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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Gadgets can divide couples

Partners who love each other but adore different cellphones or computers can become technologically incompatible
The Straits Times - December 9, 2011
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Gadgets can divide couples -- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

New York - In one relationship, the man may insist on a Kindle while his wife may use a Nook. For other couples, it is the persistent BlackBerry or iPhone divide, or the old PC versus Mac debate.

One partner uses a Zune rather than the near- ubiquitous iPod. Others argue the relative appeal of tablets over laptops.

Technology can draw couples closer. How adorable one pair might look marvelling at items in the Apple store together. How lovely to trade books on the Kindle. Isn't it darling the way they exchange videos of the children on their smartphones? So cute (or nauseating) when couples tweet back and forth or flirt on their partner's Facebook wall.

But not all couples get along technologically.

'My boyfriend, Bill, thinks my cellphone is ridiculous,' said Ms Amy Robinson, 28, who still uses a 1990s-era Nokia. 'He makes fun of me all the time: 'Why do you still have that phone? What's wrong with you?''

Her boyfriend, Mr Bill Rice, 30, who works at a tech startup, was among the first people to get a Motorola Xoom. When the 4G Android was announced, he counted down the days to its release.

As compatible as a couple may be as friends, lovers and domestic partners, technological incompatibility can be infuriating. While couples love each other, they also adore their gadgets. Studies have demonstrated that people develop something akin to love for their cellphones, for example. One study found that young Australians believed 'their cellphones were part of them'.

In another study, only 1 per cent of American college students said that were they to lose their cellphone, they 'would try to live without one'.

The introduction of Siri will probably only exacerbate the already documented tendency to anthropomorphise people's clever little electronic companions.

Ms Melody Chalaban, 35, an iPhone user and public relations manager at a software company, and Mr Michael Swain, 35, Android owner and architect, illustrated the Save The Date for their October wedding with the image of an Android robot tossing an Apple logo high into the air. (Which person, if either, emerged the winner is open to interpretation.)

It is interesting to note that gender disparities in gadget choices are not significant. A number of studies through the mid-2000s found that women are more attached to their cellphones than men are, though that tendency could change now that smartphones (with their capacity for gaming, stock-price tracking and Internet dawdling) are taking over.

According to an Internet survey last month of 1,300 online Americans by InsightExpress, a digital marketing research firm, iPad ownership skews male (11 per cent of men online have one, compared with 5 per cent of women online). Men are also somewhat more likely to own a smartphone, 42 per cent to 37 per cent.

When it comes to brands, however, while some research indicates that men tend to buy Androids and women, iPhones, other data show smartphone varieties equally popular among men and women.

This overall demographic harmony does not make an individual case of techno-disjunction sting any less. Mr Bill Douglas, 39, a social-media consultant, felt betrayed when his wife, Ms Bis Misra, a 37-year-old doctor, switched to the iPhone. 'We got our first Droids together,' he said.

Regret? Or aggravation? Mr Rich Hemlich, a 47-year-old marketing director for an auction website, said his girlfriend's iPhone affinity drives him nuts. 'She continually swears up and down that she's not an Apple elitist but then lights up whenever anybody asks what kind of phone she has,' the committed Droid Razr owner said.

He tried to persuade her to 'upgrade' but said: 'That's where we start getting into a battle. She keeps saying she'll switch to an Android when her contract runs up, but then renew the contract.'

With everything else, 'she's completely straight with me'.

Whatever they say about respecting each other's preferences, for many couples, conversion is the true goal. Ms Deborah Sweeney, 37, a small-business owner from Calabasas, California, was a long-time BlackBerry proponent.

'For the last seven years, my husband tried to get me to switch to an iPhone,' she said. 'He constantly told me I was crazy.'

When BlackBerry had a service failure this autumn, he gloated, 'See?' He finally persuaded her to swop phones last month.

'I honestly had feelings of withdrawal and remorse,' she said of the changeover. 'It's like your baby.'

Ideally, the converted acknowledge the error in their former ways. Ms Jenna Chavez-Laszakovits, 25, a technical consultant in San Antonio, is a PC-Nook-LG kind of woman. Her husband, Mr Eric Laszakovits, 31, is a Mac-Kindle-iPhone kind of man.

For Christmas last year, he gave her an iPod. 'It was a little overwhelming, to be honest,' she said. 'But he's a big proponent and wanted to share his love of Apple products. I guess the best outlet was Christmas.'

He said: 'Once she had it, she enjoyed it. The battery dies every day because she uses it so much', a point his wife concedes.

But for many couples, efforts to win a mate over electronically only end in frustration.

Ms Emma Moore, 36, who owns a software company, bought a Nook for her boyfriend shortly after they started dating. He has yet to turn it on.

'It would make his life so much easier,' she said. 'Instead, he lugs four newspapers to Peet's every morning. It's been quite a challenge for both of us. One day, I think he will understand what I'm trying to do for him.' 

Ah, yes, one day, someday... he will change... by which time, the technology (if not the relationship) will have moved on.




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