Keyboards and the Law of diminishing utility

The topic of mechanical keyboards as an endless money-pit hobby is something that I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years.

At the heart of the keyboard community is about acquiring new keyboards. This topic has been spoken about previously, here are two examples that I’ve found insightful:

1) Unhacking the wallet on Geekhack
2) Keyboard guilt on Reddit

The part of discussion I want to add, is the overall feeling I get when I purchase a new keycap set, new set of switches or even a new keyboard.

I want a profound new experience, but instead the experience is a little less than satisfying. I did some research and it turns out that economists have long ago described this phenomenon as the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility (further reading here, here and here).

Described in keyboard community terms: for each additional keyboard purchase, the less additional pleasure (or enjoyment) I can expect from that new purchase.

Meaning, in practical terms, the more keyboards I buy, the less each additional purchase will make me happier, to the point where the opposite happens, that is, additional keyboard purchases actually makes me unhappier (and poorer and more cluttered).

Can anyone else relate to this?

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Quite the deep topic as we transition years! I can definitely relate to this. When I first started, every new thing was amazing - Switches, layouts, cases, etc. I think the climb up the discovery curve is that first high. Then once you start learning your preferences, sure, not every new thing you try will delight you. Add to that buyers guilt, wallet pain, hobby fatigue and all the other negatives that hit the uninitiated and it starts to add up. So the enthusiasm curve starts to dive. Where I might diverge from your proposal is that the diminishing returns are indefinite. I think there is an opportunity (tho I can’t speak for everyone) where the enthusiasm can level off to a sustainable point where you know what you like and continue to enjoy it for you. You lose the fomo. Lose this assumed idea that you have to keep up or owe the online world anything. You just learn to enjoy it for what it does for you. However, left unchecked, yes. The diminishing returns are likely to continue, and many often exit by selling or giving away their collections for those very reasons.

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I agree somewhat. I’ve been in the hobby about 6 months? (it’s all a blur at this point) and I have 3 custom built 60% and 2 prebuilt keyboards. My last 60% was not as “amazing” an experience as the first two were but never the less I felt satisfied. I’ve resolved to myself that the “honeymoon” phase is coming to an end but I don’t feel a diminishing of sorts, more of a “normalising”. @nolawill statement is pretty much how I feel. Don’t leave it unchecked.

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If I may, I’ll parse one aspect of this rumination.

As long as “acquisition” is the foundation of our happiness, we’ll quickly find ourselves subject to the law of diminishing marginal utility. I think this applies broadly across most material goods. Perhaps, the imagery of attempting to fill a black hole with keyboards is a good illustration, in which our desire for happiness is the black hole.

However, I would be less amenable to characterizing “acquiring keyboards” as the heart of the community. Perhaps it’s more apposite to consider it the clothes of the community. Like @mechendev, I haven’t been buying and building keyboards or lurking on forums for any significant period of time—however, I have seen enough to propose the “heart” of the community is interested in the concomitants of new keyboards: inter alia the experimentation, the intentionality of building and designing what you use everyday, and the community of shared interest.

Again, this is just one fork of a very wonderful topic. 'Preesh the post, and I look forward to reading other’s thoughts on this.

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I don’t know, I’ve been in this hobby for almost 6 yrs. now & while the acquisition of a new board is always an awesome feeling I would not say it is at the heart of my love for the hobby, far from it in fact. Sure I felt some FOMO when I first started out seeing all these awesome customs & caps that I did not have. Although now that I’m deep into the hobby & have a decent collection I find the FOMO has largely disappeared. Something has to really catch my attention to make me open my wallet anymore.

Honestly I’d argue that @nolawill hit the nail on the head how most people who stick with the hobby feel. On top of that I’d argue someone who is in this hobby just to “stunt” on others is not really into the hobby. They’re more about using financials to feel superior to others & just happen to be using keyboards as the crux of it at that moment. They’ll eventually lose interest & move onto something else.

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The fun for me is in the building and occasionally designing my own board and the thrill never diminishes. I even love cheap, Pro Micro-based kits, just to build them, etc. It is also fun to try new switches, plate materials, etc. and lately there has been no lack of variety (in fact we have a glut of switches compared to two years ago).

I’ve definitely learned that higher end boards to do not make me happy for long, but they are not what I find most interesting about the hobby.

More often than not I will order a high-end board and then end up selling it almost immediately. I have a Inett Studio Square 60 coming on Monday and I am already on the fence about keeping it as I already have a couple 60% boards in my possession that I really enjoy.

So no diminishing returns for me. I imagine I would get pretty bored if I just collected boards, but that is not why I am here.

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I was fine with my keyboard purchases until I bought and subsequently modded, a fc980m. A properly switch swapped and stabilizer tuned fc980m made me realize it was time to sell some boards.

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I’d say this framework is a pretty common experience in this and other hobbies that contain lots of iterative minutiae and/or custom engagement. It’s very easy for it to be about the next keyboard, the next keyset, the next switch - and if that’s the whole framework, those diminishing returns are part and parcel of the experience.

I’m inclined to call the keeb-specific version of this Endgame’s Folly.

At this point, there are a few different nexus points I get value from when it comes to the keeb hobby, totally aside from the unobtainable perfect keeb and its Shangri-La feeling;

  • Mechanical curiosity: I’m fascinated by the different factors that affect how a keyboard sounds and feels. While it’s true I’ve spent a lot chasing higher quality in that regard, some of my most enjoyable keebs so far have been low to mid-range ones with some TLC and a few choice components. I think the biggest thing I get out of trying a new switch is the joy of understanding the mechanics of a good input device just a little more.

  • Tactile enjoyment: Aside from being drawn to the variety and minutiae of the hobby, the actual use of the keebs themselves is a big part of the joy for me - and while there is a definite diminishing of returns when it comes to cost there, at least at first, each of my keebs continues to provide me value when I use them. As a non-neurotypical, I benefit from some kind of tactile stimulation while engaged in other tasks to help me avoid distraction - and for me, keebs are a godsend. It’s like a productive fidget spinner that I enjoy using so much I find excuses to use it more.

  • Community: This is the biggest one for me, I think. I came for the clicky-clacks, stayed for the cool peeps. You folks are fun to talk and learn with, and I love seeing all the creative stuff folks around here get into. This is a hobby that fosters design and invention, even if in mostly small, niche ways. I could stop collecting new keeb items today and still enjoy the hobby for years to come thanks to the community and all the cool adjacent stuff it produces.

I think these three things really represent what the hobby has come to be about for me; mechanical exploration, sensory enjoyment, and rad people.

It’s true, I’m stoked about my next few builds - and I’ve definitely experienced the resounding “meh” of banking on a new keeb’s impression - but these days I’m approaching new keeb stuff from the perspective that the process and adjacent experiences are the real meat-and-potatoes of the endeavor.

It’s the journey, maan.

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I can relate to this. I am getting to a stage in this hobby where I know what I like, but I am still eager to buy the newest hype thing. I have really been fighting with myself to combat this.

Another thing I have been noticing is the “instagram-ification” of the hobby and the “instagram vs. reality” aspect. There are some people out there with some real great photoshop skills. I have been spending less and less time on /r/mk because I don’t really see any interesting post anymore and the stylized photos just make me feel worse about my own purchases despite being really happy with them.

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Hi all,

Thanks, OP for posting about this. I’ve been in the hobby for less than a year, and I’m reaching a point where FOMO is becoming too real and causing anxiety. I’m trying to step away from the hobby a little bit to stave off the pressure of getting everything as soon as possible.

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I can relate to this and I think most people can with ANY hobby that involves collecting (implicitly or explicitly) as part of it. The one thing that I found though is that I spend LESS money the longer I stay in the hobby because you get more discerning about what you want due to the diminishing utility that you described.

When I first got heavily in to the hobby I was buying a lot of parts, soldering tools, pcbs, kits, switches, many different profiles of keysets, you name it. Of course, I would like to say that this buying behavior is only with keyboards, but I did the same thing with my tennis equipment 10 years ago. I tried at least 4 different racquets, and gave them away until found what we joke about in keyboards as my “endgame” string/raquet setup.

Over the last few years, I have done the same thing with my boards. They have to be ortho, with a thumb cluster, with some weight (for better sound) and hotswap. For keysets, they have to have non standard alphas, and profiles have to be MT3 or KAT and absolutely no ABS sets. ABS feels awful when my fingertips get a little sweaty. The result, I basically only build one board a year (since they are group buys). I only buy from one vendor, and at the most, I have only seen about 2 KAT/MT3 sets in the last year that interest me.

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100%. I kinda hate having a lot of boards and clutter in general. I’m far happier when I have 2 that I really enjoy.

My preferences have solidified to stock Mx black and Topre boards. Currently, I’m just using my two HHKB hybrids to swap between my work windows computer and personal Mac. The wire free setup makes me happy and the lack of customization of the HHKB when compared with Mx counterparts keeps my eyes from wandering too much.

Funny enough I’m happier now in my keyboard hobby with artificial restrictions than I was when I was trying to get everything.

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Who’s the special one?

One common thread here is: (self)discipline is important to being content/happy/curious (sustainably).

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https://www.rgbkb.net/ He basically has a group buy roughly every 2 years. Makes it super easy to put up artificial constraints since I only like using ortho boards. :stuck_out_tongue:

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I honestly, don’t feel the need for a new keyboard or keycap set, about the only thing, that I would spring for, is metal housings for my Tex Shinobis and Cherry double shot keycaps for the non standard key caps. Out side of that, I don’t see a reason to purchase an alternative keyboard, because they won’t be able to replace the TrackPoint and form factor. You could say I’ve reached my end game, but I did tons or research on what switches and mods, that I wanted to do, before Pulling the trigger.

The Tex Shinobi covers all my needs:

  • 60% width
  • Nav cluster keys
  • F keys
  • Volume keys
  • Programable
  • Bluetooth
  • And most importantly it has a TrackPoint.

Mods:

  • Cherry Alpha keys
  • Foam, between the PCB and the plate.
  • Zilent V2 62g with a 78g space bar. All filmed and lubed.
  • Butyl sound deadening lining the case and under the space bar.
  • Bandaid moded
  • Stabs clipped and lubed
  • other things, that I’m probably forgetting. lol

Edit: Added mods to the list, that I had forgotten to put down.

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This makes me think of those scenes in fantasy adventure stories where the wise old wizard tells the young hero that only the pure of heart can reach the promised land / obtain the mcguffin of desire.

The FOMO / Endgame trap swallows more new victims (wallets) each day with its hollow, sweet promises of satisfaction - meanwhile, you watch with mild bemusement, casually polishing Excalibur.

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Totally! Like, nice picture but I bet your stabs still sound horrible.

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Well, you could say I’ve Served my time.

I realized early on, that the hobby was expensive, and I have sold off or given away a large amount of my collection. A good chunk of it went to friends who were getting into the hobby for reasonable prices, some of it went to eBay, and a few of the boards have gone to family.

I had originally wanted to keep a board of each switch type, but realized, that keeping that many boards around wasn’t practical for me and most of my knowledge can be shared with out the need for hands on and if some one is still iffy about a switch type, I’m more then happy to lend them my GK61, so they can play around with different switch types. Hot swap sockets, have been a great boon to our community.

Switch / keyboard usage history:

  • 2011: Cherry MX Black (Steel Serries 7G)
  • 2014: Cherry MX Clear (Poker 3)
  • 2015: Cherry MX blue (Corsair Strafe RGB) which was my work keyboard.
  • 2016: Cherry MX Green (Plank)
  • 2016: 67 gram Zealios V1 (Ergodox Infinity)
  • 2017: Cherry MX Black (IKBC f87)
  • 2017: Romer G (G Pro Keyboard) This was the keyboard that I use at home for gaming because of the lighting profiles, but I’m far from being a fan of the switches.
  • 2019: GK61 with hot swap sockets for switch testing. so far this board has seen Kailh Box White and Kailh Box Jade switches.
  • 2020: 2x Tex Shinobi DIY keyboards with lubed 62g Zilents, that have replace my home and work keyboards.
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I did some of this as well (gave away boards). Once hotswap came in to the picture I ended up selling 2 boards on ebay and gave away another 3 boards to friends/co-workers. Since my tastes have refined to to ortho, I gave away all of staggered boards except for 2 topre boards that I still have and I still would be willing to part with a 10 year old HHKB that just sits in my closet that I haven’t gotten around to finding a good home for.

QMK and Hotswap is such a killer feature for me since I use colemak that it’s the only reasonable choice despite having to give up my beloved Topre switches.

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