Computing the need for a PC

After calculating my finances on the computer I've owned for a year, I've reached the conclusion that in order to meet my budgetary goals I have to sacrifice the primary waste of both time and money - my computer.

Since I've untangled myself from the novelty of the aptly named World Wide Web, I now - when needing information - assess whether I really have the spare time required to invest in an online session.

Recently, to resolve a debate with a friend, I needed to know how many home runs Dick Allen hit in 1966. Tracking the minutes necessary for system boot-up, log on to access the Internet, and the incessant dodging of virtual mugging by pop-up ads, 15 minutes were expended just reaching the search site. Once there, it was essential to string together the correct Boolean phrase to get a search answer with less than 1,000 results.

And just surfing the Web, I find myself riding the "Big Business Tsunami." I'm the target of competition between established national retailers and the "dot coms." No, I don't want a credit card, long distance card, scanner, fax, CD, or an book about credit cards, long distance cards, scanners, faxes, or CDs. I just want to know how many homers Allen hit in 1966.

Another time and resource drain is the preventive maintenance PCs require. I spend more time maintaining the computer than I do my car. I fret about error messages, viruses, file overloads, and other cryptic plagues.

Considering the reported 60 percent of consumers who can't program their VCR clocks, it will be difficult for home PC sales to match the projected lofty goals if they can't be manufactured maintenance-free.

The online trading hype, purportedly giving the common man the same advantages enjoyed by large brokers and rich folks, is just a vehicle for the self-perpetuating rise of Internet stocks. Instead of trading online, I'd be better off taking the $2,000 cost of the computer, the $20 monthly online costs, and the $15-per-online- trade and investing them in a solid blue-chip company that has actual real-estate assets, positive earnings, and a price-earnings ratio of less than 20.

This, of course, would rule out the Internet stocks, which is fine with me. Buying Internet stocks now would be like investing retirement savings in the potential growth of the Beanie Babies market.

By the way, Dick Allen hit 40 home runs in 1966. I phoned the Philadelphia Public Library and was given the answer in five minutes. Free of charge.

*John C. O'Donnell is a US Postal Service supervisor who lives in Bellmawr, N.J.

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