Is It Four Years Already?

Last summer, on a perfectly clear August morning, Taylor Elmore lost control of his Chrysler Sebring, ran off the road and into a tree.
For many of us, every four years, we go through an arduous selection process. We agonize over our choice, and after we've made it, we worry that we made the wrong one. I'm not talking about something as easy as voting for president. I'm talking about buying a new computer.

Computers seem to be considered obsolete in three to five years. I don't know of any other thing that we happily buy, knowing that we're not going to be happy with it in a few years. OK, there's that purple shirt that is a little "out there," but I'm talking about major purchases. Even if we get a new car after a few years, how much faster is that new car than the old one? And can it carry four times as many people in it than the car you bought a few years ago?

So, we buy computers, and then buy them again. We've become so dependent on them that we don't feel we have any choice. When my computer is "in the shop," I panic until it's back home. And there are other computers in our house, so I can still write my column and check my e-mails, but it's not the same as using my "baby." Yes, it's almost like a member of the family is being operated on — except I know this family member will be obsolete soon.

And one reason we panic when something's wrong with them or when it looks like we may need a new one is because so many of us have no idea how they work. So we have to trust the expert — our Computer Guy. And when our Computer Guy says it's time to buy a new computer, we do it.

Last week, my Computer Guy said it was time. After bringing it back to health following a nasty virus, he said it would still work for a while, but he could "hear it strain" as it booted up and performed other operations. It sounded the same to me as it did four years ago, but I trusted what he said. After all, he's the guy wearing the blue shirt with the company logo on it.

He recommended a computer with a 160-gigabyte hard drive, 1 gigabyte of RAM, and a speed of 2.13 gigahertz. This would make it much faster and it would have a much greater storage capacity than my old one — which was much faster and had a greater storage capacity than I ever needed. (I use it almost exclusively for word processing and e-mail. I'm rarely called upon to figure out pi to a thousand decimal places while simultaneously creating a birthday card that sings and dances.) My Computer Guy's answer was that I should get the computer with all of this technology that I don't really need because all of these improvements are so cheap.

It's true that as computers have gotten faster and better over the years, they've gotten less expensive. But they're still not as cheap as if you didn't have to buy a new one. They're not free.

So, I thought it was time for me to actually find out what I was buying. I knew that gigahertz (GHz) was a measure of speed, but just how fast was it? My only frame of reference was miles per hour. Was this new computer faster than my car? So, I looked it up and learned that a gigahertz is a unit of alternating current or electromagnetic wave frequency equal to one billion hertz.

That definition wasn't particularly helpful, since I guess I'm one of the few people in the world who doesn't know how fast a "hertz" is. (I can tell how fast a Hertz rent-a-car is, but that comes with a speedometer.)

So, I wasn't able to calculate how many miles per hour a megahertz is. But one billion of anything sounds like a lot, so I assume a gigahertz is very fast. After all, it's got a one with nine zeroes after it (1,000,000,000 Hz). That's got to be speedy. And my new computer will be going at an amazing rate of not just 1, but 2.13 of those giga-puppies. My Computer Guy told me that's blazing fast! But, of course, in four years, he'll be telling me how slow it is.

Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver
By Lloyd Garver