of the Asus Transformer Prime and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. But without those high-priced torchbearers and the bleeding-edge paths they blaze, we’d still be stuck in the days of dial-up Internet and fat-screen — not flat-screen – televisions. Because mainstream tech is always just good enough for the mainstream masses, and without enthusiasts and enthusiastic headlines, technology would stall.

Cutting-edge can’t become commodity mainstream unless geeks love it first. So next time you find yourself buying a budget-priced HDTV or a low-cost notebook that can play 1080p videos without breaking a sweat, say a silent thanks to the guys who bought the same thing a year ago for four times the price.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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