When one gadget is too much

Problem is, her hotel room didn’t have enough outlets to keep the darned devices charged. “I unplugged the lamp and still couldn’t do it,” she noted ruefully. “At least half the things I’m carrying right now are just dead hunks of metal.”

And so, though communications is her world, Marchenese has no plans to rush out and buy the iPad, Apple’s new tablet device unveiled with much fanfare on Wednesday. She just doesn’t see the need for yet another gadget.

Nor does Ray Bowman, a self-described “techno-junkie” who lives on a farm in Kentucky, raising sheep some 60 miles from the two nearest Apple stores.

Marchenese and Bowman use at least seven devices between them. Are they indicative of a cultural tipping point, a sense of general gadget overload? Steve Jones, a historian of communication technology, has seen signs of it, and believes it’s at least partially connected to the state of the economy.

“I think we’re at the point where we’re getting a little more mileage out of our old gadgets, being a little more budget-conscious,” says Jones, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“There’s a significantly growing culture of people tweaking their old technology to keep it useful,” Jones says. “For some, it's actually a point of status now to get more mileage out of their gadgets.”

How many gadgets do we own, anyway? The average teen has 3.5, according to figures compiled in September by the Pew Research Centre Internet & American Life Project and provided to The Associated Press. Adults between 18 and 29 averaged nearly four gadgets, those between 30 and 64 just under three.

Seen from another vantage point, the average household owns about 24 electronic gadgets, according to the Consumer Electronics Association – a figure that includes TVs, mobile phones, computers, and home receivers.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that consumers are getting harder to convince with each new gadget that comes along.

“The last decade was defined by mass adoption,” says Sean Dubravac, the association’s director of research. “We loaded up on gadgets. The next decade will be defined by refinement, and a refocus on usability and functionality.”

Matt Scatchell seems to have already fallen hard for the iPad. The high school senior in Avon was in school on Wednesday but received constant text alerts of the Apple presentation on his cell phone, via a Web site for Apple enthusiasts. He scoured them even as he travelled with his hockey team to a game. Nothing surprising for someone who waited 13 hours on line to buy an iPhone - for someone else.

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