If you’re like most people, you’re probably in a whirlwind of confusion about the extraordinary pace of technology. You might even be afraid to buy a computer because you know that, if you wait a few months, you could get a lot more power for a lot less money.

Back in about 1975, when hand-held calculators were really coming into their own, I badly wanted to buy a really sophisticated one. But I was afraid because it seemed like, each week, new breakthroughs were being made in features and capability. Wouldn’t I feel like a schmuck if I bought this week’s Cadillac only to be left holding next month’s Edsel?

Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I bit the bullet and bought a Hewlett-Packard HP25, a marvelous bit of technology, for the then-enormous price of $120. It was programmable, and I spent days fiddling with the thing. Most amazingly, I even got a lot of practical use out of it, even though it couldn’t store programs permanently — you had to re-enter them every time you turned on the machine.

But here’s the important part: twenty years later, it’s still being used. My wife has a program that automatically calculates her minutes-per-mile pace, and some other stuff she finds useful, when she enters the distance and time (it’s not as straightforward a calculation as you think, since it’s tricky to compute directly in hours:minutes:seconds format. The HP25 does it easily). She keeps it in the bedstand right next to her race log so she doesn’t have to go to another room, turn on her computer, wait for it to warm up, etc., etc. On the HP25, it all gets done in seconds.

Every few years the rechargeable battery pack wears out and will no longer retain enough charge, so I call HP up in Oregon and order a new one. It usually takes a little while, because the people on the phone, some of whom weren’t even born when this thing was built, keep making me repeat the part number to make sure I haven’t made a mistake. Eventually I convince them I’m not kidding, we have a good laugh, and they send the new battery.

The point is this: It doesn’t have to be the latest, the greatest, the most powerful or the glitziest. It only has to do the job you need to get done. A good machine from a reliable company will remain useful long after it has been replaced by more advanced models.

So don’t be afraid to commit to the current technology if it will adequately fill your needs.

By the way, here’s the best answer to the oft-asked, "What computer should I buy my kid?"

Buy them whatever their school is using.

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