CLEVELAND -- A new Harris poll finds that America and technology seem to be having a little love spat.
A whopping 60 percent of consumers polled say they will no longer buy the latest high-tech gadget. Nearly half think PCs are too complicated. And 28 million Americans say they have logged off the Internet for good. I don't know about you, but I think they're lying. I think Americans are swearing off technology like a drunk swears off booze when he's hung over.
We're just exhausted, that's all.
Half of us were just getting the clock on our VCRs to stop flashing 12:00 and now we have to buy DVDs. I still haven't gotten my cell phone's voice mail set up. And I'm too overwhelmed to shop for a Palm Pilot, so I'm still piloting a pen around my outdated weekly planner like a Luddite.
Americans always get mad at whatever makes us crave the things we love the most. We're like chocoholics who curse under our breath at the hostess when she offers us the tray of chocolate desserts. And that's what the high-tech explosion of the '90s has done: made us crave the next thing.
I welcome this backlash against technology because it might take the heat off my profession -- advertising -- at least temporarily. For the past 20 years, we've been the industry people turn against when their credit cards max out. We're the guys who made them buy all the things they thought they loved but didn't need. If you can excuse their lack of self-control and relieve them of all existential responsibility, maybe they're right. Advertising does have the power to create a need where none exists.
Especially when it comes to low-tech products. It took a lot of advertising for Pepsi to become the indispensable choice of a new generation. Without advertising, soft drinks are just caramel-colored, fizzy sugar water that people don't need.
Same with Nike tennis shoes. Until Nike's revolutionary ad campaign in the '80s, most of us seemed to get along just fine with one pair of old white canvas sneakers. Advertising created the brand and the brand turned athletic shoes into an emotional purchase rather than a rational one.
But with high-tech products, advertising isn't the force creating the demand. You find yourself craving the thing itself, not the brand. I wanted a Palm Pilot before I knew if it was a brand or a product category. I want a DVD without knowing who makes them. And I must have a cell phone the size of a matchstick -- I don't even need to see an ad. We salivate at the barest description of these new products.
I think the Harris poll caught us in a rare moment of satisfaction. A moment when our high-tech gadgets seemed enough and we couldn't imagine ever needing another gigabyte of power. It's like that last bite of triple-layer chocolate cake when you swear you'll never want another piece.
Jim Sollisch is an independent writer who lives in Cleveland.