How to be less efficient / by Simeon Smith

As a bearded guy in my thirties I find myself surrounded by “gear” culture.

“Gear” culture is the capitalist phenomenon whereby products are created, marketed, reviewed, discussed, weighed up, and even after purchasing, endlessly compared to other, similar gear. 

Your identity can be defined by your gear: I’m a Fender guy, not a Gibson guy. 

You’re no longer a customer, not even a consumer, you’re a prosumer - a consumer that buys professional gear.

Walk into your nearest WHSmiths - There’ll be a whole rack dedicated to gear magazines. Photography magazines, not about photographs or photographers, but about photography gear. Guitar magazines, not about music or musicians, but about guitar gear. Bike magazines, not about cycling or cyclists, but about bike gear. 

I know about these magazines because I read a lot of these magazines. 

I love gear culture. 

I love to hate gear culture. 

The crazy paradox of gear culture, though, is that while there’s this whole industry dedicated to a massive game of consumer Top Trumps, of technical one-uppism, everyone knows that gear kind of doesn’t matter.

Or at least, if it does matter it doesn’t matter in the way we think it does. 

Take cameras for example. The megapixel count of your camera kind of matters, but these days they’re all pretty good. Sure, it’s nice if you’ve got a great, bright lens… 

But everyone knows that what REALLY counts is the photographer’s way of capturing emotion, their unique way of looking at the world, and their ability to communicate via the click of a shutter. Not their camera.

Everyone knows that what really counts is a cyclist’s fitness and training. Not their bike. 

Everyone knows that a guitarist’s tone is in their fingers. Not their guitar. 

And sure, nice gear helps.

But it’s not that important. 

My two passions are making music and making images. And in both of these pursuits I use tools that would never come out favourably in a magazine’s “Gear of the Year” roundup. 

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In my music I’ve started using a modular synth. It’s a weird collection of knobs and sockets that sometimes makes music. It’s not better than my laptop at creating sound. It’s not better than an app on my phone. But after hours of tinkering I find things that I’d like to  release as art. 

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In my photography I use a rangefinder from 1938. It’s not better than the camera on my phone. It’s not quicker or cheaper, and the results aren’t more impressive. But after hours of tinkering I find things that I’d like to  release as art. 

Use less efficient gear, and become more productive. 

I don’t care if you’ve got all the gear. Does it help you create art you’d like to share?