So, Sunday evening disaster struck. My son, Kai (age 4), was sitting beside me as I worked, when he accidentally spilled a glass of water. I thought I'd snatched the laptop out of danger. Only a small amount of water touched it. Thinking fast, I turned it off, wiped it down, and set it aside to dry.
Unfortunately, when I tried to restart it the next morning, nothing happened. I press the power button, but there's no response. So, I did what any good Mac owner does, I took it to the Genius bar and begged for help. They cracked it open, but couldn't see any water damage. Unfortunately, the area where the water had touched was exactly the area they couldn't examine at the store. They would have to send it away. If there wasn't any water damage (no water sensors triggered), they could rep are it for a couple hundred dollars. However,if they discovered water damage, the cost would go up to over $1,500. Of course, I'm sure they would discover water damage; really, what else could it be.
Fortunately, I've been saving for a new computer. I'd hoped to wait a bit longer--I really wanted to see an iMac update before deciding between an iMac/Air combo or a MacBook Pro Retina. However, I have far to much to do this week--I can't afford to be without a functioning machine, even for just a few days. So, I talked it over with my wife, and we decided to pull the trigger on a new, mid-range MacBook Pro Retina.
However, the entire experience has made me think about computers, repairs, upgrades, appliances, and the general trend towards disposable devices.
iFixIt has now famously declared the MacBook Pro Retina "Unreparable". Actually, if you read the teardown article, they highlight the difficulties in taking apart and repairing the new MacBook Pro. They give it a Reparability score of 1 out of 10. But, it's not the blistering attack portrayed by tech-news pundits. Of course, that hasn't stopped people from using the teardown to attack the MacBook Pro. Sadly, many of the criticisms simply don't make much sense.
Take, for example, the criticism over the non-replaceable battery. Now, batteries are--essentially--consumables. After a few years, you probably will need to replace it. On the new MacBook Pro, Apple's going to charge $200 to replace your battery.
All of that's true, but I still find the reporting a little disingenuous. The critics are focusing on the absolute cost, not the relative cost. Let's face it, replacing a battery is never cheap. It typically runs somewhere around $150. Now, no one wants to spend an extra $50--but complaining about a $50 cost increase is different than whining about a $200 fee--especially when you consider the increase in battery size (and thus the relative increased cost to replace).
Others have made a semi-valid sustainability argument. Obviously, it would be better for the environment if we continued to use our devices longer. But, it's a stretch to then argue that the MacBook Pro Retina is disposable, designed deliberately to be thrown away after a couple of years. Yes, you cannot upgrade it, but that's not mean you need to toss it out. Honestly, we don't know how well these machines will stand the test of time. They may prove to be more durable than a typical laptop, precisely because everything's soldered down and glued solidly into place. They definitely feel solid. Sure, they will quickly become obsolete--and after a few years they may no longer fulfill the power user's needs--but that doesn't mean we can't pass them along. That doesn't mean they're all doomed to the garbage dump.
Don't get me wrong. You do need to think, and think hard before buying a device like the MacBook Pro Retina. I mean, the fact that I cannot upgrade the CPU, the RAM or the storage did give me pause. My old MacBook was a workhorse. I bought it in 2008. I upgraded the hard drive (twice) and the RAM, and by doing that, I probably extended it's useful life by 12-18 months. I cannot do this with my new machine. However, this is the cost of living in the future.
In all parts of life, we are seeing a general trend towards non-reparable appliances. The platonic example is the car. The days of tinkering on engines is gone. The same thing has happened with computer software. We don't spend our evenings tweaking, optimizing and maintaining our systems anymore. Heck, back when I was getting my A+ certification (many years ago), textbook authors whined about how technicians no longer diagnosed and fixed components. When something started malfunctioning, you simply yanked whole components and replaced them. Yes, it's a bit distressing to those who like to get their hands dirty--but I'd argue that, in general, it's a good thing.
As creatures of the modern age, we are faced with an ever-increasing mountain of knowledge. No one can master it all. Heck, we are lucky if we manage master a small sliver. No one has the time or resources needed to be a good auto mechanic, a good plumber, a good computer technician, a good network administrator, or any of the other skills needed to keep the modern world ticking. If we want to take advantage of the increasingly sophisticated technology around us, we must accept a certain amount of specialization. We must trust that the experts will keep things running, and just relax and enjoy the tools that technology gives us.
I'm not saying you shouldn't tinker. On the contrary. Tinkering is good, but it shouldn't be required. If you want to tinker on engines, go find a vehicle that you can work on--but I can almost guarantee you won't use that car to drive the kids to school. Similarly, If you want to tinker on computers--buy something to tinker with. Play around. Learn. Have fun. But if you need to use a computer, there's nothing wrong with buying an appliance and just getting back to work.