Dispose of this, immediately

There are two magic words that light up the eyes of pretty much every business person: “disposable income”. We are living in a time where there are billions of people on this planet who have more money than they need to live. It might very well be that many of these people have mortgages and other loans and other financial responsibilities that are a constant drain on their emotional and financial resources. Nevertheless, from a cash flow perspective, many of these people have money that is free to do with as they wish. Admittedly, if they worked with a financial planner, that disposable income might be turned into a mortgage that ends five years earlier, or a car loan that can be paid off next year instead of two years from now.

But people want to have disposable income. People do not want to be fiscally responsible 24/7. As long as they have a reasonable and secure [as much as possible] job, and the debtors are not banging at their door, that disposable income will be used for things that are themselves probably disposable. Interestingly, though, the ability to pull out $100 or thousand dollars and purchase something that you need or don’t really need, gives people a tremendous sense of success.

Like many others, I stand in awe at the endless lines around the corner every time Apple releases a new version of anything. The people who were standing around the corner just a year earlier to get the latest iPhone are once again standing around the corner because clearly, their old iPhone has outlived its usability and  is nothing more than a paperweight. Or equivalently, they have given their old iPhone to another member of the family who doesn’t fully appreciate the magical implications of owning the latest and greatest Apple product.

Just this evening, I was scanning through the Yahoo Tech website and I saw a number of items that I would enjoy owning. And then, as if I had a glass of cold water splashed on my face, I suddenly realized that I have absolutely no need for any of these products. I thankfully have the money to buy these products. If I really need a new computer or new phone or any new device, I can allow myself to spend up to $1000, especially if it’s in payments and I am not making such a purchase every month. But as I looked at the latest Google pixel pseudo-laptop, I realized that I had a beautiful 8.3 inch Samsung tablet suspended next to my bed, so that I could read from it while the TV was on, or use it to cast YouTube videos to my bedroom TV. On top of this, I have a beautiful, independent  Bluetooth keyboard that I could use to type anything I wish directly onto this tablet. Finally, with the latest versions of Google apps, I can voice dictate my articles directly into a Google doc.  On my desktop I use Dragon. And Dragon is amazing. But if I had to, I could definitely manage with my keyboard and Google voice to text.

Is this a good thing? Is the fact that so many people have disposable income ready and willing to spend it on the latest tech toys a good thing? One could easily argue that this is a type of tech tax that we all happily pay. We all realize that nothing we are going to buy will be perfect in every way, and we also realize that even if it is near perfect today,  it won’t be, in 12 months from now. Somehow, over the course of just 12 months, our shiny, glossy glimmering new piece of tech will disintegrate into a pile of silicon that has no use for anyone. It won’t be that we want a new Nexus phone or we would like the latest Samsung device or that we could use the latest iPhone to be more productive. Simply, something goes off in our DNA that triggers the kind of need that cavemen experienced when hunting for dinosaurs just before the next winter. Not having  that latest and greatest whatever, will leave us out in the cold of winter barely able to tap out  an SOS SMS to our dearest friends.

I’ve mentioned before that my house is a Nexus advertisement. Three of the five people in my family have a Nexus 5, one has a Nexus 4 (and has no interest in upgrading) and my youngest child has such an old phone that you can still see the marks where George Washington scratched out his name on it. Nevertheless, I did order an on sale Nexus 5 [not 5X] for the ridiculously low price of 630 shekels [around $175] and it will at some point make it to my home. Occasionally I scan eBay to see if any more such cheap Nexus 5 phones are available. So far there are quite a few that are selling for well under 1000 shekels [around $250]. With the latest version of android, called marshmallow, I find the combination with the Nexus 5 to be outstanding. My phone, simply does everything I want it to do. No matter how many positive reviews I read about the Nexus 5X, or the nexus 6P, I just cannot bring myself to make the purchase. I have a great phone already.

To be honest, it’s not as if I’ve given up on ever upgrading my phone in the future. I am very interested to see what the next version of the Nexus 5 will have. I don’t need a bigger screen and Youtube plays perfectly well on the phone I have. The pictures I take with my phone are absolutely adequate for my needs, and the fact that they immediately upload to Google photos is for me, a huge advantage. Not having to sit at the end of the day and flip through memory cards and upload the images to my computer or online storage, makes taking pictures fun for me. That a phone could create such an experience for me says it all.

It’s clear from my discussion that I do not covet anyone’s Samsung or even Xiaomi phones. The biggest draw for me with the Nexus phones is that they automatically update their operating system, earlier than anyone else. It is not a given that buying the latest version of another phone will get you the marshmallow update, or the update that comes after that. And then of course there may be a months-long waiting period until that update comes along. Sometimes it seems to me that updates to other companies’ phones take so long, that the user is already planning their next purchase of the next phone upgrade before the OS upgrade ever arrives.

Disposable income is a marvelous thing. But it is the kind of thing that could be saved up over a couple of years and then used to take your family on a wonderful vacation that will make memories that are priceless. It is my impression that especially with electronics, it is far too easy to buy the latest gadgets independent of true need. I think that lots of families could do with fewer gadgets and rather spend the time and the money on being a family. And I feel very confident in saying that the pictures you take with last year’s top phone model will still be good enough to relive this beautiful family vacation over and over again, throughout the upcoming years.

Thanks for listening


About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.