So let’s see if I can put all my fancy talk about avoiding the sunk cost fallacy into practice.
My Roomba, Master Wong, no longer works. He will disengage from his cradle, roll forward about five inches, then power down as soon as he hits the first obstacle. This is most likely because I’ve overcharged him. The reason I overcharged him is because I took him off of his schedule (three times a week), and I took him off his schedule because I was forgetting to clean him regularly (once every three sessions). He needs to be emptied and wiped down and dusted off or else grit gets into his bearings. And in my busy weeks, when I have a show and jiu-jitsu and work and writing, I either won’t remember or won’t be inclined to clean up after him. This is why I should never get a pet or a child.
The reason I got a Roomba in the first place, aside from the novelty of owning a robot vacuum, was due to the fear of not having space in my studio for a real vacuum. Having lived here for twenty-two months, however, I know I could make room in my closet for one. And I don’t even have to shell out a lot of money: for less than $80, I can get a vacuum with superior cleaning power to my Roomba that I’ll only need to empty once a year. The new vacuum can hide out of the way, and my Roomba can go to that farm out in the country with all the other iRobots. “Couldn’t you get a new Roomba battery?”, you ask. I could, for about $30. However, that’ll be $30 for a part that might not solve my problem (I’m not positive this is an overcharging issue) and still leaves me with a vacuum that’s only sort of powerful and that I need to empty somewhat less often than a litter box.
“But you paid so much for Master Wong,” you say. I did, and there’s the rub. Because of the investment of cash – not just buying him originally, but also sending him away for repairs last fall – I might be tempted to throw even more money at him to get him fixed. Because otherwise that money is “wasted,” right? That’s the sunk cost fallacy, the notion that past costs justify future costs. Really, the only thing that justifies future costs is an expectation of future returns. That money is no less “wasted” if I get the Roomba repaired than if I ship him off to a happier home. Look at it another way: right now, I’m in the same place that I would have been if I’d never decided to buy a Roomba in May 2008 – in both timelines, I’m completely lacking a functional Roomba – except I’m also a few hundred bucks poorer. The other timeline is far superior, in that I’d still have that money, but spending more money won’t get me there.
I’ll still miss him, though.