Not So Smart Advice On What Not to Buy in 2010 From SmartMoney

I just came across an article on the MSN SmartMoney web site about 10 Things Not to Buy in 2010, and while some of the items discussed are ones I would agree with in principal, I think the authors at SmartMoney suffer from a very narrow weltanschauung (world view). Some might even call their views elitist, or perhaps on the other extreme, clueless.

Two of the ten items on the “don’t buy” list I vehemently disagree with are external hard drives and compact digital cameras.

With respect to external hard drives the author suggests that because of the convenience and cost of online backup services like Carbonite and Mozy, there’s no reason to spend money on external hard disks, which the article points out can crash (which is true, but rare).

But herein lie a number of serious flaws in reasoning.

First, Internet connection speeds are a real problem. Only a fraction of Americans, and an even smaller percentage of those outside the U.S. have high speed connections sufficient to upload the many gigabytes or even terabytes of data stored on their computer systems. For myself, I have multiple terabytes of data – that’s trillions and trillions of bytes of data – and if I were to try to upload all that data to a remote site for backup it would take me years, literally. Even with “only” 20-30 gigabytes of data, the average residential user would be looking at weeks for back-up initially.

Second, and perhaps an even bigger issue for most people, is that once you have actually gone and committed to backing up data to an on-line service, you have no guarantee that such services will remain in business. I have personally seen this happen with a number of photo sharing web sites that people had uploaded thousands or even millions of photos to, only find the sites shutting down with no real recourse to keep their photos stored remotely. What happens if the remote on-line backup provider packs it up suddenly, with all of your data now inaccessible to you?

A third issue is data privacy. While on-line backup providers may have certain mechanisms in place to prevent most hacking attempts, it’s difficult to protect from all possible attacks as Google and a number of Silicon Valley software companies discovered over the last few weeks at the hands of apparently well funded and coordinated Chinese hackers. So, if your on-line backups include sensitive material, like banking information, that data could be at risk if it is stored in the “cloud”. Of course, should the government get interested in you, then they can subpoena the on-line backup service directly, without getting your permission, since you are not in charge of your data – the on-line backup provider is. While you can try and work around this with encrypted storage and the such, that becomes a bigger hassle to work with too.

All three of the above issues are better addressed by external hard drives. With an external hard drive you’re in full control of your data. You can put it in a safety deposit box, or perhaps a safe, or in your sock drawer. Plus, over time, an external hard drive will be cheaper than the recurring subscription fees you have to pay an on-line provider. I just bought it a number of ultra portable one terabyte hard drives for photo backup for approximately $180 each. And to account for the unlikely possibility that the hard drive crashes, I have extras. Plus, with an external hard drive, a lot more storage is immediately accessible. You don’t need a fast Internet connection to access your files either – it’s all there, under your control, any time you need it.

The other thing I disagreed with was the suggestion that one should not buy compact digital cameras. SmartMoney suggests that since DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras – you know, the big honking cameras with big honking lenses – are dropping in price, that it’s just better to buy one of those instead. That argument, however, ignores that a major selling point of compact digital cameras is that they are compact! I don’t know about you, but we have several compact digital cameras around our house, tucked away, but ready for use at any time. And I always carry a compact camera with me when I travel, even when I also have my DSLR with me. All because the compact digital camera is compact. Granted, a DSLR takes better pictures, but it’s just not as convenient.

The other recommendations for things not to buy in 2010 include DVDs and CDs (partially right), but until all media is available electronically and everyone has fast Internet connections, physical media will stick around. And while the suggestion of Netflix is a nice one, it doesn’t work outside the U.S., as I know first hand. SmartMoney also comments on gas guzzling cars, home telephone service, also-ran smart phones (anything other than iPhone or Blackberry, apparently), newspaper subscriptions, and a couple of other items I won’t bother going into.

Ultimately, this list of the “Ten Things Not to Buy in 2010” is much like any other advice from pundits – full of opinion and pontification, but rarely with any in depth thinking about the ramifications of following such advise. All in all, take such advice in consideration, but assume it’s probably flawed unless you personally discover otherwise.