My iMac is nearly five years old, and there’s a problem with it: it still works. In fact, it works really well. I did have to replace the hard drive a few months ago, but apart from that, no complaints. It’s running the latest version of OS X, it never feels sluggish when performing routine tasks, and it’s nowhere close to running out of storage. It’s fine.
And, as I say, that’s a problem. I never expected this Mac to last that long. I figured that after three years or so, it would be so annoying to use that I’d be forced to replace it with a new model. I say “forced” as if it’s a negative thing, but I kind of wanted that to happen. I wanted to be able to say I have the very latest equipment with the most modern design and the fastest ports and all the rest, because that’s good for my geek cred. But I don’t have enough money to buy expensive gadgets I don’t genuinely need, and as it turns out, I cannot honestly say I need a new iMac. Yet.
Of course, I made the mistake of buying the top-of-the-line iMac configuration available in mid-2010. I maxed out the RAM and got the fastest processor, an SSD, and a large internal hard drive. Had I gone for a cheaper model, it might have aged less gracefully. But this particular iMac is not yet annoying enough.
Of course, I am a little annoyed. I would like the Wi-Fi connection to be faster (my iMac has 802.11n, but newer models have the far zippier 802.11ac), and Bluetooth 4.0 would let me use the Handoff feature in Yosemite and iOS 8 that works just fine on my MacBook Pro. I would also like to be able to use Thunderbolt and USB 3 peripherals, because they’re so much faster than the FireWire 800 and USB 2 my iMac supports. And most of all, I would like a high-resolution Retina display, because my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro all have them, and they’re gorgeous. By comparison, my iMac’s display seems fuzzy and old-fashioned.
But even taken together, these issues haven’t proven annoying enough to push me to a new model. In fact, this would be a terrible time for me to buy a new iMac, because one thing the current models can’t do is support an external display at the same 5K resolution as the built-in display, at least not without using up both of the Thunderbolt ports (for example, with this display), which causes other problems for me. I love having two monitors with identical size and resolution, but I’d have to forgo one or the other of those attributes if I bought a new iMac today.
So, even while wishing I could justify spending my nonexistent money on new tech, I’m going to hold out until either the old thing is too annoying, the new thing is too compelling, or (preferably) both. If I had to guess, I’d say that’ll happen in less than a year.
Noticing Solvable Problems
Thinking about how I wish I were more annoyed with my iMac made me realize how much I am annoyed at certain other things—things that can be fixed without spending thousands of dollars or waiting for new devices to hit the market. It struck me that I’ve gotten used to a number of irritations because they’ve been around so long, but I don’t need to be. Here are a few examples:
Every day, multiple times a day, I connect my iPhone and iPad to charging cables. Attaching or detaching cables requires two hands, and sometimes the cords slip off my desk and it’s a pain to retrieve them. The annoyance of not being able to charge my devices easily has definitely passed the point where I’d be stupid not to spend a few bucks on a dock or two. The extra money didn’t seem worth it when I was shelling out hundreds of dollars for the new devices, but now it seems like a no-brainer. Order placed!
Whenever I take my MacBook Pro off my desk for more than an hour or so, the power adapter comes with it. That involves a lot of crawling around and fiddling with cables (partly because of some awkward geometry in my office), which of course I must repeat when I come back to my desk. I can eliminate this annoyance by buying a second power adapter or by rearranging my office, and I’m still debating which of those approaches is the least painful.
I purchased my cable modem from my ISP, and I’ve always been vaguely miffed that it locks me out of certain settings (like default DNS servers) and has limited configurability for Wi-Fi networks. But most of the time, it’s been good enough. Except now I find I have to cycle the power every few days when, for no apparent reason, the modem stops communicating with the outside world. Once or twice a month, I could probably live with, but this is too much. I’ve been stuck on the fact that the device I have is out of warranty so I’d have to spend some money to fix the problem—but then I’d have a terrific cable modem that does exactly what I want and I’d eliminate a couple of annoyances in the process.
In other words, I can solve half a dozen smallish annoyances for a total cost of maybe $200, and I think the cumulative effect will be a significant increase in happiness. So I’m planning to do just that.
The Annoyance-Elimination Budget
Now I’m on a mission to notice all the problems that have haven’t been quite annoying enough to make me take action, but that could be solved by investing a tiny amount of money or time in technology. It’s a suprisingly challenging exercise. But sure enough, I think about that squeaky front door, and there’s a can of WD-40 right over there. I’ve got all these rechargeable batteries that used to last months on a charge and now last just days (even after reconditioning). Well, new batteries aren’t that expensive. And so on.
Some annoyances are genuine but not inexpensive to fix. That office geometry problem I mentioned? Well, the best way to solve it would be for me to get rid of three smaller, so-so desks and replace them with a single large, excellent desk. The desk that’ll solve all my problems costs about $1,000, which is well above my “just do it” threshold. But what if I set myself an annoyance-elimination budget of, say, $10 a day? Or, to put it differently, would I pay $10 a day to have a more-efficient, less-annoying office setup? I definitely would, which means my hypothetical new desk should pay for itself in reduced annoyance in about three months.
What problems and irritations are you putting up with day after day that a small investment in technology could solve? What could you set yourself as an annoyance-elimination budget, and how many problems would you be able to get rid of in a year?