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Monday, March 26, 2012

Chasing the banner

It's been a while since I've read Dante's Inferno, or even Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's story with the same setting. But every one of Dante's images tends to stick with you. One of the first things we see in both versions of the story is the Antechamber to Hell. This isn't such a horrible place, as far as such things go. Those who were uncommitted to good or evil in life are condemned to run an eternal foot race here, chasing after an elusive banner while they themselves are pursued by wasps and hornets.

I once told a technophile friend that this was a pretty good image for the eternal pursuit of the next level of technology. Ten years and untold generations of technology later it still seems pretty fitting. Technology is in many ways akin to fashion; what is cool and hip or at least acceptable today becomes stupidly outdated and embarrassing in a few months.

Panels from Crankshaft, March 20-21, 2012. Because you're an idiot if you prefer high-quality CD audio to massively-compressed low-quality MP3's.
The reality is, much technology is still perfectly usable long after fashion has dictated that it is laughably obsolete. VCRs still work, you just can't get videotapes anymore, and besides, everybody has a DVR these days, right? And who needs a forgodssake phone book? You can just look up the numbers you want on your iPhone! - What, you don't have a DVR or an iPhone? Oh, you poor thing. Maybe you can pick one up at Goodwill.

With the recent release of the iPad 3, early adopters are complaining about the patheticness of their first-generation iPads, which they suppose could be used as doorstops or placemats. Ditto with iPhones. If you were to assess the strength of the economy based on the lines outside of Apple Stores on  new product release days, you would have to say that the economy is booming.

It's not. Some people are doing fine, and they're gripped by I-Got-Mine fever, and can't comprehend that anyone anywhere isn't doing as well, and if they aren't, well, there must be something wrong with them, or they're just stupid and lazy. They embrace techsnobbery, where their ownership of the latest gadget is the norm, and anyone who doesn't own it is obviously inferior and backwards. ("Phone books? They still print those?" - actual comment from Facebook.)

In the world of home computers, this is helped along by advertising. Or, more specifically, advertisements. Many older websites are built on older technologies and work just fine on older computers. But the ads displayed on these sites and throughout the Internet often employ the latest, greatest, most resource-demanding technologies. Open the same page you've visited for years using the computer you've visited it with for years, and you may find your computer crashing because the dancing, singing advertisements being displayed this week have put massive demands on your system, demands that it simply can't meet. Eventually you will decide that your little old computer just isn't up to snuff, and you'll give in and buy the latest and greatest model, which will be rendered obsolete in a few months - if it isn't already obsolete when you buy it.

And so it goes. More and more gadgets and toys wind up in the scrap heap as new gadgets and toys come onto the market. This season's must-have tech fashions become next season's "what not to wear." The folks lining up for iPad 3's this week will line up for iPad 4's next month, or next year, or whenever. They will sneer at the poor pathetic losers who struggle along with last year's technology. And they will continue to chase the banner in a never-ending race.

1 comment:

Michelle D said...

I have no need for an iPad. I have an iPod for music, an iPhone for my cell phone/portable internet and MacBook for home use. For the record - I have either sold or e-cycled all of my old devices so they were not going directly into a landfill.