By Jim Hagarty
I was in a big, modern computer shop the other day and l didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Well, actually, I did know enough to cry as I could not afford to buy all or any of the goodies displayed all around me.
Especially what I could not afford to buy was a sleek new iMac from Apple. It is a beauty. If it was a car, it would be a Corvette. Small, compact, all white. It has a flat monitor, as do most personal computers these days, but unlike most, it has no tower – the entire guts of the thing are somehow squished into the monitor itself. Even more perfect: it has a remote control. It would take up little room on my desktop and is the only thing standing between me and complete happiness. (That and the fact that my town does not have a caramel popcorn factory and Sandra Bullock doesn’t live at the end of my street.)
However, the store wants $1,300 plus tax for it – about $1,500. Seems a lot for a personal computer when you can buy brand new Dells and Acers for $500. Still…
To me, this little episode, besides illustrating my ongoing addiction to toys, also shows how expectations have changed when it comes to modern electronics and the prices we are willing – or unwilling – to pay for them. Because sitting in my basement is the first computer I ever bought – also an Apple – for which I somehow had no trouble writing a cheque for $4,000. That was 1994 and although Macs were more expensive even then than Windows-based PCs, all computers were much more expensive than today. It was just assumed that to get one, you’d have to be willing to part with a few thousand.
So, $4,000 then and $1,500 now.
But, the difference in price gets even greater if you count in the disparity in computers. My 1994 Mac has eight megabytes of RAM. The one I checked out this week has 512 mgs. It is, by my calculations, 64 times as powerful. Its speed (as far as I can figure out these things) is 667 megahertz. My first rig runs at 66 megahertz. Ten times as fast. But what hurts is the fact that the new iMac has a hard drive which contains a whoppin’ 160 gigabytes whereas my first Mac has 250 megabytes, half of what my son’s MP3 player, the size of a small cigarette lighter, has. A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes. If my math is right, the new hard drive is 640 times larger than the old.
So, just to round out a few figures, it seems to me the new Mac is about 50 times the computer my old one is at just over 25 per cent of the cost. Therefore (Einstein I am not) that would put the real price of the new computer, in relation to the old, at about $100. Now, $100 I can afford. In fact, I’d be willing to double that, on a dare. But I’ve got a feeling the good people at this big computer store, with their identity tags around their necks, would probably not see my reasoning and slip me a new Corvette, er iMac, for $200.
So, I could go the other way, and tell you that in today’s terms, my old computer is worth about $200,000. And I am willing to part with it, for a very good price. Say, $1,500?
Ah, the heady days of 1994. During a few subsequent shopping trips back then, I bought a laser printer (black and white, eight-by-ten-inch copies only) for $2,000. I just looked up a (probably superior) Samsung laser printer on the Internet for about $100. I bought a scanner for $600. Today, you can buy a better one for pocket change.
I guess what has me crying is the fact that I have computer equipment at home for which I paid about $8,000 and for which, assuming I was able to sell it, I could probably now get enough to buy me a couple of Happy Meals.
However, at least I do not have to agonize over having paid too much for a cellphone. My first, about 15 years ago, cost $100.
But a friend, an “early adopter” who bought one of the original “car phones” years before, paid $4,000. Today, they give them away like popsicles.
And they can do everything but scratch your back.