Well, it has happened again. A friend told me that he is thinking about buying a new laptop. His current one is about six years old and “getting slow.” For some reason, my senior clients and friends seem to accept as a given that older machines will slow down and get something like cyber-arthritis as they age. His computer has not suffered a head crash or failure to boot: it is just “getting slow.”

Sometimes the client is not able to articulate what “getting slow” means beyond some general feeling. If they say it takes a lot longer to boot now than it used to, then I can recommend a much less invasive cure than surgically removing the laptop. But first I have them actually record the time it takes to boot before and after making any changes. The perceived boot time often varies depending on the user’s state of mind.

If they have an older XP computer that still has only 512 MB of RAM and all the ensuing updates have been installed, then we can explore adding additional memory. However, neither of these alternatives is the most common complaint.

Why is My Computer Getting Slow?The most common reason for computers getting slower seems to be the raising expectations of the users. What seemed like blazing speed when a computer was new seems like stale yesterday now. The computer has not changed; the user has changed.

Why is this? One obvious explanation is familiarity. The more often we do routine tasks, the better we get at it and the faster we are. If I were to deliberately think of each key to punch in sequence to type this sentence, it would take 10 times as long as simply thinking it and having my fingers respond. The keyboards have not changed; I have become a better typist over the years. It would be silly of me to assume my faster typing is due to better keyboards.

Another explanation is comparison with newer machines. If you have an older single-core beauty that you have loved for years and see your neighbor using his quad-core gaming machine with multiple monitors, you might change your expectations without being aware of it. What seemed normal before now seems slow. In a similar vein, when I watch a real typist key in a letter in a fraction of the time I would take and with far fewer errors, suddenly I do not feel as though I have learned how to type quickly. A lot of the performance evaluations for both people and machines are relative, and while people are not changing rapidly, computers are. How long will it be before any skill in typing on a qwerty keyboard will be obsolete and slower than whatever replaces it? We seem to be well into that transition now.

One good side effect of people buying new computers because their old ones are “getting slower” is that they sometimes give me the old computer, which I can then clean up and either donate or sell to someone for a fraction of what a new one would cost. Done right, this is a win-win-win situation. That is one reason I have three extra computers sitting in my office at this moment. They will likely make some children delightful Christmas presents, and the children will not think they are “too slow.”