Monday, January 26, 2009

Electronics ephemera

Pronunciation: \i-ˈfe-mər-ə, -ˈfem-rə\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural ephemera also ephem·er·ae
\-mər-ē, -rē\ or ephemeras
Etymology: New Latin, from Greek ephēmera, neuter plural of ephēmeros
Date: 1650
1: something of no lasting significance —usually used in plural
2 ephemera plural : paper items (as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles

- "ephemera." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009.
Merriam-Webster Online. 26 January 2009

I visited three different stores that are going out of business in the last week. One of them, the Waldenbooks at the Wyoming Vally Mall, was a book store. The other two were the Wilkes-Barre Office Depot, an office supply store with a heavy emphasis on electronics, and Circuit City, the electronics retailer that is folding nationally.

I never did shop at these last two stores much, so I didn't really expect to find much that would interest me now. Maybe some toner for my ancient HP DeskJet 842c. No such luck, but I did pick up a refill kit, so one of these days I'll see if I can use it without destroying my printer.

As I breezed through the aisles of each store I couldn't help but think about the ephemeral nature of consumer electronics. State-of-the-art this morning is obsolete this afternoon. Flatscreen TVs that people had mounted into the walls of their houses so they could roll the cost into their mortgages are now dinosaurs, prehistoric toys with a lower quality image than much of what is available today. 2 gigabyte memory cards are selling for under ten dollars - I paid several times that amount for my first card, which I believe was 512 megabytes.

Most of us have bought into this at one point or another, and many of us have growing collections of the electronic detritus as a result - not just the electronics items themselves, but all the associated cords, cables, adaptors, and other stuff that came along for the ride. Some of it is generally useful, but some of it has lost all associated meaning - there is no longer a Slot A for Tab B to fit into, because the gizmo that had Slot A on it is currently basking in a landfill somewhere. Yet we hold onto the cords and cables and whatnot - just in case.

New merchandise has stopped arriving at these stores. Yesterday's inventory will have to do until it is sold or the retailers close up shop. Addicts will have to turn elsewhere to get their electronics fix.

Sic transit gloria electronica.

I know I've posted this before, but here it is again. From 2000, a classic ad pushing Staples (an office supply retailer) as a major source of technology gifts.

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