It is time one figured out just how much day-to-day computing is beginning to affect the wallet, as digital consumption reaches new highs

There was a time when the home computer was inconspicuous in what it meant to the home budgets. The costs of operating it was hidden for most part, save for the electricity bill and fairly basic software requirements. But not any more.

Digital consumption is reaching record highs around the world. As more services move into cloud, the personal computer as well as post-PC devices such as smartphones and tablets, are constantly leeching on data networks, consuming valuable bandwidth.

And at the other end of the spectrum, users are also uplinking heavier data packages: be it photos taken using HD cameras or audio podcasts recorded using the latest microphones.

Digital habits

An infographic “What happens in an Internet minute?” posted recently by Intel's Free Press, the technology news wing run by the company with most of its content available under the Creative Commons Licence, puts into perspective the changing digital habits world over. At an average, 640 Terabytes of data are passing through the networks every minute across the World Wide Web.

Earlier this year, various studies pointed to a trend that research firm Nielsen declared on its blog as ‘mobile data tsunami'. The latest generation smartphones are consuming twice or more data than its previous versions. It holds good for the iPhone4S as well as Android phones.

And invariably, the network costs are being transferred to users. Twenty-five Gigabytes of data usage a month over a broadband connection would have sounded ridiculous even two years ago. But the high-speed data limit with one broadband service provider now only seems ridiculously less.

Shankar Ganesh, a heavy Internet user, spends close to Rs. 5,000 a year for Dropbox, a cloud-based storage service to constantly back-up his data. “There's this increasing urge to back-up data as quick as I can to the Internet. I know I can use an external HDD, but there's always the problem of data loss. Dropbox has redundant storage, so I can recover it anytime,” says the youngster, who runs a technology blog “Although this is a huge advantage over external HDDs, there's always this recurring fee coming up every year, and I think it'll cost me more in the long term. I'm planning to switch to other services that provide the same service at a lower cost or switch to an external HDD although it's not as reliable as an online cloud service.”

While the 50 GB limit for the price with Dropbox seems reasonable for pro-bloggers such as Shankar, the average user can try and manage with the 2-GB-a-year version of the Dropbox for free.

But a handful of GBs appear far too little in the era of HD photos and videos.

Even day-to-day tasks are becoming data-intensive. Take the example of note-taking. Popular app Evernote has demonstrated how central a nicely packaged notes app can become. While the free version has several tabs on the file-size and number of notes allowed a month, the premium version comes at US $ 5 a month.

While the average costs of apps and related cloud services, that have come to replace native computer software, are on the rise, the cost of bandwidth has not depreciated by much.

As choices become abundant and apps address specific niche, it is only prudent to work within a budget for computing. It is best to consider the costs of computing the way one considers the operational costs while purchasing an automobile.

Increasingly, one's gadgets would reflect one's profession. You can rest assure you will only find writing or related apps on my tablet PC. Anything more just seems like a luxury.