Breaking up with your old PC is hard to do

When I last bought a computer, 9/11 was simply a phone number to call in an emergency, rather than the shorthand for the worst emergency in recent memory. When I last bought a computer, the nation was watching shows like Friends, Spin City and Ally McBeal.

My almost seven-year-old daughter wasn't born yet. In other words, my desktop was old and needed to be replaced. I've seen sun dials that move faster than my computer.

And since I've learned a few things about the computer buying process, I thought I'd pass them along for the few people who may still be trying to part from their old clunker.A cheap computer today is far better than an expensive computer from yesterday. Because I didn't plan on buying a computer yesterday -- it was just an idea that came to me after most of a day had gone by and I realized I had accomplished about an hour's worth of work in about seven hours -- I wound up getting something much cheaper than I envisioned, had I planned this purchase out a little more.

So cheap, in fact, I'm almost embarrassed to say how cheap...although we're entering an age where thrift is about to become an admirable trait again, so here it is: I found a computer at Best Buy, on sale, that was $532 with tax. That includes a monitor that's better than my old one, and a printer. To keep costs down, I didn't get a service plan, so I'll see later if that's a decision I live to regret.

Nevertheless, I now have a fast, shiny new computer, vastly superior in every way to my old one. My last computer, bought in the summer of 2001, cost me well over $1,000 (a lot more, actually, since I bought it on credit.) You'd think all of this would make it easier to say goodbye and good riddance to that clunky old machine. But it's not.

Leaving your old computer is a little like saying good-bye to an ex, not unlike how we feel attachment to certain cars. It's the same thing with old computers. At least for me.

Near the end of its creaky health, if I'd trash my desktop in an email to someone, I found myself feeling guilty, as if I suspected my computer might be reading my email. When I actually brought in the new computer to my home office, I was quiet and referential. No victory dance in front of my old PC, which, while it had given me a lot of grief over the years, had also performed quite admirably as I added new memory and dumped old programs and did everything I could to keep it going.

I literally experienced a sense of dread when after setting up my new desktop, I later had to go back into the old computer and retrieve some files I had forgotten to pick up. Not that I ever experienced something like this with a real person -- I was always more likely to be broken up with rather than doing the breaking up -- but I felt like I was going into the home of someone I had lived with and loved, after already saying good-bye, simply so I could pick up some old records and books that I had left behind.

It was that emotional connection to my old dilapidated PC that I found startling. I kept wanting to reassure it, "It's not you, it's me," and before I shut off my old computer for what I believe was the last time, I even lobbed that all-too familiar chestnut, "Don't worry, we can still be friends."

And the worst part? I think it knew I was lying.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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