Friday, February 23, 2024

The Weibull Curve and Buying New Stuff

Eventually, everything has to be replaced.

In response to some previous postings, I got some pushback from some readers who thought I was an idiot for coveting my old computers.  So long as they still work, why replace them?  But that being said, eventually they will go in the trash - the Weibull curve cannot be denied.

When I was younger, I fell into the mythology that you could keep any piece of equipment forever, such as a car, for example.  If you "properly maintained it" and took care of it, there was no reason a car can't last forever! Well, except that over time, you'll spend more money fixing an older car than it is worth.  And cars have gotten better over time.  My cousin had a 1972 BMW 2002tii and I thought that was a pretty cool car.  I was shocked when he sold it and bought a Nissan Maxima back in the 1990s.  As he put it, he liked having working air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control leather seats and all the features more modern cars had at the time.

The 2002 was a fun car to bomb around it (I had a 1974 model) but not fun in heavy traffic on a hot summer day.  It turned into a sweatbox quickly - and the aftermarket A/C left much to be desired.  It's OK to move on, after a while.

But there is a matter of timing.  If you are constantly jumping from one new product to another, it is a sure way to go broke - just as putting new (or even used) tires on an end-of-life vehicle is a waste of money.  A lot of people think nothing of trading in cars or phones or computers every few years, so they can have the "latest and greatest" thing (for status purposes) without ever even familiarizing themselves with the product they traded in.  I know more than one person who realized their car had some cool feature only on the way to the dealer to hand over the keys.

The good news is, a lot of technology today does last a lot longer than the "good old days" despite what the old-timers around the cracker-barrel might say.  You can keep a car for well over 100,000 miles these days, without breaking a sweat.  Sounds pretty benign, but back in the "good old days" most cars went to the junkyard long before that.  And smart phones have reached a plateau in terms of features and functionality - there is little point in upgrading to the "latest and greatest" smart phone, other than to impress people you don't know.

But thank God for those trade-in maniacs - they leave behind nearly-new cars and electronics that can be had for half the price new.  Our truck had 20,000 miles on it and was two years old when we bought it - largely indistinguishable from brand-new.  It has 70K on it now, six years later, and should easily last us another six to ten years, with ordinary care.

We paid $99 for our Galaxy 4 phones and $199 when we upgraded years later to Galaxy 7's.  They still work fine, although a few apps are not supported.  Today, AT&T crashed and my phone will not register.  I think it is either AT&T or my SIM chip, as I tried swapping the SIM chip with two other phones and no joy.  But it may be time, in the not-too-distant future, to look for another used phone on eBay.

Of course, there are things we preserve and "keep forever" but even then, they either are entirely rebuilt, or are mere talismans of the objects they once were.   Many a collector car becomes a "garage queen" that is rarely driven, as driving the vehicle ruins the "value" and moreover, such vehicles end up being pretty delicate as they age, as many parts are no longer available (NLA) and used parts have a limited usable life.  And like my cousin's 2002, well, they just aren't as fun to drive as we thought they were.

So no, I am not advocating the "buy it for life" or "keep it forever" mindset, because things eventually wear out over time - even anvils.  And even if they don't wear out, keeping an anvil when you have no use for one isn't being frugal, it is just plain hoarding.

All that being said, by the time I am ready to replace my old laptops, I probably will be dead or no longer blogging.  Some AI program will have taken my place by then!

Brave new world?  You know, I'm kind of glad I won't live to see it.