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Technology

Without credit, tech isn’t so tempting

I know, I know, I said I was going. Just one post…

I’m writing this on an Acer Aspire 5051 laptop, a cheapo laptop that cost about £299 three-ish years ago. It’s rather underpowered, and moving from Windows XP to Windows Vista damn near killed it; Windows 7 made things a bit better, but using it was still a painfully slow and frustrating experience.

In a previous life I would have replaced it ages ago.

In this life I don’t have a credit card.

I thought that the laptop couldn’t be upgraded, but it turns out that I was wrong: when I upgraded the memory a few years back I didn’t upgrade it to the maximum, although my own faulty memory told me that I had. Turns out even after upgrading the laptop had just 1GB of RAM, which is fine for Windows XP but hopeless for anything more recent. It’s my fault rather than the computer’s: it’ll happily take 4GB.

Rather than replacing the laptop, simply doing a proper upgrade has brought it back to life. Slapping in another 1GB of RAM is hardly the most ambitious upgrade of all time – it’s not even the most ambitious memory upgrade you can do to this laptop – but it has turned the Acer into a perfectly decent writing and Web machine. As writing and Web are the only things I need this laptop for, that suits me fine. But it’s interesting – to me at least – to compare the difference between what I did do (stick two cheapish chips into it) to what I wanted to do (chuck it completely and get a new one on credit, or better still get an iPad).

Like most parents, I don’t have the disposable income I used to have. And like many idiots, I’ve got into big enough messes with easy credit that I don’t want to go down the route of endless loans and credit cards ever again. And that’s had a big impact on the way I look at tech.

I was thinking about this today with regard to Apple’s iPad, a device I really want, a device I know I’ll love as much as I love my iPhone. It’s too expensive. At £250 – which is what you’d have paid in the not-too-distant past when the pound was worth more than two dollars – it’s a relatively easy sell, but at £429 or £529 plus data for the 3G version it falls into the category of Major Purchase. And as a Major Purchase it’s no longer an easy decision, because it’s up against lots of non-tech rivals: a family holiday, car insurance you won’t be paying every month, home repairs, a trip to Ireland so Baby Bigmouth can see her Gran, paying someone to turf the lawn instead of shovelling and flattening and doing it yourself, making your RSI so bad you can’t hold a pen and you don’t sleep for a week.

If you don’t have credit then some or all of the non-tech things win, as they should.

If you do have credit, everything wins. Or at least, everything wins for as long as you can comfortably make the payments.

[Tangent: I’ve previously argued here that the cost of not buying newspapers, for me anyway, justifies the cost of an iPad plus newspaper apps. But the monthly newspaper bill is considerably less than the up-front cost of an iPad, so newspapers win.]

I know I’ve written about this before, but I do wonder how much of the tech industry is predicated on selling people who can’t afford it stuff they don’t need. It’s as fashion-driven as, well, fashion. For all the iPad is nice, revolutionary and all that, my actual computing needs – not my wants, but my needs – are better served by slapping two memory chips into an ageing laptop.  And I didn’t need to supplement the memory chips with a charging dock, an external keyboard, a case and a bunch of apps to replicate the software I already own. But with credit, you’re tempted to do just that. It’s magic money, not real money. Who has time to wade through system specs to find out whether an upgrade would solve the problem?

It’s not just the Acer, either. I’ve got a carbonara-gunged Powerbook G4. Its keyboard isn’t fully functioning, but before it suffered death by 1,000 bits of baby food it was perfectly capable of multi-track recording. Shoving another memory chip in there would make it even better, and I can’t imagine getting the keyboard repaired would be too pricey either. The smart thing to do would be to get it fixed, upgrade the RAM and get it back into service.

I know that. You know that. And we both know that if I did have a credit card, I’d be typing this on an iPad.