Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Time to say 'stop' ... but not just yet?

My cellphone died yesterday.

Nothing shocking about that. It happens. Has happened to me before over the years. Except that I'd had it a couple of years. Only.

And when I mentioned the event to my brother, the current funeral undertaker (mortician in yankspeak), he said the very same thing had happened to his a couple of days before. His was about the same age. Exactly the same model, a Nokia 6310, a real workhorse phone. Probably didn't have quite the usage mine had had. But these things don't have moving parts, so what's to wear out?

OK, the screen. But to go kaput in an instant, no fading in and out? And why both at almost the same time?

Oh well, it wasn't a big deal. And I'd been very happy with the performance of the old one, so I simply replaced it with the same again. No colour screen, no polywhatstheirname ringtones, no lo-qual camera. There are two differences - the backlight is now blue and it is tri-band, so if I ever go back to the US it will work there.

And with the upgrade deal due to me, it worked out that the hardware part of my phone had cost me around 40 cents a week. Would that the call bills had been so cheap!

(We get screwed in this country on mobile charges.)

But it got me thinking about planned obselesence. Not for the first time. After all, when my wife and I married 36 years ago or so, we bought a dishwashing machine, a cooker, and a refrigerator. Essentials. Later, with the children, came the other one, a washing machine.

(Yes ... we DID have a dishwasher before a clothes washer. Priorities are priorities.)

Anyway, and I could be wrong about the actual years, but the ratios remain more or less right, the dishwasher lasted the guts of a decade, the cooker 15 or 16 years, and the clothes washer seven or eight. The refrigerator went for over 20.

The next generations of those same machines lasted approximately half the time of their predecessors.

And where we're into third generation stuff, I confidently expect them to go for no more than two-thirds of THEIR predecessors before they start costing money more than their worth. The last-bought cooker is currently held together by Scotch tape. (True!) My wife refuses to replace it until she can afford a whole new kitchen ...

Then there are my computers, of which I have many (the one on which I'm writing this, in the evening sunshine in the garden, is my much-loved Dana, one of a brace of AlphaSmart products which is quietly changing the learning and writing landscapes in many countries. But I've already written their stories).

I've gone through every second generation of Apple since the Mac Plus, mostly because the speed and size of the graphics intensive work I found myself attempting beyond my essential writing work always was just behind the best Mac available. When I ever bought a new machine, the workload increased not just to the capabilities of the new machines, but a little further. You know what always happened next ...

(At least I managed to avoid buying EVERY new generation machine. Mostly because I couldn't afford to, which I claim is a reasonable excuse.)

But in many cases, the old machines were still very servicable, and I often found new owners for them, usually by donation. That's a thing you do with Macs. Lately though, I've noticed that my Macs tend to give out just about the time I'm half-thinking of going for one a little better, or even a lot better. An iMac coughed up its logic board just after I'd started considering an eMac, and though I did buy the new machines and ALSO had the logic board replaced, and that iMac is now being flown by the First Officer in this otherwise equal crew, her previously newer iMac which had been transported to the colonies of my home subsequently choked its own modem and I think some other stuff.

I know, this is getting tedious. But you get the drift, I presume.

I should be complaining. But I'm not, because if the quality and longevity of the stuff that I need either in my home or in my office is not as good as it was, the performance is more or less what we need for the duration. And, more important, the price has dropped enormously in real terms.

I should be feeling guilty about being pleased at this. But I'm not, because just as the amount of junked equipment has been escalating at a quantum rate, in many different lines of goods, so also has the ability and the actual capacity to recycle more and more of what those things are made from. Certainly this is so here in Ireland, and we're not even at the front of the field. Far from it ... but that again is another story.

And the very fact that this stuff is clearly being made to last just about until the next one comes along is not really a bad thing. It gives both an incentive to continue to make things actually work better, and inevitably allows us to expand our own abilities and work skills.

If Apple, and its competitors, had decided that the Mac Plus was fine, and simply kept on churning it out in ever cheaper unit prices, everyone in the world would be able to afford a Mac Plus. And everyone in the world would have been able to do whatever the Mac Plus allowed them to do, and no more. But, fortunately they didn't.

Nor did Motorola when they brought out the original 'brick' mobile (!) phone. I had one of them too.

If the people who brought us AlphaSmart 3000s and Danas had decided that the Tandy people had done the best job envisionable with the 100/102, well, we'd still only be getting a max of 4,000 words in a machine and maybe 12 hours out of a set of AA alkalines. In an AS3K we get to hold at least 50,000 words and just three AAs will last a year.

And if Henry Ford's putative competitors had decided he'd achieved the pinnacle of motoring potential, we'd still be rattling around in Tin Lizzies, black, with epicyclic gears (which actually were pretty good).

And I wouldn't be not complaining about the death of my Nokia 6310.

(But I'm damned if I'm going to bother with the latest bells-and-whistles phones. There's a time to say 'stop'.)


Anonymous said...

Brian, I'm surprised you did not fold cars into this more as it's your "thing."

Both US and European cars used to last a few years before they started falling apart, then the Japanese came along and pushed the envelope and now almost call cars (except Jaguars I hear although I have no personal experience) last a long time. Some of this is improvement in tech but some of it is marketing and thinking about how to win customers and keep them.

Your thoughts?

Mariseo said...

Yep ... I deliberately didn't put cars into it beyond the Ford suggestion, simply because they DO last longer, and also have NOT come down significantly in price over the last decade. Though what HAS happened is that you get a lot more for the money. Maybe, though, we're reaching the stage when there's too much, especially considering the problems Mercedes-Benz has been having with all the electronics geegaws in the last couple of years?