Disregard Differences, Notice Similarities


I’m still afflicted with GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I want new shit all the time. I’m always dissatisfied with the technology I have (smartphone, tablet, laptop, camera, espresso machine) as well as my car, clothes, standard of living, quality of my food, etc.

What causes this constant treadmill of dissatisfaction?

There is a disease that Nassim Taleb calls “neomania” in his book, Antifragile. It’s probably my favorite modern book (I’ve re read it about 5 times, cover to cover). The concept of neomania is that we love the new for the sake of the new.

For example, whenever the new iPhone comes out, everyone instantly becomes dissatisfied with their old iPhone, and want the newest and greatest. And they forget how happy they were when they bought their “old” iPhone, and how slick and advanced it was when it first came out.

This is a psychological problem, that Daniel Kehnnamen explores in his book, “Thinking fast, and slow”. The problem with humans is that we notice differences more than similarities.

For example, when it comes to digital cameras, we always point out the differences (megapixel count, body style, sensor) rather than the similarities (all cameras take photos at the end of the day). The difference between a Canon and Nikon is negligible at best, but people always want to separate themselves from “others.” It is sort of a tribe mentality, which is sad. At the end of the day, we are all photographers. Who gives a shit which cameras we use? It especially pisses me off when Leica shooters look down on Fuji shooters. Probably like how guys who wear Rolex watches look down on guys who wear Seikos.

So I have a new mental heuristic (rule of thumb) that I’m trying to follow: ignore differences, and pay attention to commonalities.

For example, we always make differences in terms of places we live. I always complain of living in Berkeley instead of San Francisco. But at the end of the day, they are more similar than dissimilar. They both have huge commonalities (hipster coffee shops, hipster people, good restaurants, a downtown area you can walk around). But I’m always dissatisfied because I feel like I’m “missing out” not living in SF. It’s the whole “FOMO” idea (fear of missing out); that I’m missing out on the “street photography scene” in SF by being stuck in Berkeley.

Similarly, there is always a debate of film vs digital. Honestly at the end of the day, just shoot whatever makes you happy. Film and digital do have differences, but at the end of the day, they’re far more similar than dissimilar (you make photos either way).

The same applies to cars. There are people who compare Nissan with Toyota and Honda, and people who compare BMW vs Mercedes and Audi. But people always focus on the tiny differences, rather than the commonalities. And at the end of the day, a Honda Civic isn’t much different than a Porsche 911 (they are both cars that have four wheels, are made out of metal, and take you from point “A” to point “B.”

We can also point out the same in fashion. Is there really a difference between wearing Nike sneakers versus Adidas sneakers? Or a difference between Louie Vuitton and Coach? If aliens came to earth and saw us humans comparing the differences, they would think we’re fucking idiots (which we are).

Even a huge debate (iPhone vs Android, or Mac vs PC); they’re much more similar than dissimilar (regardless of what fan boys want to say). I used to be so dependent on my MacBook Air, but when I got it stolen in Paris a month ago, I bought a cheap Windows 8 tablet laptop. Sure there were some small differences between them (I prefer the Mac), but I was still able to get all my work just fine.

So as a practical tip whenever you hear about some new camera rumored or being released, don’t ask your friends what’s new about it. Ask them: “What is similar about it?”

Another thing I think about: no matter how cool or slick a new camera may seem, one day (generally 2 years) it will seem outdated and shitty.

For example, whenever I see an old iPhone 4, or even an iPhone 5 it looks so tiny and outdated compared to the iPhone 6. Whenever I see older MacBooks (not Air versions), they look like they’re from the stone ages. Even when I see old Leica m9s, I remind myself of how much I lusted and craved for it. But now it looks so dated compared to the new Leica M240.

Do we really need more megapixels in our cameras, bigger sensors, better image quality, faster autofocus, high iso performance, and image stabilization?

Isn’t it incredible that some of the best photos taken in history were shot with ancient cameras (manual focus), with low-Iso film (iso 25-100), tiny viewfinders, and other limitations? In fact I think that these limitations of technology forced photographers to be more creative (to start using a flash, shooting in good light, or mastering their equipment). Whenever I hear someone complain that their camera is grainy at iso 6,400 or that they moan that their camera isn’t “full frame”, I want to slap them. Similarly, we complain that our cameras and equipment is too big and heavy. Have you ever tried to carry around a medium format or large format film camera?

Don’t get me wrong, I bitch and moan all the time. I think new cameras with new technology will help me be more creative. But the truth is having less technology in your cameras will force you to be more creative (I think the best photographers often shoot manual focus and with outdated film cameras). The more limited you are by your camera technology, the more you’re forced to be creative. It is a “creative constraint.”

I’m so damn picky with coffee too. I only like hipster espressos. But at the end of the day, coffee is more similar than dissimilar (caffeine is caffeine).

Same with food; I eat to live, I don’t live to eat. I need to stop wasting time on Yelp and Trip Advisor trying to find a new restaurant to “entertain my palette”. I need to realize at the end of the day, most restaurants are more similar than dissimilar. And who you decide to eat with is far more important than what or where you decide to eat.

I’m going to try being less picky in my life, have fewer preferences, and be grateful for what I have (rather than wanting the new, and better).

God grant me the serenity to appreciate what I have, and not bitch and moan about what I don’t have.