To paraphrase journalist Christopher Hitchens, some of the most overrated things in life are champagne, lobster and picnics. Hitchens has a fourth item item on his list, but we won't go into that here, in case children are reading.
Either way, there are plenty more overrated things in America that just don't live up to the hype. They've either outlived their usefulness, don't do as much as they claim to, and are rated way too highly for what they do. Here's our list of 10 overrated things in America in 2010:
It's a fun first-generation gadget to have, but it costs more than it's worth and other manufacturers of slate computers are coming out with their own versions that are cheaper and have more options. And as Apple does with many of its products, the second generation, usually released a year later, has more capabilities -- such as a camera, USB ports and Flash support that are lacking in the current model.
If you want to know why AT&T got rid of its all-you-can-eat data plan and is charging heavy users more, it's because users of the iPhone and iPad are data hogs. The free lunch is over, just a few months after the iPad was released and its owners could have streamed movies nonstop for hours.
2. Saturday mail delivery
If the U.S. Postal Service can save $5.1 billion per year by eliminating Saturday mail delivery service, so be it. The Internet is causing less mail to be sent via the Postal Service, so the USPS plan to eliminate Saturday delivery starting sometime in early 2011 is a smart move. Rural residents without high-speed Internet access will miss Saturday delivery, but more people may look forward to one less day of junk mail delivery.
3. 3-D movies
Other than some scenes from "Avatar," most 3-D movies aren't worth the extra 25% it costs to get into a theater and put on the clunky 3-D glasses to watch the movie. It seems more like a gimmick than a better way to see a movie that looks just as good in 2-D.
If you're thinking of buying a 3-D television or 3-D DVD movie, don't waste your money. The technology is still too new to buy into. There aren't many 3-D movies or TV channels with 3-D capabilities yet to justify spending $1,700 or more on a 3-D TV. Consumer Reports found that it would cost $3,300 to buy a TV, extra pairs of glasses and 3-D Blu-ray player. That definitely makes 3-D movies over-rated.
4. Frequent buyer programs
Starbucks, Amazon Prime, Barnes & Noble and many other stores have programs that reward customers with discounts and deals for using their services frequently. We're all for saving money, but for buyers who aren't careful these can lead to purchases that they wouldn't have made in the first place. The main purpose of such programs is not to offer discounts, but to get them to come back again and again.
Remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine writes a fake phone number on a free sub card, and is upset because she only needs to buy one more sandwich to get the free one? That's what frequent buyer programs want from their customers -- devotion to buy again and again, even if they don't really need or want what they're buying.
And while some frequent buyer cards are changing over to smart phones so users don't have to cram various cards into their wallets or purses, hasn't everyone lost at least one of these cards in their lifetime? The worst loyalty programs are ones you have to pay to join. You'd think that tracking your spending habits and getting you back into the store often would be enough, but Barnes & Noble, for example, charges $25 a year to get its loyalty member discounts. I recently went to a Barnes & Noble to buy a book and was asked four times in four different ways if I wanted to join the loyalty program, even for a free two-month membership. I declined.
5. Cable TV
The average cable TV bill is about $75, and the average annual price hike of 5% could push it to $95 in five years. With so many cheaper options for watching TV, cable TV is an overrated service that is getting to fat and mighty for itself. Inexpensive or free software can turn a computer or game system into a streaming system for content from Hulu and other websites directly to your TV.
You could spend months without missing cable TV with a Netflix streaming video connection. Most of its streaming selection is old movies and TV shows, but for about $10 a month, you could catch up on old movies or shows you never got around to watching. And satellite companies are always offering deals to help push you out of cable TV.
The Toyota Prius is one of the most popular cars around, and a status symbol for how green you can be while driving. But the auto maker's recall of 9 million cars for sudden acceleration problems make us think twice about how overrated the company is. All car makers have their troubles with recalls eventually, and Toyota led the way in hybrid cars. But as more American car companies move toward making energy-efficient cars, Toyota is getting a run for its money and will have to do better.
7. LeBron James
It's hard to argue with career averages of 27.8 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per game, making James a constant triple-double threat in the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers star earned $15.7 million in his last season with his home team, and starting July 1 he can bargain with other teams as a free agent. The NBA salary cap sets limits on how much teams can pay, so Cleveland can offer him about $126 million for six years, which is about $30 million more than the New York Knicks or any other team can offer him.
At 25, James is in the prime of his career. But is he worth $126 million for six years, or whatever figure is thrown at him, excluding endorsements? Whether or not you agree that James hasn't been provided a starting cast of teammates to get his team to an NBA championship, the fact is he hasn't won a championship in Cleveland. It's unlikely he will in New York or Chicago, two top suitors, unless the teams can get at least one high-level player to help him on the court.
The Bleacher Report makes the case that while James is one of the best athletes ever to play in the NBA, he's overrated because he takes 20 to 30 shots a game, mostly drives into the lane to get fouled, and his great body gives him an advantage that other top players never had and thus had to use more diverse options of the game to score. James is a fantastic player to watch, but until he starts winning championships like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, he's overrated. One thing James has on his side is it will be three years before he turns 28, the age when Jordan won his first championship.
8. Silly Bandz
Paying $5 for a pack of 24 molded rubber bands is more than silly, it's an insane amount of money for a fad. You know it's an overrated fad when moms are running from store to store searching for them for their 3-year-old, who is piling 35 of them on his lower arm and trading them at preschool, and his mom is asking the store clerk if there's a limit to how many packages she can buy.
Silly Bandz are banned in some schools because the trading of the colorful bracelets is a distraction. Beanie Babies, Pokemon cards and other kids' fads have come and gone, and Silly Bandz will, too. Having a colored band stretch back into the shape of horse when taken off is fun, but an overrated trend is an overrated trend.
9. "Lost" finale
You can't expect every question to be answered in a TV show's finale, but the May 23, 2010 final episode of "Lost" was about as overrated as a TV show can get. It answered some questions, but acres of words have been written about the unanswered questions that remain. Among them: How can Hurley run through a sweltering jungle for six years and not lose weight?
In what the Hollywood Reportercalled "essentially a decorated clip show," the finale after six years didn't attract as many viewers as you'd think such a buildup would produce. It was seen by 13 million viewers and finished third for the week behind two American Idol shows among viewers ages 18 to 49.
10. Energy drinks
From Gatorade to acai berry drinks, Red Bull and other energy beverages, these drinks are overrated and unnecessary. You're paying more for marketing than for what's inside the bottle.
Water will rehydrate the body just as well as Gatorade and other sports drinks. Unless you're running a triathlon, or need the taste of a sports drink to get you to drink plenty of liquid while exercising, free water works fine. And it's calorie-free.
The sale of popular energy drinks, including Red Bull, should be prohibited to minors because they have led to deaths, critics say. The high-caffeine drinks can create abnormal heart rhythms and seizures after the high of drinking one. That should be enough to make energy drinks overrated.
What are some things you think are overrated in America? Leave a comment below.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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10 most overrated things in America in 2010