Upgrading your doodads

Occasionally, in the life of a home office, you need to retool.

Machinery breaks or wears out or becomes so outdated that you fall far behind the rest of the corporate universe. Then the home-office worker must go out into the greater world in search of new, tax-deductible gizmos to keep business moving.

Many at-home workers fall into the techno-wonk trap, becoming so fascinated by the gee-whiz electronics available these days that they spend more time entering data into their pocket organizers than they do getting any work done. These people tend to spend a lot of money on
the newest, the latest, the hottest doodads to hit the market.

Then there are the low-tech types, like me. When it comes to computers and printers and scanners and the like, my kids know more than I do. Sometimes, I have to call on a child to bail me out of electronic trouble. This hurts my pride. And my sons have begun to charge consulting fees.

We low-tech types tend to use computers and other office gear for much longer than the electronics industry would like. Computer chip makers and software manufacturers and His Imperial Majesty Bill Gates all want us to "upgrade" regularly. And, if it takes us weeks to overcome the shock and confusion of working on new equipment, so be it. They're thinking about their bottom lines.

We low-tech types refuse to play that game. I like to use a computer for five or six years before investing time and money in a new one. Computers go out of date so quickly, this is about like saying I want to drive the same car for 30 years. On bald tires.

My home-office computer reached the six-year mark recently, and it was beginning to show signs of wear-and-tear. Its memory was full and it was processing slower all the time. I think its clutch was going out. I tried to ignore these difficulties, to press on with my work rather than getting distracted by my tools, but the computer's balkiness and thrice-daily reboots were starting to annoy.

The clincher was when my wife used my computer to get online. She couldn't believe how long it took to load a page or locate a new site. Her frustration grew. When she finished gnashing her teeth and whirling around the room, she told me to go buy a new computer. Right now.

So I did. And it was relatively painless. Here's why: I didn't take it too seriously. I didn't spend weeks reading computer magazines or seeking advice from friends or test-driving various models. I went into a computer store and I found one that was the same brand and essentially same design as my six-year-old clunker. I pointed at it and made grunting noises and a salesman wrote up the receipt and loaded it into my car.

(This type of sale, naturally, makes my techno-wonk friends crazy. When they learned of my simplistic buying strategy, they looked pained. Why hadn't I consulted them? Gotten a better deal? They shook their heads and went away, muttering about saps like me.)

Luckily, my wife happened to be home the day I returned with my trophy. With her help and the simple, cartoon-like instructions and the color-coded cables, we had the new computer set up in, oh, three hours.

Then it was a matter of learning to use it. Because it was so similar to my old computer, many of the functions worked the same. But of course the word-processor and operating systems had been "improved," so much of the stuff I use now resides somewhere new or looks completely different.

I got my e-mail arranged and transferred files from my old computer and set up the same tired old computer games I've been playing for years. Then I was up and running, just like before, doing my work and performing the few other functions I ever do on a computer. Only faster.

Other than the speed (and the hit to the credit card), very little had changed in my home-office situation. This new computer has many wonderful features and new programs and an assortment of bells-and-whistles. I'm sure someday I'll even use some of them.

Maybe I'll get my kids to explain how they work.

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