Thursday, June 14, 2007

When to Buy, When to Sell

My first computer (I’m going to show my age, here) was a Tandy. It was made and marketed by Radio Shack. It wasn’t quite cutting edge at the time that I got it, either. I acquired it on my father’s upgrade plan. That means that when he got a bigger, badder computer, I got the old one. That worked for us for many years.

This one was interesting. It had two 5.25” floppy disk drives, and no hard drive. It’s RAM was still measured in kilobytes. We didn’t even talk about processor speed, because it was all slow. Modem technology was there, but complex and, did I mention it was slow?

It had a command line interface, which meant no mouse. You had to memorize instructions and type them in. No clicking. The monitor was all text. No pictures. It wasn’t even color. Unless you consider green letters on a black background to be “color”.

Well, that worked for a number of years. It worked well, because I didn’t have any other options. I couldn’t afford to buy one of my own, so I just used what was there. Soon, however, my dad upgraded a few times, and I got a new one. It was an 80-88 (and we called them IBM clones). Still had RAM in the K, and still had a monochrome monitor. However, this one had a mouse, and was running an early version of Windows. It also had two 30 MB hard drives. I was in heaven!

My next one skipped a few versions to a 486 with a 210 MB hard drive. Full color monitor, 1200 bps modem, and plenty of WOW to spare. I was dazzled. I thought I was in heaven, until one day, I was doing something and I went to save it. “Drive C: full” it said. “How can it be full!?” I thought, “I’ve got 210 Meg, here!”

But it was. I’d hit my ceiling.

Throughout the years that have followed, I’ve bought and dumped many pieces of computer and electronic gear. Buying, selling, giving away, receiving, it all comes and goes.

It’s interesting to watch the progress. I now carry on my key ring more storage than I had on that 486 by about 100 MB. It was much cheaper to buy, too. The tiny card in my cell phone, that’s no bigger than my thumbnail can save about as much as 10,000 of those 5.25” floppy discs. And neither of those two devices are particularly huge, nor cutting edge any more.

It cost me about $40 for that 1 GB flash card. Now a 2GB one costs about $30.

It begs the question, when should I buy? It seems that the moment I get something, it’s obsolete. There’s something better just around the corner. If I just wait a few days/weeks/months, I’ll get something more incredible and more amazing for the same amount of money, or even less.

What does “Obsolete” mean, anymore?

Well, a long time ago, I found that I have to base the answer to that question on my own needs, rather than on the needs of WalMart and Best Buy to make their quotas that month. I don’t have to buy the latest and greatest. It leads me to “Mark’s Law of Practical Obsolescence”. Here it is:

Something is obsolete, and requires upgrading, when it no longer does what I want it to.

In other words, if you have a computer, and it accomplishes all your needs at a comfortable pace, it doesn’t matter that it’s five years old. Should you upgrade to the newest version of Windows? Of Internet Explorer? Do you need more RAM? A bigger hard drive?

The questions you should be asking yourself are more like this:

  1. Do I find that I go to websites, and I can’t access the features I want, like streaming media or interactivity?
  2. When I try to work, do I find that I spend a lot of time waiting for my computer to process what I’m doing?
  3. Do I get frequent messages saying that I’m out of disc space, or that the computer is low on RAM?

I don’t care how old or new a computer is. If it accomplishes what you need and want, it’s not obsolete. On the other hand, if it’s not doing what you need, then it’s time to upgrade.

Needs and wants can change, too, so you’ll want to be flexible. The trick is not to get caught up in the hype of a new gadget, or a new feature. Just because it exists, doesn’t mean you need it.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment