Stampeding into Obsolescence

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I've recently come to realize that there definitely are more gluttons for punishment in this world than you can possibly shake a stick at. Why you would want to shake a stick at them is beyond me, but to each his or her own. Still, it seems rather ridiculous to me. For one thing, you likely wouldn't get much satisfaction out of the experience because, being gluttons for punishment, they probably look forward to having sticks shaken at them. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that they spend most of their spare time looking for people holding sticks in the hope that the stick-holders will do a little waving in their direction. But never mind.

Where am I going with this? At my age, my mind sometimes rambles aimlessly, gathering rosebuds while it may. That can be infuriatingly distracting, but gathering rosebuds is much better than, say, pushing up daisies. There I go off on another directionless mental stroll. Oh yes, I wanted to comment on the seemingly large number of gluttons for punishment in the world.

Did you read this? An August 17, 2005, article in The Washington Post reported that 17 people were hurt in a stampede that occurred when more than 5,000 people (some other media outlets reported it that it was 5,500 people) showed up at the Richmond International Raceway before the 7:00 a.m. start of a sale that granted 1,000 people the honor of being allowed to buy a four-year-old, used Apple iBook computer for $50. It took 70 police officers to bring the melee under control.

I've never owned an Apple computer, iBook or otherwise, so maybe they become obsolete somewhat less rapidly than Windows-based computers. I don't know. But get real. A four-year-old computer? Come on. I haven't priced them, but I'm sure that you can pick up a perfectly good boat anchor for less than $50.

In a world where, if you bought your computer in a retail, bricks-and-mortar store rather than buying it online from the manufacturer, your computer was probably obsolete before it hit the store's shelf, how can that many people get that excited about buying computers that are already four years old?

My computer is now about one year old. I suspect that in three years it won't have enough processing power to run all of the more advanced anti-virus, firewall, and anti-spam software that will be needed to protect it in the undoubtedly more dangerous future, let alone leave me with any spare processing power to do something productive.

The computers that were on sale weren't used by just any average user. Nor were they used by little old ladies who powered them up only on Sunday. They were originally bought by Henrico County in Virginia for use by public school children and their teachers. Now there's a group that's going to handle these things with kid (no pun intended) gloves. Yeah, right.

Nor were the computers anything that anyone would particularly want. I did an online search and found an article on The Houston Chronicle's Web site that quoted one county official as saying that the laptop computers "probably have less-than-desirable attributes." Nonetheless, four people had to go to the hospital to be treated for injuries suffered when trying to buy one. I hope they had health insurance. I would hate to think that they had to pay out-of-pocket for the hospital visit made necessary by their mad desire to buy an ancient computer. I suspect that they'd be able to buy a brand new, top-of-the-line Apple PowerBook--never mind the lower-priced iBook--and treat themselves to a nice dinner for the cost of a hospital visit. (The article didn't say whether those patients' hospital visits resulted in them forfeiting their chance to buy one of the county's castoffs.)

What does "less-than-desirable attributes" mean? I found the sale notice on a Henrico County Public School Web page that hadn't yet been taken down. "Less-than-desirable attributes" means, for one thing, that the only application software that came with the computers was AppleWorks. The county probably couldn't offer any other applications because the computers' hard drives stored only 10 gigabytes, so there probably wasn't enough room for other software, unless, of course, you're not particular about being able to store any documents or data on your brand spanking new, four-year-old computer.

The speed of these wonders of modern technology wasn't much to write home about either, if you were, in fact, the sort of person who likes to write home about such things. (If so, I'm sure that your relatives really look forward your letters. I'd suggest getting a life.) I checked the Apple Web site. The lowest-powered new iBook has a clock speed of 1.33 GHz. That's almost three times faster than the 500 MHz available in the computers sold by Henrico County. These four-year-old babies probably purr when running more modern software. Well, maybe not purr so much as groan.

Henrico County could have made it much more convenient for its citizens if it held the sale in the local dump. That would have spared its citizens a trip and cut out the garbage collector middleman.

Yes, I did say "its citizens" in the previous paragraph. The county restricted purchases to just its citizens after it started fielding enquiries about the sale from across the country and from as far away as Germany. Even if the county had allowed online sales (which it didn't) rather than solely in-person sales (which it did), can you believe that somebody considered for even one second the possibility of buying a four-year-old computer and then paying to ship it from Virginia to somewhere in Germany? That person must have gotten started on his or her Oktoberfest partying a little early this year. What was he or she thinking--or drinking?

According to the article, people started lining up for the sale at 1:30 a.m. I don't know about you, but if I'm going to get up early enough to drive anywhere for a 7:00 a.m. opening, let alone getting there at 1:30 a.m., I'd want something better than a four-year-old computer, even if they handed it to me for free. I'm thinking that paying $50 for free-and-clear title to a brand new, top-of-the-line Bombardier Global Express corporate jet; an unlimited supply of jet fuel; a team of pilots who will fly me anywhere I want to go, any time I want to go there, for the rest of my life; and a room at any Four Seasons hotel anywhere in the world every night for the rest of my days might, just might, do it.

If, after reading this, you are still sorry that you missed the sale, don't worry. Henrico County apparently has another 8,000 used computers that it plans to sell. Get out your sticks and limber up your shaking arms.

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He prefers to buy his computers new and then keep them until they are so obsolete as to be hopelessly frustrating. That usually takes about a month, but he, being a glutton for punishment himself, persists for a few years.