Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Quote of the week

"One of Smith's insights about technology and gadgets is that we often care more about the elegance of the device than for what it can achieve. He gives the example of a watch that loses two minutes a day, likely a common occurrence in the eighteenth century. Smith says the owner of such a watch might get rid of it and pay a premium for a watch that is dramatically more accurate. But, Smith complains, the owner of the better watch may not be any more punctual than he was with the timepiece that performed more poorly. He bought the better watch simply because it is a superior gadget, not to make his life any better:
But the person so nice with regard to this machine, will not always be found either more scrupulously punctual than other men, or more anxiously concerned upon any other account, to know precisely what time of day it is. What interests him is not so much the attainment of this piece of knowledge, as the perfection of the machine which serves to attain it.
"Then Smith really opens fire on the gadget lovers:
How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniencies. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number.' " 

That's from Russ Roberts' newest book, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness. Check out a nice interview about the book here.

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