It started unequivocally: ‘Mom, my computer is making a clicking sound.’

Sasha bought his laptop almost two years ago and it has served him well so far. The said clicking marked the end of that period. A lesson in itself.

His online search for reasons that would make a computer click revealed two possibilities: a failing hard disk drive (HDD) or dying fan, the second being the cheapest to fix. Spoiler alert: it was the first.

A trip downtown to the computer sales-and-repairs store (Spitfire if you are in Kamloops and curious and yes, I fully recommend them!) confirmed the guess. Next came the modern-age dilemma: to fix or buy a new one.

Lesson 1. Outline all possible solutions

I grew up immersed in the cradle-to-grave philosophy regarding things you use in everyday life. Anything fixable was fixed, unless completely broken. Things were built with that in mind, which is no longer the case in our consumerist, throw-away society. I am challenged by today’s habits of disposing of things when they break, though I was often reminded that it costs more to fix than buy new. We are enabled to be a throw-away. Electronics top the list, whether planned obsolescence is present or not.

All in all, this was a perfect learning opportunity. A homeschool project was born. First, we identified three possible solutions, each with pros and cons. Second, for the fix-it solution Sasha came up with questions he would ask the computer guy.

Lesson 2. Be willing to learn

I admit that over the years I was never inclined to learn more about computers than I had to and that was minimal. After taking the computer to be diagnosed, Sasha and I did our homework: we read about it and tossed it on all sides. It feels good to know more.

To put it bluntly, we have no excuse: no matter the topic, the internet abounds with information (look for reputable sites though). Information overload is a reality, but sifting through it for the sake of helping your case is worth it.

Growing up I was surrounded by adults, family and neighbours, who always had a clue about the things unfolding in their homes and yards, technically speaking. Plumbing, pruning trees, building fences and walls and chicken coops, making wine – someone knew how to do it and others were there too willing to learn. For the most part, and especially in cities, many people have moved away from that attitude. I am not arguing for fixing everything yourself, but knowledge helps find the best course of action, including calling professionals (and you are still part of the decision-making body because you understand the problem.)

Lesson 2. Ask until you understand

There is a funny thing kids do, at least for a while anyway. They’ll claim they know everything when you ask them, even when they are clueless. A matter of self-esteem if you will.

When the boys did that, I explained the downsides: saying that you know prevents you from learning the actual thing. Ignorance is not bliss; often times, it proves to be detrimental.

Admitting you know little allows you to ask questions until things makes sense. There is no stupid question, some say. I disagree, as I have heard plenty of, but when the goal is learning, then there are no stupid questions.

Lesson 3. Sleep on it

Unless an urgent answer needs to be squeezed out of you, take the time to think about all that you have absorbed through reading and having your questions answered. In our case, we went to the store and asked many questions and the guy was happy to answer. He explains concepts and responded patiently to Sasha’s multiple inquiries in the why and how land. Then we went home and did other things and revived the conversation with the rest of the family. Debates are fun, and tossing pros and cons is an art worth learning and practising without egos involved.

Lesson 4. Few decisions affect just one person

Every decision we make is a like a ripple. Regardless how far it reaches, it will impact other people and/or our immediate environment, and beyond that sometimes. In case of electronic products, that cannot be overstated. Across the world, e-waste ammounts to about 20 to 50 million metric tonnes, and computers are most abundant item.

It is imperative that we consider the impact our decisions will have on the environment. Our throw-away society makes it easy to forget that waste, electronic or not, accumulates at a pace that is unnatural and unsustainable. More stats to prove the point: in 2016, Canadians generated 10.2 million tonnes of waste (almost half of all the waste across Canada!). By the way everything is expanding the 2018 stats will be even scarier.

I admit I was rooting for the fix-it solution (if viable and supported by knowledge and competent advice) but knowing that sadly, many things are not made to last even two years. Ultimately it was not me who had to make the decision but the owner of the laptop, who was to pay for part of the bill as well.

He decided to fix it. His newly refurbished machine is faster and sturdier. For now anyway.

Lesson 4. Informed decisions make us feel good

Time spent learning is time well spent. It feels empowering and it adds to the big knowledge puzzle we keep on building, ideally, as we go through life, as long as we keep our minds open and willing.

Things learned, specifically about computers and beyond:

  • Hard disk drives (HDD) are more prone to failing than solid state disks (SSD) due to moving parts and also the way people handle laptops for example. Tip: Use the Sleep option sparingly, the computer guy said, and turn the computer off if you are planning to transport it. Or just not use it for a few hours.
  • Computers are an expensive item even when they are cheap (it’s a head-scratcher but a good conversation starter nonetheless.)
  • Involving children in the process helps them develop confidence and ability to think things through. Also, paying for repairs teaches them about what it takes to own something.
  • Bottom line: A perfect solution is a mirage of sorts, or a fool’s errand, if you prefer. The goal is to find the best solution once you understand the many sides of the problem.