As you’d expect, I’m often sought out by friends and family when they’ve got a PC or laptop buying decision to make - chances are many of you are too, given that you’re here on bit-tech. I don’t mind doing it of course, but I’m always intrigued by the approach some people take when buying a new computer.
The aspect that surprises me the most is the way that many of the people who have sought my advice over the years have a ‘just enough to get me by’ approach to computing - they’re only looking for a PC or laptop that will perform the tasks they do now. This is their prerogative obviously - it’s their money after all - but I’ll always challenge them on it.[break]
Why, I’ll ask, are you only looking for something that will satisfy you now - why not dream a little; why not expand your horizons and see what difference a little more computing power will make to your life? Invariably the answer boils down to the fact that they don’t see their computer usage changing at any time in the near future - they do some word processing and internet browsing and that’s about it, why would they need to buy a computer that can deal with more than this?
Unfortunately life is rarely that simple or consistent, things can change at a moment’s notice, and things you never even considered before can start to have an effect on how you use your PC.
As an example, I recently got into digital photography and have, as a result, found myself editing images and conducting photomerges of large RAW files. This hasn’t posed me any problem, as I’ve got a capable PC at home that can deal with this kind of work load (despite being designed primarily for gaming), so I’ve been able to get on with the fun business of actually taking pictures.
If, on the other hand, I’d have had a piddly little 15in laptop at home (which was all I needed to surf the web and view occasional documents) then my new hobby of digital photography would have quickly become a chore; photos would stay unprocessed on the SD card, and I’d slowly stop using my camera.
It’s not just new equipment that can change usage patterns, a new job could have the same effect, as could having a child start school. Even things like illnesses can change how people put their PC to work - how many of our folding team got into it because they know or knew somebody who was affected by one of the diseases caused by mis-folding proteins?
The tech industry is of course doing its best job to push people on from this ‘just enough’ attitude, it’s in their interests after all. It’s a tough job though - the world is so saturated with advertising these days that very little gets through.
As a result I believe it falls to people like us, the tech enthusiasts that often provide advice for family and friends, to take up some of the burden. I’m not talking about forcing your mum to buy a watercooled supercomputer she clearly doesn’t need, I’m just suggesting that we should be prepared to explain to those that we help what the benefits of trading up a little are. - ‘Sure, that is a lovely little netbook, but it won’t be any good for showing the videos of little Timmy’s first steps on will it?’
We are after all the ones that’ll benefit from a healthy and prosperous tech industry. Yes, we’re more concerned with the enthusiast end of the market, but many of the companies that operate here have their foundations in the mass market, and if that stagnates, it’ll be bad for us all.