Why I Won’t Return my MacBook Air

Here is an interesting story, the most interesting one I got in the last few days.

I bought myself a MacBook Air. I was happy, excited, and cannot wait to open the box, and use it. I posted a blog article, and happily fell asleep. The second day, I wake up, only found the crucial truth, which my readers told me in my blog comment section: “wrong decision”, “stupid”, “return it to store”….. Not because of the product is not good, because a new version of release of Apple MacBook Air is expected to release in two weeks! The new model comes with Thunderbolt, faster CPU, and Mac OS X Lion operating system.

Apple is kind enough to offer a two week return service. I can simply send it back to store (I didn’t opened the box), and get the money back. Wait for another 2 weeks, and get a brand new MacBook Air.

Well. When I hesitated about whether I should return it, another factor came out. The California State cut tax rate by 1 percent point. That is 10% saving on tax, resulting to about $15.77 saving. That started just two day after I made the purchase.

Should I return it? Surely I should!

Why I Decided Not to Return my MacBook Air

The direct reason is, I am evaluating the happiness I get to use the new laptop now, and the happiness I may have to wait for another 2 weeks, and getting a better one. In Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling Upon Happiness, the both are called synthetic happiness – the happiness people imagined. Unlike nature happiness, it is the happiness we *think* will be, and most of the time, it is pretty wrong (I buy in the idea of Daniel a lot).

Most people will believe the later version (better laptop after two weeks) is happier. I think so too, but the experiment in Harvard warned me, the truth may be different. Look at this experiment Dan mentioned in his popular speech Why are we happy?:

Here’s an experiment we did at Harvard. We created a photography course, a black-and-white photography course, and we allowed students to come in and learn how to use a darkroom. So we gave them cameras, they went around campus, they took 12 pictures of their favorite professors and their dorm room and their dog, and all the other things they wanted to have Harvard memories of. They bring us the camera, we make up a contact sheet, they figure out which are the two best pictures, and we now spend six hours teaching them about darkrooms, and they blow two of them up, and they have two gorgeous eight-by-10 glossies of meaningful things to them, and we say, “Which one would you like to give up?” They say, “I have to give one up?” “Oh, yes. We need one as evidence of the class project. So you have to give me one. You have to make a choice. You get to keep one, and I get to keep one.”

Now, there are two conditions in this experiment. In one case, the students are told, “But you know, if you want to change your mind, I’ll always have the other one here, and in the next four days, before I actually mail it to headquarters, I’ll be glad to” — (Laughter) — yeah, “headquarters” — “I’ll be glad to swap it out with you. In fact, I’ll come to your dorm room and give — just give me an email. Better yet, I’ll check with you. You ever want to change your mind, it’s totally returnable.” The other half of the students are told exactly the opposite: “Make your choice. And by the way, the mail is going out, gosh, in two minutes, to England. Your picture will be winging its way over the Atlantic. You will never see it again.” Now, half of the students in each of these conditions are asked to make predictions about how much they’re going to come to like the picture that they keep and the picture they leave behind. Other students are just sent back to their little dorm rooms and they are measured over the next three to six days on their liking, satisfaction with the pictures. And look at what we find.

First of all, here’s what students think is going to happen. They think they’re going to maybe come to like the picture they chose a little more than the one they left behind, but these are not statistically significant differences. It’s a very small increase, and it doesn’t much matter whether they were in the reversible or irreversible condition.

Wrong-o. Bad simulators. Because here’s what’s really happening. Both right before the swap and five days later, people who are stuck with that picture, who have no choice, who can never change their mind, like it a lot! And people who are deliberating — “Should I return it? Have I gotten the right one? Maybe this isn’t the good one? Maybe I left the good one?” — have killed themselves. They don’t like their picture, and in fact even after the opportunity to swap has expired, they still don’t like their picture. Why? Because the reversible condition is not conducive to the synthesis of happiness.

So here’s the final piece of this experiment. We bring in a whole new group of naive Harvard students and we say, “You know, we’re doing a photography course, and we can do it one of two ways. We could do it so that when you take the two pictures, you’d have four days to change your mind, or we’re doing another course where you take the two pictures and you make up your mind right away and you can never change it. Which course would you like to be in? ” Duh! 66 percent of the students, two-thirds, prefer to be in the course where they have the opportunity to change their mind. Hello? 66 percent of the students choose to be in the course in which they will ultimately be deeply dissatisfied with the picture. Because they do not know the conditions under which synthetic happiness grows.

Is the return policy really increase people’s happiness? It helps the sales, of cause, because that is what people want. But on happiness, maybe not. People don’t know what makes them happy eventually.

The One I Own is Best

The brain immune system automatically protects itself, by thinking the item you already own is the best. After owning the MacBook Air for one night (for as short as one night), my immune system started to work, and believe the very MacBook Air on my hand is better than others, even the one on the stack with exactly the same model. Do you also have the same experience. It is so at least for me. That is exactly why the ‘bring home now, and return it any time” policy work to drive sales – few people will dislike what they bought home already.

Although I acknowledge the fact that this is not a rational decision, it is just the illusion of my own brain, and my brain is cheating me, I am still incline to flow with it, since it brings more happiness. This is how brain works.

Choices Makes us Unhappy

Because of the choices, if there is anything goes wrong with the exchanged new laptop in the future, even for a little bit, people may started to think about fact that it is returned, and may wonder if I make the right choice. That makes people painful. If there is no any chance to change, people are generally happy.

For example, you will feel better to sit at airport doing nothing waiting for flight, than sitting at coach of sofa at home doing nothing, when there is nothing hold you back – you have to go and do something. If whatever you do does not make a difference (like when the flight arrive), the pressure go away. For something you completely have no control with, like weather, you feel happy about most of the weather. What a chaos, and how painful it will be if everyone have to choose a weather everyday!

For the Sake of Happiness, I Deny Common Sense

I believe to keep the current one keeps me happy, and for the sake of happiness, I won’t return it, and see what happens, and how I feel after few days.

12 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Return my MacBook Air

  1. OK that’s enough, let’s get back down to planet Earth will you … ;-)

    Jianshuo I really like you, but your reaction to our remarks really looks like a “面子” problem to me. Looks like you’re trying to convince yourself that you’ve actually made the right move by buying THIS particular Macbook. But the fact is that it would have been quite simple to avoid this issue : just do some quick research on Apple’s new products before buying your Macbook Air … I even can’t understand why you didn’t do that, knowing you’ve been working in the tech field for so long … I mean a quick Google (sorry Baidu) lookup would certainly have prevented you from buying THIS Macbook Air, because you were definitely NOT “in a dying need” to buy a Macbook Air on the very short run (you said it yourself : “I wanted to buy iPad 2 initially” …). So come on admit it, you failed ! But guess what, failing is human.

    Moreover, I just can’t see how you can really think that synthetic happiness could apply to this case. Because if you do, and if you do it with true honesty, then there’s just no need to further discuss this. To me, a Macbook Air is just a tool, there’s absolutely no sentiments involved in this, which is not the case in the Harvard photography experiment. And if we go further, let’s say I can imagine that you really believe in your synthetic theory applied to the Macbook Air case : I can even imagine that your computer actually “becomes” your little baby once you have opened the package, but at the time we gave you our advice, you still hadn’t opened it so it was just a Macbook Air like millions of other similar ones available at your downtown Apple Store … The Harvard theory simply cannot apply here.

    From what I can read on your blog, you’re pretty much like many of us here : you buy many tech things and get rid of them pretty soon (the reasons are not relevant here). That’s why we advised you to buy the latest Macbook Air available while you still have the opportunity : first you’ll get a faster computer for the same money (more or less), and second : when it comes to re-selling your computer, you’ll get a lot more money back if you have the most recent version. It’s not more complicated than that.

    But then there’s 面子 … Or is it something else ? ;-)

    In any case : what’s important is that you’re happy about what you did. If you still think that keeping this Macbook Air makes you happy just because you chose to buy it and because it’s now already yours : then so be it. But on a more rational level, it looks like you wouldn’t have had any problem waiting for an extra 2-3 weeks to buy this new toy, and you simply made the mistake to forget to get basic information before spending your money …

    One last note : in your reply article, you mention OSX Lion pre-installed and Thunderbolt, which to me are the two less important points about the new Macbook Air that will come out in the next few weeks. In my previous post, I really stressed out the fact that the most important improvement will be the new processors, here’s what I said :

    “… Thunderbolt port, Mac OSX Lion final version pre-installed, well, all of that is nice but not mandatory. However : they will probably ship with new processors, and honestly, if the prices are good, then it might have been worth waiting and get the Intel Core i7 version instead of the Core2Duo, don’t you think so ?”

    Once again, if someone wants to buy a second-hand Macbook Air in a few months, they will agree to put a lot more money down to buy the ones with Core i5 or i7 processors rather than Core2Duo … Funny you purposedly only mentioned the less critical updates on this computer within your argument ;-)

    I still love you Jianshuo, but I think in this case you simply took a bad decision. Just try to bear the consequence (or return the damn Macbook, you can still do it even if you opened the package), rather than try to justify your bad choice with some obscure psychology experiment …

    Just my .13 RMB ;-)


    PS : I’ll be glad to discuss this by e-mail if you want.

  2. I don’t think “mianzi” is the right word, or the right description. Jiangshuo is just trying to examine creatively his own decision and either way, he will be fine. If you’ve been reading his blog for as many years as many of us have, you must also appreciate his special intelligence and curiosity about the world and human behavior, beyond just technology.

    He can afford to buy whatever Macbook he likes in the future, in the meantime perhaps he’ll learn something more valuable than a laptop about himself… or about the people who comment on his blog.

  3. Moomee, I’ve been reading his blog for many years also, so a couple of things :

    1) I was using “mianzi” as a way to say he should feel a little ashamed for not having taken what appears to be the most rational decision ;

    2) I did use “mianzi” with some sense of humor, I guess everyone here who speaks Chinese (like I do) knows how to interpret “给我面子” in the proper way ; sorry if you thought it was a little too sarcastic, that was not my intention ;

    3) I’m like him, many times I don’t think taking the most rational decision is the best choice ! But when I do choose to make a rather irrational decision, I bear the consequences, meaning I don’t have a problem saying I chose pleasure or whatever other reason over rationality ; my point was I just had the impression he didn’t quite assumed the consequences, and instead of that tried to justify himself by some kind of metaphorical psychology experiment ;

    4) the fact that he “can afford to buy any new Macbook he likes in the future” doesn’t mean he’s not interested in putting his money where it best fits : best example I can give you for that is regarding his car, he most probably can afford a much better car than he currently has (see ! I read his blog !), but he chose to buy a reasonably priced car, simply because it fits his needs ; I can afford whatever car I want (and therefore any Macbook I want) also, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t want to throw my money away for noghing … In that sense, and knowing him through his blog, I thought he would be interested in getting some rational input about choosing the right Macbook … That was just my advice, nothing more.

    Anything else ?


  4. Jianshuo,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a long time (and enjoyed it a lot). This post interested me particularly, as I’ve read about that ‘happiness’ stuffs before, too.

    Whatever decision you made is RIGHT to you, however, I’m curious, since you already have all the knowledge about ‘happiness’, why not just utilize them, so that you have a better MacBook Air (a technically correct decision) and still keep a high-degree of happy experience? ;-)


  5. @tom, exactly. After reading all this, it seems he’s just making a decision. He already got the choice and it’s not like that he eliminated the choice by staying with this particular one. Just return it and get the new one, you’ll fall in love with the new one!

  6. I’ve been looking for a new car. I test drove some and decided. BUT I didn’t buy it yet and I’m going to wait a month or more to order one (which will take several months to be delivered) because I want to be comfortable in my decision.

    Maybe it’s not 面子 but 爱上 — that you fell in love with your new Mac even before you opened it and don’t want to give it up. I think that’s the way I feel about my car. I want to make sure I love it before I propose. (BTW I’ve had my old car for 14 years and I will miss it when I sell it).

  7. Yes–Z, can I email you next time I need to make a decision? I do admire your logical and reasoned approach. So I’d better not reveal what sort of laptop I recently bought ;)

  8. The obvious angst you had, and tried to quash with all that philosophical gerrymandering, would have been solved by waiting two weeks. Yes, you’re a knee-jerk consumer that is mistaking a luxury for a need, and now you’re stuck with a significantly lower powered device at the same cost. If it didn’t matter, then you wouldn’t have written all that garbage. Yes, your keeping the original purchase was a mistake. Reason and “common sense” are things that give one dignity and internal coherence.

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