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Retro-lescence

Old is the new cool because no one will know what you're sporting.

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I'm looking for a revolution here, people. Help me out, will ya?

Here's the hook: The end is supposedly nigh for my first-generation iPod Shuffle. A couple of months ago, I plugged its serial number and info about my (mis)use patterns into the iPod Death Clock (imechanic.com--but don't go looking for it; the site's been removed). My Shuffle's doom date? November 15, 2008.

Bah!

I figure Old Poddy's got a load of life left. And that's not just because the erstwhile iPod Death Clock was an online gadget created by an iPod battery sales company (fancy that!), but because my music machine's lived through brutal falls down stairs, clunks onto asphalt and someone's---or something's---determined chewing. I used to run with it every day, the little thing nestled between my breasts in my sports bra; the USB connector is rusty. It still hasn't quit.

And I won't be letting it go until it dies.

Care to join me in my old-school revolution? Pushing your watching and listening devices to the brink? Proudly sporting ancient tech as a badge of perseverance through the onslaught of better!-newer!-shinier! advertising? Listen, people: We can be an army of vinyl music listeners. We can cook eggs in cast-iron frying pans. We can walk around listening to AM radio on those massive headphones with knobs on the side of one ear and slide-up chrome antennae.

We can do it. We can all get together and deny the power of engineered obsolescence.

Engineered obsolescence used to be the industry term for the pre-determined lifespan of tech goods: The point when the device starts to break down and either a) can't be fixed (because, in the example of my iPod Shuffle, it's glued shut), or b) the cost to repair it outweighs the cost of replacement.

But more and more, the way engineered obsolescence actually works isn't in the GAH!-this-damn-thing's-friggin'-konked-out-and-now-I-have-to-buy-a-new-one-because-the-battery-is-soldered-in! sense.

In fact, according to the (most excellent) green tech blog MatterNetwork.com, the disposability of tech devices is, in some corners, on the wane. Serviceability (such as---the site uses as an example---the ability to take apart and replace almost every part of the Apple iPhone 3G) is increasing.

But will the fast-as-fleas turnover of tech devices slow just because they're repairable or longer-lasting to begin with? Hell, no. Because the engineered obsolescence has moved beyond physical lifespan. It's taken hold internally. See, people don't care if their tech devices work, or work well; if there's a newer version, they want it. And I'd wager it's not because they're getting better performance. It's because later-model-tech is just, jeez, way cooler.

But that's where we can root our resistance.

Me? I have no BlackBerry. No iPhone. My cell---which I wrote about recently in this space and which readers may be sad to learn recently vibrated for the last time---was seven years old. I'm writing this on a six-year-old Toshiba laptop. When I had it serviced last (cat fur clogging the fan, since you asked), the technician said, with a look I normally reserve for people offering me eternal salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ, "You know, these things only usually last five years. Max." Meh, I thought. I backup my work. The calendar in my office is this ingenious sliding metal thing that's good for 100 years. I can use it through 2050. And according to DeathDate.info (the human version of the iPod Death Clock) I'll be dead by 2042. So, no worries there. My supposedly on-death's-doorstep iPod Shuffle is three years old. Three years. A first-year journalism student recently looked at it and asked: "What is that?" He'd never seen one so old before.

And that's fine. It's kind of awesome, actually. Because I'm not suggesting people ignore the appeal of coolness and striving for noticeability that's so strong in our drive for tech devices. In this revolution I'm asking for a redefinition of what's cool and noticeable, in light of the environmental cost of our endless tech hardware upgrading. I'm talking about the fees not included in the ticket price, like overseas shipping and non-recyclable packaging, and nastier costs such as the proper disposal of old tech devices that contain lead, cadmium, phosphorous, mercury, chromium...and on and on.

It's a simple revolution, really. As long as something works, you just keep using it. And, believe me, after a while the response of passersby is exactly the same as when you're the first to have the newest, latest, greatest, slimmest tech device around: "What is that?"

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