June 15, 2010

Glancing at the previous post that it took a month to upload makes me realize that a lifetime goes by in a week or two around here. It being that I have had to waste copious amounts of time on the computer lately, it seems fitting to go just a little further and write something….at least I’ll enjoy that. I’ll say in advance that this is one big sour-grapes vent on corporate America, so, be warned….

All that “time wasting” had to do with an experience that has come to sum up much of life in modern America: The Consumer Doesn’t Matter. What am I talking about? Well, the saga began around two weeks ago when our iMac whizbang computer just wouldn’t turn on anymore. This same computer had already had a failed motherboard and a failed hard drive, and now it was another motherboard all fried up. Ms. Cheapo here hadn’t wanted to shell out $120 for the extended warranty, so the repair was going to cost within a few hundred dollars of the price of a new computer. Apple computers used to be built from quality components, but as time has gone on, those components now come from places where English is not the mother tongue, and I’m not talking about Germany, either. I used to have the delusion that if one paid $1500 or so for a computer, one could expect a life of about 5 years…it seems that I need new delusions these days. This computer failed pretty much every 12-18 months until it couldn’t fail any more, and so there we were…computer-less. Of course, in the past two years as the farm business has grown, the need to have a more advanced means of tracking expenses and accounts had to come too…so we invested close to $200 on the purchase of QuickBooks 2007, made by Intuit. Buying Quickbooks (QB) for the farm was a lot like buying Photoshop to edit a photo. The program is a complex monster capable of a thousand things, of which I needed about…..five. But there aren’t a lot of options out there for small business accounting, so I took a deep breath, installed the thing, and then spent some months forcing myself to learn to use it well enough to get by. As time went on, hundreds of customers came and went, with thousands of weekly transactions. So when the iMac went down, it took my ability to know much of anything about my business with it. Did so-and-so pay? I dunno. New client wants to get produce boxes? Write it on a notepad and wait. Customer moving to Tennesee? Sorry, I’ll close your account one of these days. So for ten days much wrangling and pricing and shopping was done, really all by Ken, to replace the machine, with me loudly bitching all the while about “Apple using cheap crap that isn’t made to last”. It just so happened that about 4 weeks prior to the crash, we had purchased a used laptop from UC Davis for $125. The purpose was to run a receipts program that I use for my tax receipt tracking, and I needed a PC for that. It took me hours to get the PC online and get software updates downloaded. And, we were lucky to have the laptop, which was at least a way to have email access without resorting to my iPhone. And so exactly a week ago the new iMac came home. No data was lost in the crash of the old iMac, and the data and programs were transferred by the technician at UCD to the new machine. I eagerly started up QuickBooks in order to tackle two weeks of customer backlogs. But, it wouldn’t launch quite right. It said I hadn’t registered the software yet….ok, I figured it was just one of those software glitches. I double clicked on my backup file on the desktop, and was up and running in no time. Possessed of post-crash paranoia, I made sure to back up the QB data each time as I quit the program. One charming feature of QB is that if you have to do a task “back in time” like ask it to enter eggs purchased weekly since February 17th, you have to quit and restart the program in order to get that to happen. So when I went to open the program again, there was the same problem with needing to register……hmmm. For a day or two I shoved it out of my mind, but then I felt that maybe I ought to try and figure out how to stop this from happening. And then the real hell began. I began a search of the issue and rapidly arrived at this blog that let me know I was in for no easy ride. Having no satisfaction from calling Intuit customer support, I joined their online forum to get some help there. For anyone who wants to bore themselves with the nuances of that exchange, enjoy . So at the end of this matter, I have to spend $140 on top of the purchase of the iMac. Why? Well this all gets back to grand old Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman”….the concept of Built-In Obsolescence. There was a time when making things to last was a point of civic and personal pride. And then someone got the bright idea that if it can break, someone has to buy another one. And another one. And another, and that profit lies in every sale. So pride went out the window, and it became all about making a buck at the expense of others (and filling landfills everywhere and creating the great garbage raft in the Pacific Ocean, but I digress). Capitalism at its finest? You decide. One counterargument runs that if things don’t need replacing, no room ever gets made for something new and improved to take its place. So by an item failing, one has to replace it with an Agent of Change, a force for advancement. I suppose this has some merit, and as someone who spends more time with her iPhone than any other object in the world, I have to admit that I have benefited from all the advancements in technology. But my complaint comes from the fact that any choice in the matter is removed from the consumer. There will always be affluent people who can and wish to purchase each one of the latest toys. But what about when someone is struggling to get by (i.e. in the worst economic climate we’ve seen since the 1930’s) and needs to have things last, only to become a victim of the March of Progress? I can answer that…..the corporate mentality is “TOO BAD”. I often wonder if progress isn’t simply for Progress’ sake anymore. We do things as a society because we can, not because they serve the greater good. I realize that how I feel about this makes me a bit of a throwback, with an attitude more common to those who are older than I am. This comes from what I do to earn a living. For me, money equals food. The $140 I just had to spend on that software is ten sacks of turkey feed, or seven of the produce boxes I sell to my customers, or one Saturday of above average earnings from the Farmer’s Market. It is 70 pounds of beets, or just under 30 lbs of almonds. Or 40 dozen eggs. Someday I wonder if the people who make all the toys and software will have enough to eat. And if I’ll say “you keep your toy, and I’ll keep my eggs. I’m sure your toy will taste very good.” And in the meantime, I’ll ponder the situation I find myself in…still buying products from Apple and Intuit after having had very poor customer satisfaction. Who knows, if I get irked enough I just might make a cardfile. There was a way to do all these little jobs before computers made everything “better” and this is one gal who still knows how to keep records manually.