A Netbook (“Productivity Lost”)

February 19, 2009

Blame me for the downfall of the U.S. economy. I hardly buy anything except food at ethnic restaurants, and you know those immigrants aren’t real Americans anyway.

My laptop died months ago, and I’ve been making do with my sister’s circa-2001 refurbed desktop. But the internet uses too much flashy 2.0-or-greater-ness lately, and the aged processor with limited memory struggles to stay afloat in even the most mild-mannered blogging interface. There is no little webcam icon next to my name. I’m literally waiting for what I’ve typed to echo on screen. And I probably shouldn’t be folding proteins with idle cycles either.

Surely, the computing bottleneck could be the culprit for lost productivity (or at least impeding a cure for Alzheimer’s). If only I had modern hardware and fiberoptic first-world connections, I would be doing, realizing, achieving something, right? I’d get the script finished, I’d teach myself Ruby, I’d be blogging more or going back to school, I’d be telecommuting or freelancing! I’d at least have an accessory to go with my ceramic cup of counter culture in chic atmosphere.

But Kenyan fair trade coffee farmers (with an aroma of tomato even!) know I can’t afford those three (or three-thousand) bucks. So nowadays I’m selling myself on the idea of a netbook, which is essentially a small cheap laptop (with today’s tech specs, which run laps around  my sister’s computer from freshman year). The reasoning is that a small cheap functional computer now and a dreamier computer “later” is financially more sound, especially if later never happens. Also, a more luggable portable computer (now) and a shiny workstation (now, later, or “later”) temptingly combine for more bang yet less buck than the technogeek’s standard MacBook Pro.

Asus Eee PC + Apple iMac > MacBook Pro ?

Something smaller and, more importantly, only worth $400 at most would fit better in a custom-padded pannier to and from Central Library — the bicycle fantasy to which I someday may return.

Most people wouldn’t have lasted two weeks without a good-enough computer, and normally I would be that kind of techno-needy person. But after shaving every expense as of late in some vain attempt to not be in debt and somehow improve the quality or direction of my life, $400 is a noteworthy decision.

At what point does frugality strain, not so much your lifestyle, but your life? I’ve wanted to get into photography since high school, but years later and I can’t imagine ever having that extra $600 handy to throw at a decent pre-owned entry-level prosumer-grade SLR — not with my self-negotiated “need”-only priorities. The savvy finance blogs say I’m doing the right thing, credit card debt is the devil, blah, blah. But could hobbies be an investment (or, as some say, a loan to yourself from the future)?

And while there is a faint sense of self-congratulation in making do with less, at what point does DIY and frugality become a distraction from real goals? Pen and paper for symbol manipulation is just not working for me, and you can’t really browse Craiglist for jobs or homes with a wide-ruled notepad or even from a library terminal. How is rabid anti-consumerism better than (relatively?) moderate consumerism?

I mean, every pair of jeans I own has a hole gaping so largely on the backside I only wear them at home. (Google is not really providing any workable patching solutions either.)  Am I killing the economy by not ponying up forty bucks for new office casual denim? Is it really that laughably weird of me to be using a CD player from 1999 because I don’t have an MP3 player? Does weighing the carbon footprint of meeting someone for a beer make me shallow? (Only if I don’t go, right?) And at what point does saving money by living in “low-rent” “areas” (you hate) just batter you down with psychological and quality-of-life costs?

Even if I disperse the qualms of sending a couple hundred U.S. greenbacks to the cheap electronics and dirty manufacturing industry overseas and convince myself that an obsession with not using money is still an obsession with money, $400 (including shipping but not global environmental impact) is nothing if it helps me accomplish something or anything.

And that’s kinda the reason why I’ve been holding off, for months even — I’m afraid it won’t make a difference. Not having stuff certainly isn’t helping, but what if having stuff doesn’t either? I’ll have to pedal other excuses.

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