One day, my boss caught me in the hall.
“I want you to give a presentation on the Total Cost of Ownership,” she said.
“I don’t know a thing about it,” I told her.
“Precisely!” she said.
So I studied up and a few weeks later, I stood to give a presentation so excruciatingly detailed that I was confident she would never ask me to do anything like that again. But before I could begin, an over-eager fellow in the back of the room raised his hand.
“Uh,” I said, “we usually wait until the end of the presentation to field questions.”
But he kept squirming, so I relented.
“Did you know you have a dryer sheet clinging to your pants leg?” he asked.
“No, I did not know that,” I told him.
But I should have.
In our house, dryer sheets flutter everywhere. They migrate out of the laundry like geese and take wing in the hall. Scooter chases them madly and our cats use them as skateboards. At night they float across the slick hardwood of our bedroom floor, looming in the dark, as dangerous to navigation as icebergs off Greenland.
I am not sure how they proliferate like they do. My wife will put one in the dryer when she loads it and I will pull out four when I unload it. At least those are the four that I count – because no matter how carefully I examine the clothes I always miss the majority of them – which then turn up in the most unlikely of places.
During church services, I will pull them out of my sleeves like a magician. At formal functions, I am forced to dig for them when they scratch in places where one should never dig nor scratch.
It is why I never use them. It is my wife who does. She buys into anything that promises to improve our lives. I am the opposite. I don’t trust technology of any kind. I know it too well for that.
Everything that is new spawns its own set of problems. Dryer sheets were invented to fix a problem caused by clothes dryers – another thing invented to improve our lives. You see, when a dryer tumbles our clothes around and around, it literally scrambles the atomic structure of cloth, chasing the positive electrons out of our socks and the negative electrons out of our underwear. The result is that our socks cling desperately to our undies. Dryer sheets solve this problem by assuming the job of clinging, which is why you find them stuck to the back of your pants at work.
I explained all this to my audience – I thought they would understand. Instead that same impetuous fellow began waving his hand.
Again, I relented and let him ask his question.
“What does any of this have to do with the Total Cost of Ownership?” he asked.
“I just explained that every time you solve one problem, you encumber yourself with a host of other problems,” I said, “but it is bigger than that.”
Every time you acquire something, a whole lot of other things come rattling along with it. Remember buying your first car? Did you consider the cost of insurance, annual title fees, tires, repairs and depreciation? None of these costs were included in the sticker price.
When you buy a smart phone, you find yourself paying for texts, voice messaging, a data plan and apps…
All of these costs cling like barnacles to our lives and they all must be accounted for.
I detailed how this happens with computer systems. There are the ever escalating licensing fees, the mandatory upgrades, the price of falling behind the curve, the cost of retaining skilled professionals to maintain the system and so on…
In the end, my boss was pleased. She even complimented me on the brilliance of using a dryer sheet as a prop.
I thanked her – but I had to ask, “Who was the guy with all the questions?”
“Oh, that’s Ravi. He came on-board to support a project that unfortunately has since been canceled, I don’t know what he does now — other than attend meetings. I’ll have to look into that.”