I almost bought a new computer today, but then I talked myself out of it.
“Do I really want to do this?” I wondered. In just a year or two it will be
obsolete, just like my current (ten-year-old) computer.
This led to a depressing spiral of thought. Computers are perfect examples
of planned obsolescence. Today’s average computer user uses his machine to
perform the same tasks that he needed a computer for ten years ago. But would
today’s software run on a computer from ten years ago? I challenge you to try
that with Windows Vista.
I don’t think computers have improved substantially in ten years. Sure,
they’re faster, and arguably better looking. But those changes are just icing
on a very expensive cake. I just want to check my e-mail. Not that I was
planning to reply in a timely fashion.
Mobile phones are designed to be thrown away after 2 or 3 years. Something
like 150 million go to landfills every year. They don’t decompose! Of course my
Model 2500 home
phone still works after 35 years, and it still has better sound quality than
any cellphone. I admit that it won’t fit in my pocket and it can’t
remote-control my blender, but those are drawbacks that I can live with.
My Mach 3 razor
blades are terrible. They give a great shave, but I’m already planning to throw
them away from the moment I open the box. In fact, the patented lubricating
strip changes color to remind me that its time has come. That bothers me. One
of these days I’ll learn to shave with a straight blade.
Mardi Gras beads are meant to be thrown away almost immediately after
purchasing. A friend of mine likes to ponder life from the perspective of the
Chinese girls who work 10 hour days in Mardi Gras bead necklace factories. What
do they think we’re doing here in America with millions of ugly necklaces?
I would mention cars in the same way, but they’re a special case. Lewis
Mumford described America’s transportation system as “monotechnic”—fraught
with the same kind of problems that monoculture has brought to
American crops. Heavy reliance on automobiles has led them to interfere with
other modes of transportation. (Let’s not even consider those special
cases of pure stupidity in transportation history.)
Wikipedia says this about Lewis Mumford:
In The Myth of the Machine: technics and human development
(1967), Mumford criticizes the modern trend of technology, which emphasizes
constant, unrestricted expansion, production, and replacement. He explains
that these goals work against technical perfection, durability, social
efficiency, and overall human satisfaction. Modern technology—which he calls
‘megatechnics’—evades producing lasting, quality products by using devices
such as consumer credit, installment buying, non-functioning and defective
designs, built-in fragility, and frequent superficial “fashion” changes.
There’s a book I need to add to my reading list! I’m doing it in the name of
overall human satisfaction.