How Long to Keep Your Laptop: Do You Feel Lucky?
An Internet-connected computer running Microsoft Word is the basic tool of a freelance copyeditor. You can only get so far with a clipboard, red pen, and winning smile. When the computer goes down, the work ceases and billable hours vanish.
This was a topic of discussion last week on the Copyediting-L email list: At what point does a duct-taped computer need to be relegated to the closet so work can proceed on something shiny and new? Answers varied; one person said she was at seven years and still going with minor repairs.
For a serious freelancer, tools are essential. I reckon to replace my computer every three years or so before the old one gets too out of date or ornery. But the decision isn’t science. Many freelancers might keep their no-longer-fashionable computers for five or six years. After all, Microsoft Word is essentially the same program it was before we ever bothered with the Internet. You type characters. You delete characters. You make notes.
I use three computers. One is strictly for a contract job, and I don’t own it. One is the MacBook Air I’m typing on as I ride the bus to that contract job. The other is an older Mac Mini that stays in the home office hooked up to a monitor. When I price a new computer, I typically stick to three digits (not necessarily including tax).
The flash drive on the Air went bad after a year and about 12 hours in my possession (yes, Apple honored the warranty), but losing what was on the computer was only a minor setback. Most of what I needed I had duplicated elsewhere. I use Dropbox for some things, iCloud for others, and everything comes and goes through email. I also use Apple's Time Machine, but I had never gotten around to setting it up for the Air.
Backing up is the key to survival, but if you rely on one computer, you should ask yourself how far you’d be set back in your work if that computer were to crash, be left on the bus, or fall into the bathtub. If you’re overly reliant, it would be wise to err on the side of upgrading soon and having your still-useful computer as a backup.
Experts say once you hit five years, you’re probably just milking it. But pocketing a thousand dollars for another couple of years is pretty appealing to the average freelancer.