Technology for Writers:
The Price of Obsolescence
By Mary Winter
kind of a technology geek, but I wasn't always this way. Instead, I used to
chant the mantra, "all I need is a word processor that can surf the
internet." Then, as technology changed and the publishing industry changed
with it, I realized I needed more – much more.
years, I carried around an old, clunky IBM Thinkpad 760EL laptop. It ran
Windows 98 and had Microsoft Word, AOL IM, and Outlook Express on it. I
thought I was happy. Then I discovered such things as web site development,
jump (or pen) drives, and wireless internet. Now, Old Faithful has become
Old and Outdated. I used to operate on dial-up at the painfully slow speed
of 26.4 kbps. Why? Because I couldn't justify the expense of high speed
internet. At least, not until it took me two hours a day to download and
handle all my email.
explosive growth in technology confuses even those of us in the IT
industry. For the average layperson it can be a twisting labyrinth from
which there is no hope of escape. However, every writer needs to make a
concerted effort to understand technology and the impact it has on his or
her writing. Why? Because working with obsolete technology has a high
largest price obsolete technology extracts is in lost productivity. Above I
mentioned the time it took to read and download my email. Those two hours
could have been spent, and now are spent, writing -- not waiting for the
email to filter into my mailbox. With the advent of faster processors and
high speed internet, computers and communications work at a much faster
speed than ever before. Slowness isn't the only aspect of older technology
known for eating time.
Different versions of software require files to be converted between
versions or even platforms. The conversion time, whether it's saving a
WordPerfect or Microsoft Word file into rich text format, or dealing with
differing versions of the same software, isn't used productively. Some file
conversion is necessary in the publishing industry and can't be avoided, but
it can be minimized.
hardware ages, it needs to be replaced or upgraded. I wanted to add a USB
port to my old Windows 98 laptop so I could use a small jump drive and
transfer much more data than I could using floppy disks. The drive is also
less prone to corruption than a floppy disk. Two hours and twenty dollars
later, I learned that my laptop was too old to do what I wanted it to do.
Again, obsolescence rears its ugly head.
Countless wasted hours and much frustration have resulted from people just
like me trying to force old, outdated equipment to do something new. Browse
the "Computers & Networking" category on Ebay. You see not only complete
and working computers for sale, but also pieces, parts, adapters, and more.
Sure, a large amount of it goes to people who want to build their own
systems, or replace a component; however, much of it goes to people just
like me using an outdated system.
writers our time is best spent writing, not fighting with old equipment.
of the common objections to upgrading (I know, I used this one myself) was
the high cost. Options for internet access, the backbone of any good
computer system, vary from dial-up providers such as AOL or Earthlink to
cable or DSL high speed internet. The price varies, with low-cost dial-up
providers such as Netscape and PeoplePC providing service far below the cost
of other carriers, and high speed connectivity costing as much as five times
the price of these low-cost carriers.
monthly cost pales in comparison to the cost of purchasing a new computer
system. Individual hardware or software components may cost less. However,
for writers, whose already-tight budget includes promotion and other writing
related costs, the cost of upgrading can be prohibitive.
what about the cost of using out of date technology? If you can and it
doesn't impact your writing, then why not? Many people have used older
computer equipment without any problems. If it doesn't affect you, then
there's no reason why you can't continue as you always have. But my own
experience is that eventually the cost will catch up. Instead of waiting
for it to hit you, it's time to be proactive and determine exactly what your
technology needs are and make plans to bring yourself to the level where you
need to be. And that’s the subject of my next article, performing a
(This is the first of three articles.
The next will be in the March/April issue of Vision.)