It’s Christmastime again, and that wasn’t my decision — the department store across from my office already has Christmas decorations on it. Since corporations are willing to dedicate two months out of the year to taking your money, I feel it’s time I remind you that a new computer should not be on your shopping list.
Why? Well I’m glad you asked that.
- Financial downturn. Considering how poorly the world markets are doing these days, you might do better saving all that money for something important, like food.
Yes, it’s a sad fact that most of the American financial sector was grossly mismanaged and ridiculously inflated, and now it appears that the average consumer — worldwide — is going to suffer for it. Without deviating too far from the focus of this blog, let’s just say that by summertime, you might wish you still had that US$2000, instead of having dumped it into a new computer. I know some people think this hiccup is just that — a hiccup — and I’ll only say that I hope they’re right. For everyone’s sake.
Regardless of your personal prognosis for the world state of economic affairs, US$2000 in your pocket is going to look a lot better than a shiny new computer on your desk, come June.
- Financial burden. So long as we’re talking financial repercussions, most of the new computers I see in my local electronics shops are quite expensive really. Even the average, middle-market PC is easily more than US$1200, and anything with considerable power to it is going to creep quickly up to US$2000.
Unless you’re a teenager, that’s a lot of money. (Most of the teenagers I work with have a hard time assigning real value to quantities of money.) Think of all the other things you could do with US$2000, if you were willing to scrap the idea of buying a new machine. What other improvements could you make in your life, if you don’t spend the money on a computer? What else could benefit from your financial largesse?
- Instantaneous depreciation. And so long as we’re talking about the actual, tangible price of a new computer, remember that the instant you press the “Purchase” button, your computer is no longer worth the price you paid. New machines, upon arrival at their destination, are immediately worth about a quarter less than the buying price — sometimes as much as a third less — as soon as the tape on the box is cut.
Why? Because there’s always something newer out there, and as soon as you take possession, your machine is used, and loses it’s value. I’m speaking from experience here, many times over. And you probably know what I’m talking about: Not even vehicles depreciate as fast as electronics.
What’s the corollary to this statement? That buying a computer on credit is, without a doubt, the worst thing you could ever do with your money. Not only will the total payments exceed the original list price, but by the time you finish making those payments, the machine you own will be worth only a fraction of it’s price. It’s a sad moment when someone realizes their US$2000 computer is only worth about US$300 — I’ve watched those faces fall. You don’t want that to happen to you. Always pay cash for electronics. Period.
- Environmental implications. For every new machine you buy, Mother Nature takes a hit. Now I don’t necessarily categorize myself as a tree-hugger, but you have to ask yourself, what’s happening to all these leftover computers? Where do they all go?
Sure, some get “recycled,” in a manner of speaking. But computers have been in mass production for what, two decades? three decades? A lot longer than the computer “recycling” efforts have. And these machines are not exactly biodegradable. I owned probably a grand total of three C64′s between August 1982 and late 1990-something, as well as an SX-64 at one time. Where are they now? I mean, where are the actual metal-and-plastic husks? Probably in a landfill, or worse, carted off to a developing nation, sold as garbage and lying in a heap in the sun.
This might not concern you either, if your sense of environmental or cultural morality isn’t attuned to it. But it should. Buying a new computer isn’t a two-year adventure in technological gimmickry, it’s a 30-year debit against the environment and your children’s environment. Check out Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff,” if my argument isn’t strong enough to make you think about it.
- Rampant materialism. Reality check: If you think you need a new computer — or for that matter, a new iPod, or a new cell phone, or a new car, or a new house, or a new wardrobe … guess what? You’re being played. Advertising and marketing aren’t just college majors, they’re exercises in human conditioning, and you’re the test subject for an entire science focused on making you buy. And Christmas is the worst time for this.
And that “urge” you feel to pick up a newer, “faster” computer is probably — no, definitely tied to the advertisements you see, the images that are fed to you and the status that marketers and ad campaigns attach to new products. That quad-core laptop you’re drooling over, the one with the blinking LEDs and 30-inch widescreen LCD? Well, you’re drooling over it because corporations want you to drool over it. Don’t doubt that for a second.
This isn’t anything new, and it’s not confined to the technology sector; people have been the subject of greed campaigns by their fellow humans for quite some time. Sad, but true. So stand up for yourself, shake off the psychological weight of marketing ploys, and realize that “new” does not equal “necessary.”
- Stuff does not equal love. I know some people think a new computer is a great gift, and it in most cases it is. I will admit to having bought new computers for family members, and I don’t regret it. But Christmas is when corporations rely on your benevolence to make money, and it’s unfortunate that a soulless entity like a company can hold so much sway over what you might call affection for a loved one.
Again, without deviating too far from the focus of this site, a new computer isn’t going to prove you love your wife or your kids or your dog any more than a hug. If you aren’t willing to take my word for it, at least listen once to the gospel according to Reverend Billy.
- You don’t need it. In all reality, do you really need a new computer? or do you just want one, because your “old” one is “slow?”
Chances are, it’s the latter. Most of the computers I run across — short of actual, physical damage or failure at the component level — aren’t broken, they’re just poorly tended. Most of the “problems” people have with their computers (and I’m speaking to the Windows crowd right now) can be solved with a fresh installation and a conservative software setup. Even “slow” computers often come back to life once they’re wiped, reinstalled and the personal files restored.
Of course, if you use Linux, like me, you’re probably getting a lot more speed out of your computer than Microsoft or Intel ever anticipated you’d get. Or wanted you to get, for that matter.
- Upgrades are cheaper. Admit it: It’s just the hard drive you want. Or a new graphics card. And even just an improvement over your existing video card is probably enough. Pick up a secondhand graphics card — take advantage of some poor sucker who bought it new — and enjoy the improvement. How much cheaper than a new laptop is a new laptop battery? The money you spend is a fraction of the cost of a new rig, and believe it or not, might even improve the value of the machine you have. Because …
- Increasing long-range value. I already told you that the value of a computer falls like a rock as soon as you cut the tape on the box. That’s true. But what I neglected to mention was that, in the long run, a well-kept, well-tended computer will actually increase in value, sometimes to well over what it originally cost.
Remember those Commodore 64s I mentioned? Any one of those, if it was still in good shape and if I had taken care of it, and kept it in working condition, would have fetched an amazing price on eBay. A complete system is worth even more. A system with accessories is astronomical. And that SX-64 I had, in its original box? It’s worth it’s weight in gold. (Okay, maybe not its weight — those things were heavy.)
A decade after you buy a computer — when you can probably, legitimately think about getting a new one — you can expect the price of your machine to creep up, and up, and up. The machines I have now are all at least eight years old, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised when I check the going rates on eBay. Parted out I could easily recoup any and all of the money I put into them. As a whole, they’re worth almost as much. I expect the value to increase even further in the next few years. Not that I would part with them, of course, because …
- Emotional attachment. After years of using them, and finding all the quirks and solving all the problems and making all the upgrades, I’m not inclined to get rid of them. I enjoy using them, and I’m quite satisfied with the way they do the job. There might come a time when a part fails, or something doesn’t work right, but my attachment to the machine makes repairing it more attractive than replacing it.
This isn’t peculiar behavior, if you use cars as an analogy again. Think about all the automobile fanatics who polish and buff their 1973 Ford Galaxie 500s until they glow, then cruise slowly around town with a self-satisfied look on their faces. You won’t ever sell those people a new car, because they love their old ones too much.
Believe it or not, you can become that attached to your old computer, to the point where a new one isn’t an option. You have to learn about it, learn to love it, learn to take care of it, and eventually cherish it. It’s not unreasonable to think that any possession can endear you to it. A computer shouldn’t be any different.
To borrow some famous words … and so, this is Christmas. It’s you against the marketers, the corporations, your own perceptions and misconceptions. I’m not telling you a new computer wouldn’t be fun, or exciting, or a good gift. But I am telling you that there are some solid reasons you shouldn’t dump your money into a new computer.
And if you’re one of those lucky people, and you simply must spend the money and you don’t care how, do something worthwhile with it. I, for one, will thank you.