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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

What I Use: Learning curves

I think my favorite thing about buying new tech products is the learning curve. When you get a new tech product, it’s got stuff you’ve never experienced before—unless you’re re-buying the model you already owned, you’ll get a new feature here and there that you get to experience for the first time.

Even more exciting, though, is the learning curve on an entirely new kind of product, one you’ve never had before. You get to experience how it feels to use it, then begin to wonder if there are features or techniques you can use to go beyond what you’ve tried in your initial usage. (Nobody reads the manual first, right?) Then you go on the web and learn about the tricks other people have discovered. You figure out if there are awesome (and possibly expensive) accessories you should buy. If you’re really enthusiastic you may discover an entire new community of people using that product, and join it.

I recently bought a DJI Osmo Mobile gimbal for my iPhone, to take better videos. You can see it in action in this vacation video and this Six Colors video. My enthusiasm for the product is not quite enough to get me to join a community, but it was the most recent purchase I’ve made that gave me that electric feeling of opening a box to reveal a gadget that was unlike anything I’d ever used before. I got to ramp up that learning curve, starting as a complete novice and gradually working myself up to “familiar with how it works.” (I in no way consider myself an expert. But I’m still learning.)

Then last month, we bought an electric car. And boy did I get those new-gadget feels.

I told a version of this story on an episode of Upgrade, but I don’t think I’ve written about it anywhere. Basically, my daughter is about to learn to drive and we didn’t want her driving in our existing, 12-year-old compact car. (We own two cars, the primary being a Honda Odyssey minivan.) We started talking about how, since we were buying a second car, we might be interested in looking at electric cars. I did some research—product research is the very beginning of the learning curve!—and discovered that many electric cars are leased, rather than bought.

It makes sense—I’ve heard Marco Arment talk about it on Accidental Tech Podcast before—because the electric car market moves so fast that in three years the cars will presumably be vasty better. And nobody knows quite how electric cars will age, and when their (large, expensive) batteries will degrade so much that the car is basically undriveable. So leasing is, apparently, a better bet. Except… my wife and I came to realize, as we talked about it, that we are not lease people. It wasn’t going to work for us. We buy our cars, drive them a long time, and then get rid of them.

However, the lease culture around electric cars has led to some interesting secondary markets. All those leased cars, once they’re returned, needed to go somewhere. And I started to find a whole lot of used Nissan Leafs listed for $7500 or $8000 on used-car websites. This, for a car that cost more than $30,000 a few years ago.

It seemed like an opportunity to buy a replacement small car that didn’t need great range, since my wife works two miles from home and I don’t commute at all. The van provides us all the capacity and range we need—but for driving around town, the electric car would do the trick. So we bought a Leaf.

And so the learning curve continued. We spent way too much time researching car range and available fast chargers and the apps that connect with the car’s onboard data systems. I signed up for EV charging networks in case I’m somewhere and need a charge. I sorted through various EV websites and learned about the quirks of my (relatively old!) electric car.

For the record, Nissan’s Leaf app is ugly but functional, but there’s a much nicer app called Eva made by an independent developer. And there are a host of charging-map apps, my favorite probably being PlugShare. I also bought a Clipper Creek 240A charger so I can charge my car much faster when it’s at home.

For what it’s worth, I love driving the thing. It’s no Tesla, but it’s still so much more fun than my old Honda Civic. And even as a 2012 model, it’s the newest car we own—the van’s a 2011.

My point here is not to suggest that you rush out and buy an electric car. But in buying one, I got to recognize one of the things I love about technology is the experience of learning something entirely new. It doesn’t happen too many times in anyone’s life, but if you’re riding the ragged edge of tech you get to experience it more—and sooner—than everyone else. I love it. I suspect a lot of you reading this do, too.

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