Sometimes it's hard to resist the latest technology


November 21, 1990|By PETER MCWILLIAMS | PETER MCWILLIAMS,1990 Universal Press Syndicate

Let me extend a hundred or so pardons to the people who have written to me and whom I haven't written back. I wish I could write back more often than I do, but alas, I'm often so pressed for time (by this column, for one) that I'm not as good a correspondent as I should be. I do, however, keep the letters. If I see a common question, I will address it in a column, such as today's.

(By the way, some of the letters ask for an address or phone number for something I reviewed. For instance, HomeLawyer some months back brought a number of letters. The program comes from Overdrive Systems (23811 Chagrin Blvd., Suite 260, Beachwood, Ohio 44122; (800) 284-7600.

When this column is sent to your newspaper (it's syndicated), I include addresses and phone numbers. Sometimes a paper might be tight on space, so the address and phone number are deleted. If that happens, and you need to know, you might give the paper a call to see if an editor might have the original information.)

A few Franklin Ace computer users have written to me lately. (The universe works in mysterious ways.) The Franklin Ace was a good little computer some years ago that had, for its day, a large memory: 64K. "The machine has served me well for about seven years and has been trouble-free," writes one user. He goes on to ask if he can upgrade his memory to 640K and add a hard disk.

Sorry, no. This is akin to asking if a Volkswagen Beetle can be turned into a Lexus. (I've seen Beetles that had Rolls-Royce hoods and trunks, but the cars still churned like a Beetle.)

The Franklin Ace -- and all computers from its era, including Apple IIs, which the Ace emulated -- were completely different machines from the ones today. A person might be able to find a computer wizard to add a hard disk, but one's money would be better spent in buying a used computer that wasn't so old, or buying a new computer.

The question strikes at the root of surging technology and obsolescence. People's toasters may remain fairly state-of-the-art for a decade, but computers do not. A 7-year-old computer is ancient, although it remains faithful in tasks that it was meant to perform.

If all you need to do are the tasks that your "old" computer performs, then feel proud you have a reliable machine. Don't worry that a new 386 might perform a certain calculation in two minutes compared to one hour on the Franklin Ace. If you don't perform such calculations, what does it matter?

I happen to know a number of writers still working on a KAYPRO 2, 64K machine. One of them is a writer at the New York Times, another a novelist. The computers were built well and still perform their tasks effectively.

If you would like the convenience of a hard disk, more memory or the ability to use a new generation of software, then you might step up. But please consider donating your old computer to a charitable organization; many are desperately looking for "old" machines to help them with present tasks.

I realize that many of us have grown up in a climate where "want" becomes "need," and that it's hard to resist the latest technology. I fell into this column because my curiosity about these machines remained boundless. I'm still fascinated by them.

As I write this, Germany marks the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. National Public Radio interviewed some East Germans (now Germans who live in the east) on how their lives have changed over the whirlwind year and how it is to be in a new economic system.

While those interviewed are still thankful for the change in political climate, it was interesting to note that they saw a few negatives. All of them felt that work was now all-consuming, and they had a fear of being homeless they had not before. They were seeing much less of their friends because everyone was working 10 to 12 hours a day -- all of them trying to make the rent payments or trying to buy the "things" their neighbors had.

My hope with this column is certainly not to be the Joneses next door, but to be a guidepost on change.

My consumer advocacy is to point out values -- to show people where they can save money and time. If that leaves more time and money to spend with friends, so much the better.

1990 Universal Press Syndicate

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