Pogue Wraps Product Review in Allegory

The typical product review has a happy ending.

By that, I mean the end of a review usually calls out one product as the best choice.

In spite of the “happily every after” – at least for one company – you don’t associate the product review genre with storytelling.

Instead, these articles strive to clinically attach a value to different features and functions with the objective of helping potential buyers make their decisions.

That’s why a recent review by David Pogue in The New York Times caught my attention.

Anyone who touches the consumer electronics space knows Pogue and his gift for humor. His comparison of Windows Vista to the Mac OS back in 2006 - “I’m going to prove that Microsoft did not steal ideas from Mac OS 10″ – remains a classic and must-watch video:

 

But it’s interesting to see his quest for levity play out in a print product review called “Big Sensor, Tiny Camera, Nice Results” (don’t think Pogue wrote the headline; perhaps a byproduct of the SEO jockeys).

The review goes old school with the lead ‘graph:david carradine kung fu story

Centuries ago, a young boy in Japan was preparing for a long journey. “You will need much drinking water,” said his master. “Construct a barrel that will catch the rain.”

You can almost sense David Carradine flashing back to his Grasshopper days, an allusion that keeps as the story unwinds:

After a quick run to his local Pagoda Depot for supplies, the boy built a large barrel, open at the top. When it rained, the barrel filled quickly.

“Good,” said the master. “Now pack it up.”

“But master,” the boy protested. “This barrel is much too big and heavy to take on my journey — it might not even qualify as carry-on! I need a much smaller, lighter container!”

Nice turn of a phrase, “Pagoda Depot.”

Sensing that an allegory is taking shape:

“A wise observation,” said the master.

“And yet,” said the boy, “a smaller container means a smaller opening, and it won’t catch nearly as much rain.”

And now, the payoff with Pogue intersecting Grasshopper with today’s digital dilemma:

The master nodded again. “Excellent, my son,” he said. “Now you understand the trade-off between digital S.L.R. cameras and pocket cameras. The S.L.R. is big and heavy, but it has a huge sensor that collects much light; you can get sharp photos even at twilight. The pocket camera has a tiny sensor that’s blurry in low light, but at least you won’t slip a disk trying to carry it around.”

The rest of the review offers the obligatory compare and contrast of several cameras.

david carradine kung fu storyOf course, every story must have an end.

Naturally, Pogue ties back to the drinking water quandary:

In the end, the boy began to cross Japan with only a tiny water flask on his back.

The master was aghast. “But you will die of thirst, my son!”

The boy smiled as he continued walking. “I’m not too worried about it, old man. Technology has a way of making all things possible.

Right. There’s no way a Japanese boy is going to call Kwai Chang Caine an “old man.”

But the boy saying “please don’t worry master” doesn’t quite have the same verve.

Like all master storytellers, Pogue expects us to suspend belief.

I’m OK with this for a product review that shakes up the status quo. 

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  1. [...] one expects a scientist coming out of R&D to write like David Pogue from the New York Times. Geez, I wish I could bring such cleverness and levity to my own [...]

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