When I was 5 years old we had a phone like the one pictured above.

Like everyone else, we didn’t own it, we leased it from Bell Telephone.

By the time I left home at 18 to go to college, it was still the same phone.

And it worked in the same way.

Last month, I went down to the ATT store in chinatown (the best in NY), and traded in my old

Blackberry Edge 8800 for the new Blackberry Bold.

I opted against the Blackberry Storm, but I am still torn between Blackberry and the iPhone. Maybe I will trade in the Bold for the iPhone. I am not sure.

Now, there was nothing wrong with my Blackberry Edge. It is not as though the trackball fell off, or a few keys fell out (as often happens in my dreams).  No. I just felt it was time for an ‘upgrade’.

The 8800, of course, replaced a Treo 800, which in its course had replaced a Treo 750 which had replaced a Treo 650.  Prior to the Treo there had been a run of Nokias. And before those, in the dark realm of history, had been a run of those Motorola flip phones. God only knows what I did before that, but I have a vague recollection of a pager… but one you could text on.

This is the run of our technology today.

Faster and faster replacements.

I am writing this on the new Mac Book made out of one block of aluminum, so they tell me. That replaced a black mac book which was made out of something else, and that replaced a silver mac book, which replaced a titanium mac book, and so on, all the way back to that orange thing that was made out of plastic, which replaced the Sony which replaced the IBM, which leads all the way back to the TRS 100 I still have in my closet because it is the only computer that runs on D batteries, if you can find them, and who knows what could happen in the event of a global disaster.

Does this make sense?

Like the phones, the upgrades on the laptops keep coming faster and faster and faster.

This is all, I think, a function of Moore’s Law, which says that microprocessor speeds will double and costs halve every 18 months. This has held true since 1965 apparently, and seems to have no intention of going away. And as each doubling of so large a number results in so much larger a number – faster chips for half the price, the technologies that get swept into this continual recasting get larger and more complex.

HD cameras that sit int he palm of your hand and cost a pittance. Drives that hold terraflops and cost less than a donut.  Phones that do everything from email to video to GPS. In fact, I hardly ever use my phone for an honest to God phone call anymore.

We are riding a hockey stick of technology.

That is, we are in the sharp upward curve of transformation vs. time.  Faster and faster, steeper and steeper.

Where does it end?

Do we reach a point where the continual acceleration of technological change and the endless need to upgrade and replace no longer makes any sense?

Do we achieve a point where the day after I have bought the blackberry Bold there is a new blackberry released which obviates my old one?

And does it really obviate it?

I mean, the Treo, the Nokia, the Motorola… all of them still worked just fine.

And they still do.

If I could find the right charger to go with the right phone. I saved all those as well. You never know.

It is not as though the Treo stopped working.

And the Bold seems to work just fine.

And did I really need an iMac cast out one piece of aluminum?

Sometimes I feel like going back to the old dial up phone and just living with that for a while.

Except of course, I hardly ever call anyone any more.

All I do now is text.


5 responses to “Obsolesence

  1. I think one of the miracles of modern marketing is its ability to pursuade us that we want stuff we don’t actually need.

  2. You know that story
    “I’ve still got my grandfathers axe.”
    “My father replaced the handle and I put a new head on it but it’s still my grandfather’s axe.”
    Well very much in that vain I’ve still got my first PC.
    (I say first PC because my first computer was a ZX81)
    That first PC had no hard drive and I had to load DOS from a 5’ floppy disk every time I started it up.
    I upgraded a part of it at least once a year, trying to avoid dead end technologies that would mean replacing several incompatible components at once. The only thing the PC I’m typing this on has in common with its ancestor is the original power cable… but it’s still my first PC.
    For that last two years I haven’t needed to upgrade. Everything works at speed. Gaming, editing, it rocks.
    Yet I still I feel the pressure to upgrade. I don’t need to I just want to.
    So I have to ask is it true high speed obsolescence we are seeing or are we just slaves to fashion?

  3. I think some products evolve to a point where they work as well as they are ever going to.

    I have fly fishing reels which are more than 30 years old. They are put to regular use in the summer. They function perfectly and have never let me down. Sure they’ve lost a bit of paint and have taken the odd knock, but I have never felt the need to upgrade them.

    The new fly fishing reels may be shinier and prettier, but technologically they’ve not really improved significantly.

    They’re a good example of a technology that has reached a dead end. They can’t really be improved upon, except for a bit of cosmetic improvement.

    Of course the fly reel salespeople will tell you different.

    We are too willing to allow high speed obsolescence to take over our lives. It’s a feature of the rampant consumerism that’s gripping the world.

    I have drawers full of ‘yesterday’s technology’ – old phones, chargers and cameras. It’s shameful really, as they all work fine.

  4. I had one of those phones too, now it makes an excellent paperweight.

    Everything has become disposable and the alarmingly rapid rate of obsolescence has my head spinning. I got one of those nifty iPhones in August, which replaced my sony ericsson, which replaced my other sony ericsson, which replaced my nokia, which replaced my numeric pager.

    However, now I can’t remember much of how I managed before the iPhone in pretty much the same way I can’t remember what life was like before my daughter.

    I think in both situations, I may have had more time.

  5. i still love this model of rotary dial phone. it has a steel dialer instead of the cheap plastic one they produced near the end.

    totally different feel when you stuck your finger in there.

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