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In Praise of Crap Technology

  • Posted by SHFT on December 2, 2011 in Science/Tech
  • When I bought the first-generation iPhone, it took me all of four days to leave it in a cab, never to see it again. Meanwhile, the phone it was meant to replace, a not-remotely-smart Nokia brick dating from the previous century, had weathered a drop into a toilet and traveled with me to Europe and back -- twice. It still works. Sound familiar? Maybe not, but there's something to be said for worthless, "obsolete" technology, which crudely goes about doing its duty and somehow refuses to get broken or misplaced. 

    Over at science blog The Last Word On Nothing, Thomas Hayden offers a pretty hilarious take on this idea, dishing out his praises for his $19.99 Coby MP3 player:

    My portable audio technology needs are simple. A few hundred well-chosen—by me, dammit—songs and a half-dozen episodes of the WTF podcast and I’m good to go. My trusty Coby does all that, with an FM radio tuner included. (I do wish it had AM too—the crap technology of the air—but why gripe?) Most important, it’s worth next to nothing so I’m virtually assured never to lose it—unlike apparently every iPhone prototype ever—and I don’t cringe at all when my toddler flings it across the room. And because the next Coby is sure to be just as mediocre, I’ll never need to upgrade—I’ve stepped off the escalators of feature creep and planned obsolescence, and all the expense and toxic e-waste that come with them. Crap technology, it turns out, is green technology. 

    The last point, for us, is the salient one. Every year, hundreds of thousands of outdated computers and mobile phones are dumped in landfills or burned in smelters. Thousands more are exported to developing nations. There, workers at scrap yards, some of whom are children, are exposed to a toxic cocktail of chemicals, which can leech into the soil and cause groundwater contamination.

    Needless to say, embracing technological mediocrity isn't going to stop the inevitable development of newer gadgets, but not buying every new gadget that comes out is a green thought worth considering.

    Read the article at The Last Word on Nothing. It's a good one.

    Photo: Thomas Hayden's 1980 Roadrace 12-speed. 


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