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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.

15 replies on “Without credit, tech isn’t so tempting”

Funny you should mention this. I’ve just come into a little bit of money, so have finally got me Macbook a new logic board and new keyboard, and am going to figure out how to fit them meself because Apple charge an insane amount to do it. What I really wanted to do was to get a Macbook Air.

Have fun on your holiday.

I’m in the same boat as you: new baby, mounting bills, desire for shiny new tech. I’d /love/ an iPad but understand that I probably wouldn’t have time to really make much use of it.

We have a Dell laptop and its battery has given up the ghost. I can replace the battery for less than £40 but, of course, I’ve been looking for a new netbook. Eventually came to the same decision as you – baby has ever more demanding needs: fix the laptop.

Have a nice holiday :)

> I can replace the battery for less than £40 but, of course, I’ve been looking for a new netbook.

Incredible, isn’t it? We’d rather spend more money just so we can say OOH NEW SHINY THING :)

> What I really wanted to do was to get a Macbook Air.

Heh. That’s the one bit of Apple kit I just don’t fancy at all: it’s very clever and all that, but it’s a huge amount of money for a thinner laptop.

Rightio then, wish me luck. News says ash cloud probably won’t cancel everything, but if the wind changes…

On the easy credit for shiny toys thing. When we got married and started shopping around for a home, we learned that we couldn’t get a mortgage. I had only lived in the UK for a few months, and banks require a minimum of 3 years before they’ll even look at you. So we were SOL. And yet, we were finally offered a mortgage…from Northern Rock, in the form of a 6x combined salary mortgage plus a loan. It was a surreal choice for a pair of newlyweds: either no mortgage and no home, or a 6x mortgage plus a loan. And yet that was the way this country was going in 2004, and you were the crazy one for questioning it. When we turned down the offer they literally couldn’t believe it; they had never heard “no” before. We eventually got a tiny mortgage for a tiny home that we could afford. It’s no status symbol or step up a ladder. But it’s home.

None of us have the disposable income we used to. We never had it in the first place.

Another thing about kids making new tech less pointful is the time you have to learn a new interface. If someone were to launch The Best Operating System Ever, I wouldn’t get any of their stuff even if it were free. Now I’ve got a family and less time to waste, I want stuff that works exactly the way I’m used to. When time’s precious, time spent learning to use a new thing is time that could have been spent actually using an old thing.

One of the reaosn I stick with Nokia, I suppose. I’m aware of the problems with their OS, but I happen to know it back-to-front. Very sad to hear they’re planning to ditch it.

Thanks. One of those things. I’ll spare you the rant about the utter incompetence of EasyJet and the two-hour delay in getting our bags back, but I will quickly whinge about airport currency exchanges. Paid £99 for 100 Euro at about 10am; when I tried to change it back at noon, offer was £73. Bastards.

I feel like that about Microsoft Word. I know other programs are better for certain things – Scrivener for writing books, for example – but I’ve got it on Macs and Windows boxes where I’m at home *immediately*. I hate having to hunt for a function, or pressing a keyboard shortcut that doesn’t work in a new application.

I think I’m the same with the iPhone now too. I’m very, very impressed by the latest HTC Android kit, but I like the programs and apps I’ve already got.

Still going on holiday btw – Aviemore’s looking good right now. Obviously we won’t get the weather we’d have got in Portugal, but emphasis now is on combination of enormous cooked breakfasts and amusing swimming pools for Sophie :)

> And yet that was the way this country was going in 2004, and you were the crazy one for questioning it.

Yes, absolutely. When we were buying our house there were loads of lenders quite happy to offer enormous salary multiples based on whatever salary we claimed to have. I’m self-employed and you’d think they’d at least want to see signed-off accounts, tax returns or other evidence of salary. Nope.

I can only assume the thinking was: Market’s rising so fast that if they default, we can sell their property and still make a profit. Crazy.

On a smaller scale, I don’t know if it’s still the case but the pressure to buy electronics and home entertainment stuff on credit used to be enormous. Especially via store cards.

I’d agree about Word, excapt that MS kept upgrading it till it was unbearable shit. It was amazing back in ’93. Now I hate it. But yeah, much as I love Scrivener, I did resent the time I had to spend figuring some of it out. Not a lot, mind: it’s very straightforward.

Similar with Outlook. I may be familiar with it, but I detest it. The switch to Postbox was a very happy event. But again, Postbox took about five minutes to learn. Anything that takes more than half an hour, I start thinking “I’m paying for this?”

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