Shop ‘Til You Drop

Aside from the baby herself, one of the most (or least, depending on the day) entertaining things about having a baby is the sudden education I’ve gotten about products and services I didn’t even know existed a year ago. It’s a whole new world of features, hazards and ridiculous claims, and the suddenness of the onset just makes it that much more bizarre.

Think about it: what if you went from having a rotary-dial home phone to being on the market for a smartphone in the space of a week? Or if you went from herding yak in Tibet to selling multi-featured toaster ovens in San Francisco overnight. It’s like that. Kind of. Except for the whole oppression by the Chinese thing. And the weather. And the unrecognizable clothing. OK, never mind: it’s not like the Tibet thing, but the smartphone example was a good one.

Being unrepentantly Type A, I built a spreadsheet for my baby registry from personal recommendations, discussions with salespeople, and on- and off-line research. Heading into a high-stakes situation where I had no first-hand experience, I think it was natural to be nervous. We didn’t want to get a lot of stuff (small place, personal aesthetics) and I knew the temptation to do so would be intense: America’s consumer emporiums would like nothing better than to help you bury your anxiety under a pile of un-needed, over-engineered products. The choice as I see it is like prepping for your first wilderness tour by buying a bazooka, a military-grade GPS, and a bulletproof anorak to protect you from the wildlife, or buying a sturdy bear can and assuming that common sense and the local general store will cover the rest.

Thanks in part to my spreadsheet, we ended up with the bear can plan. Well, and the anorak, but that’s just because a bulletproof anorak is bad ass.

Last month, we decided we needed a baby monitor. We have a basic radio one but because checking on little A. beyond, “Is she crying?” meant making noise in her room, we joined the herd looking for a model with video. This is when things got weird.

There aren’t that many companies that make video baby monitors, so you’d think it would be easy to pick. But no. Apparently, “fewer companies” means “no pressure to make a coherent line of products.”

You know those clear comparison tables in Consumer Reports? Like, ten columns of features and a rating for each company’s offering in each feature category? Forget it. Every goddam video monitor out there has completely different characteristics, so you have to decide which combo you like best without ever having needed or used one of these products, let alone experienced any of their individual features. It’s like trying to compare four French restaurants except one of them serves Spanish food, one of them is only open on Thursdays for breakfast, and a third one burned down last week.

After several days of boggling around, I whittled the choice down to two models. One would let us pan and zoom the camera remotely, like Big Brother in a black helicopter. The other had a talk-back feature. To clarify, “talk-back” doesn’t mean the monitor makes smart alecky remarks when it hears you discussing your dinner plans; it lets you speak to your baby without going into her room, like a walkie talkie. Both of these options are pretty high on the creepy scale if you ask me. You’re already spying on your child, and these let you do it in close-up or while providing disembodied narration, your choice.

I thought the pan/zoom would be more subtle and less likely to cause her to grow up schizophrenic, so we went for the black helicopter. I haven’t set it up yet, since in our current apartment, we’re usually sitting not more than twenty feet and one glass door away from where she’s sleeping. I’ll let you know how it goes in the new house. I can imagine us going upstairs and sitting on our bed just so we can play with the camera like some single-feature video game. Shut up – we are not losers.

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Categories: News, Nuisance, Miscellany

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