When I was a teenager, I bought headphones. As many internet-addled 15 year-olds do, I found gaming (Diablo 2) and I found forums, one of which was head-fi.org. It's still running today — it's great, you should go! — but back in the early 2000's it was home to a few thousand people really obsessed with pairing great music with equipment that evoked its Platonic ideal, its highest fidelity.
I got hooked. I started small, as obsessions often do, but at my peak — and remember, I was 15 or 16 years old, with very little disposable income — I had seven or eight pairs of very good, carefully-picked headphones to pair with music tastes that, in retrospect, were not that discerning. I wasn't particularly interested in listening to Brahm's Violin Concerto on my Sennheiser HD600s, nor test the soundstage of a deluxe pressing of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue on a pair of Grado SR125s. My musical world was small and fragile, but I kept yearning to find ways to eke the best possible sound from Radiohead's OK Computer and Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick (I inherited my dad's taste for weird, early 70's prog rock). I would replace one set of headphones with another, constantly trying to contrive the perfect three-minute window to whatever profound truth was awaiting me on the other side.
Being dissatisfied with what you have isn't good, but trying to improve what you have is empowering.
Today, that same quest for perfection continues to propel me forward, but my canvas has changed: the perfect cup of coffee; the right watch; the ideal phone. In fact, I turned that longing for something better into a career (I'm a lucky guy), and the disorder that is my office will attest to that fact that I don't remain contented for long. Part of that is the job itself — I'm always testing a new phone — but part is something else, a driving need to find the right phone, the right experience to fit into my life.
What I didn't realize until now, though, was that with every new Android phone I now immediately try to recreate the same experience. Call it the minimalist in me — really, call it getting older — but I've pared down my digital life to 20 or so apps and services, and now use the same home screen layout (a saved Nova Launcher backup) on every phone.
You'd think that would be where creativity goes to die, but of course, being me, I've found a new canvas to obsess over. Because I have unified the look and feel of my homescreen across all devices, I have turned to wallpapers and icon packs as a new outlet. I've spent more money on icon packs than I have on apps this month as I, predictably, try to find the perfect combination of 15 icons that, without speaking, says everything about me. Here's the thing, though: minimalism is hard, and it takes a lot of work. A finished canvas is as much about the silence, the empty space, as it is about the music or the paint. I keep thinking I'm finished with this little project only to find that I have just started, and am far less satisfied than I was at the beginning. (My favorite icon packs right now: Dives, Pixel Icon Pack, Glim, Orbit UI, and Polycon.)
And I'm fine with that, because playing with headphones, with phones, with the minutiae of icon packs, all fulfill the same psychological purpose: to strive, to tweak, and to discover something better. I know enough about myself to channel that nervous energy into small projects, so the big ones — building a good life, raising a family — feel a little more manageable.
A few other thoughts for this Sunday:
- You may have caught a Galaxy S8 post that was taken down. I'm happy to explain exactly what happened once the phone is more widely available, but it's pretty easy to read between the lines: Samsung is very excited about this phone.
- We recorded a really great podcast this week all about the Galaxy S8 and what it means for Samsung's future products, including the Note 8.
- I got some pushback over the article I wrote about how OnePlus is doing everything right lately. Namely, that I didn't address in detail the company's propensity to discard its old phones as soon as its newer ones are released. I've spoken to the company about this numerous times, and while the OnePlus One is likely dead in the water due to the complicated relationship with Cyanogen, the OnePlus 2 is very much alive, and the newly-consolidated software team is working to make Nougat happen. After that — who knows.
- This phone is ridiculous. I got to play with it briefly when the AC team converged in New York, and my goodness — the excess is real.
- I don't really know what to make of Comcast's opening salvo into wireless. The company will never take on the Big Four directly — even if it buys spectrum in the 600MHz auction, it will never have enough to launch a wireless network of its own — but the move feels inevitable, if only because when you're a bloated, vertically-integrated, pseudo-monopoly like Comcast, you have to offer the proper connectivity bundle of internet, TV and wireless or you can't call yourself a true enemy of Net Neutrality.
- I'm kind of bummed this isn't coming to the U.S. I've been using the Huawei P10 Plus for the past few days, and I really like it.
- Jerry has a very smart take on the future of Android, why its open-source nature is becoming less and less aligned with Google's business goals.
- Feels good to write about the Canadian wireless market every once in a while. It's so different (and less exciting) than the American equivalent, but it's home, and home feels good.
Hope you're all comfortable in your home today. Have a great Sunday!
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