Meanwhile, as I fume and rant about our shallow, materialistic society, I have to both address my family’s need for suitable technology and confront my own desire for shiny things. The latter is arguably more mutable, whereas there is only so much control I have over the former.
My wife, the Ph. D candidate, gets what she needs, no questions asked. When her seven-year-old Dell notebook took its final dive late this summer, she found a good back-to-school deal on a sleek new HP. She hit the ground running with it and hasn’t looked back, which is great, as she has enough to think about with her schoolwork. The funny thing is, though, we have all had some major technical meltdown or other this year, and everyone has had to go through some amount of downtime. The rest of us need to get by with what we have, which both requires and fosters a certain mind-and-skill-set.
Briefly, we have had to root a tablet and flash a new, unsupported version of its operating system; replace the hard drive in a notebook PC and install a new OS, after running it off a flash-drive Linux installation; replace one old desktop tower with another, and clean tons of garbage off the old one to make it usable again; mourn the loss of an aged Mac notebook when the graphics chip overheated, taking out the $600 logic board; and learn Linux troubleshooting well enough to keep a 10-year-old surplus Dell laptop in some semblance of working condition. It was that, or shell out a few thousand to get everyone a new machine, and that wasn’t going to happen.
It’s the same tune with new lyrics, then. Where once I was mucking about with $500 cars, trying to have at least one running at all times, now it’s sub-$500 computers. Having learned a hundred things to do with chicken, I now need to know my way around Linux, Android, Mac, and Windows. Our sons can replace a hard drive or an OS the way I used to swap out starters and distributors on the jalopies I drove. If I can re-stitch the seams on my $8 thrift-store overcoat (and I can, and I did), then I can tweak these e-gizmos. It’s hard to argue with the money saved, as we spent around $200 total on the aforementioned projects to get everyone back on their screens.
Yet there is another price to be paid, and the currency is time and frustration, lost mornings and late nights, files and folders locked away on unusable hard drives or lost forever in the vapors of the cloud. Oh, and a computer that defaults to Canadian English for spell-checking a U.S. resident isn’t as much fun as it may sound. (It just flagged “vapors.” Please.) It’s one thing to do this wort of work out of necessity, as I do; or out of the joy of the hobbyist, as my middle son does. But I have to wonder: what I would do if I were truly free to choose? If I had the wherewithal to simply throw money at the problem, would I not have taken that more efficient route and gotten on with my life?
Oh, just ask me!