I heaved a deep sigh as I plugged an Ethernet cable into my year-old Sony Vaio laptop this morning. It's not quite the beauty that it was last century. The magnesium alloy surface is scuffed and scratched; difficult-to-clean spots and smears stain the liquid display screen. And the specs -- I'm almost ashamed to mention them in polite geek company. When all around me my friends and relatives are purchasing new laptops with monster hard drives and 600 megahertz processors, my Vaio just limps along.
The near-immediate obsolescence of high-tech gadgets is old news in the technology world -- it is, in fact, the basis upon which industry profits are generated. Whining about the reality that today's screaming Testarossa is tomorrow's Edsel is a loser's game. But for Vaio owners, it's been a particularly tough week. Not only are the first Vaios to incorporate Transmeta's much hyped power-saving Crusoe chips just now being introduced, but pictures also surfaced last week of the newest Vaio fashion trend. The new Vaio flaunts a pseudo-iBook black-and-white boxy motif that represents an audacious departure from the sleek lines that made the Vaio an essential part of the stylish hacker's wardrobe in 1999.
Debate over both the aesthetics of the new Vaio and the technical prowess of the Crusoe chips is raging around geek watering holes. At Slashdot, no less a figure than head geek Rob Malda declared the design to be good for nothing but barfing on. And the Crusoe chip, while it does apparently save power and extend battery life, is being dismissed for its merely "average" performance, a declaration that must be very hurtful to the Transmeta engineers.
But I'm afraid that I can't bear to follow either the aesthetic critique or the nerdish appraisals too closely. It's too painful. I'm the kid on the outside of a candy store that requires at least a cool grand to enter. Sony has ruined my computing life by making its laptops too sexy.
Sony has always been the unquestioned leader when it comes to delivering consumer electronics as delectably luxurious as a Fendi purse or a Prada fur collar. But the company has ill served computer users with its strategy of manufacturing laptops with the same kind of "Total Recall" cool it has hitherto bestowed on Walkmans or Handycams. It's just not fair to have laptop styles change with every season. This kind of every-month-a-new-model is OK for Nikes or Gap khakis, but please, not laptops. Nikes are practically disposable. Laptops aren't, not yet.
But maybe they should be. I want my disposable laptop -- like one of those cameras you get at weddings that you throw away after using. I want to be free to indulge in the newest laptop incarnation when I please, without having to take out a second mortgage to be able to afford it. Heck, who even cares about power efficiencies -- I want a laptop that doesn't last any longer than its batteries do, color-coordinated for every outfit in my geek wardrobe. Is that really too much to ask?