I am always interested in what Rhyd Wildermuth is writing, and it was good to see him the day before the EBC started last weekend. While what I’m about to write about here is a minor concern within his overall framework and lines of argumentation–and, though I may not be correct on this, I don’t know if he has addressed this matter directly thus far–nonetheless, I’m in a situation at present which makes it pertinent to discuss the following.
Something that I have hated since the 1990s is the way in which some aspects of modern technology have built-in obsolescence. I suspect that if I got into the attic and dug out the Commodore 64 that we bought used back in the 1980s (if, indeed, it is still there to be found, which I suspect it isn’t), it would probably work just as well as it did back then, with its slow loading times and its 8 baud modem and so forth (although the latter would not be able to do anything with the modern internet!). I also have two 8-bit Nintendo systems in my storage unit somewhere, and I’m sure those would work fine, too.
But, since 1998, I’ve had five computers, of both the desktop and laptop variety. At the moment, only two of those are in my possession, and only one of them (the laptop I’m writing this on at present) is functional. I was working on some essays last night on the desktop, since it is the only computer I have which has Word on it, and luckily, before I decided to restart it and see if I might get better performance out of it, I sent myself the five files I had open as backups. When I restarted the computer, it wouldn’t get past the initial white Apple screen. After letting it try to restart for about a half hour, I turned it off entirely, and hoped that when I tried it again today, it might work. When I turned it on today, it came up with the same screen, but then after about two minutes, it simply shut off with no further notice or activity. I tried that again, and had the same result. It’s pretty much dead, thus, but I’m hoping that the data can be recovered from it, because there’s A TON there (all of the books I’ve written, for starters…). While this is a monumental inconvenience for me, and could be very potentially disastrous if I can’t recover the files there at all, the most infuriating aspect of this is that the computer is only six years old. However, by many estimates, having it for six years would be considered “a good run.”
What the fucking fuck?
Here’s something that never ever happens (or, when it does, it’s because of neglect and stupidity): you buy a book, and then in six years it can no longer be read just because you read it a few times before, and maybe read one particular chapter multiple times and kept referring back to the same ten pages on many occasions. That would never happen, unless someone had the worst possible book etiquette imaginable, set and spilled drinks on it, never washed their hands and kept touching it, dog-eared all of the pages, broke the spine, and so forth. (And one of the reasons I don’t allow people to borrow books any longer is because people treat them like that, and then get mad at me when I express annoyance or disappointment in them when they return them to me trashed…if they return them at all, which is also a problem.)
At PantheaCon a few years ago (2009, in fact), on the final morning, when I was carrying all of my luggage, I accidentally dropped one of my bags while crossing the street to the Double Tree, which happened to have a can of soda in it. Had it been any other can of soda, it would have been fine, but that one had a structural flaw in it, and so it sprang a leak and got all over everything in the bag, and I didn’t realize this until several minutes later. (Thank all the gods that this was pre-Book of Books…!) Someone that I was acquainted with very kindly helped me to clean up and salvage what was possible, which was luckily almost everything (though some smaller loose pieces of paper didn’t make it), but one of the things that occurred during this process pissed me off to no end. I was speaking with someone who was in one of the sessions in the few days before when I realized what had happened, and he was singularly unhelpful during the process, other than to say “That’s too bad.” During the clean-up with assistance by my good acquaintance, I expressed some worry that a new book I had just purchased the day before might be severely damaged or ruined; luckily, it wasn’t ruined, but it does have stains on many of the pages’ tops as a result. The unhelpful jerk offered the following bit of sage advice when it came to the possibly damaged book: “You know, you could try to clean it up as best you can; or, you could always just buy another one.” I wanted to comment on what an overprivileged cock-bag he was, but I was too preoccupied with trying to save my book. The book was relatively rare, and somewhat expensive ($55), and at that point, it was my one purchase for the entire convention, which meant that on several fronts, I couldn’t “always just buy another one.” The jerk who was saying these things was clearly well-off financially, but what really amazed me was his throwaway attitude, especially considering that he was (at least) in his 60s at the time. I thought such attitudes characterized younger generations much more, for all sorts of reasons, but with that particular individual, I was sadly mistaken.
Reader, I killed him, skinned him, and made a new version of the book out of that, then had a nice meal with what remained. I have not run across that individual ever since, and I don’t really think that’s a bad thing.
As an animist, of course I don’t think that “things are just things,” EVER, and thus when I buy something, I consider that I’m making a life commitment to it. I do tend to get more upset over things like clothes and shoes wearing out over time than many people do, and I especially get upset if I have to replace certain items that ought to be longer-lasting, in my view. So, the matter of computers really gets me very upset where built-in obsolescence is concerned. With cell phones, it’s the same thing; I’ve managed to only own three cell phones in my life thus far. The first was in Ireland, and it was given to me in early 2001 after someone who was only there for a semester headed home. That lasted me for several years, and then I had to get a new one in 2003, I think, which lasted for the rest of the time I was living there, and the few trips I made back in 2006 as well. (I still have it, I suspect, in a box somewhere in the storage unit.) The third phone is a flip phone, which I call a “dumb phone,” which doesn’t have a camera and can’t do most things that people associate with cell phones these days other than make calls or text (and I use it as an alarm clock and occasional calculator as well), and I got it in 2007. It is also pre-paid (which all of the ones I had in Ireland were as well), so I end up spending about $35 on credit for it once every two months at very most these days. It still works nearly as good as it always has, and I don’t plan on getting a different one, not only because I am against the ways in which cell phones have eroded social life and culture tremendously, but also because I can’t afford a data plan these days with all of the other bills I have to keep up with (i.e. mostly student loans). Since I have also never driven nor owned a car, that is a big savings overall, but it’s another area in which I can “opt out” of the consumerist, capitalism-based phenomenon of built-in obsolescence. It’s amazing that the standard now is “make a decent-enough product that wears out ofter three years in order to have repeat customers” rather than “make a high-quality product that will last a very long time if cared for properly, and get the esteem of your customers so that they’ll recommend you to others and will likewise buy other products in your range.”
The other item that most infuriates me as far as built-in obsolescence goes is the insulin pump that keeps me alive. I’ve had four of them in the 22 years I’ve had insulin pumps, which is actually quite good as far as a track-record goes (I should be on my fifth now, by most standards). When I got the first one in 1992, I was told they last 10 years or so. Mine only lasted about seven, and it turned out that the one I had was registered to someone else, and had been partially-second-hand when I was told it was in fact new. I got a replacement that was a refurbished one of the same model, which was only supposed to last five years, and it ended up lasting about six. I then got an older model refurbished one for a lot less, which lasted me close to five years. I’ve had the present one since mid-2009, and I’m a bit worried about it. When this one dies, it will be $5,000 to get a new one, and even though I do have insurance coverage at present, they can be remarkably crappy about these matters and approving them in a timely fashion, which leaves me holding a very big bill meanwhile (more than a third to around a half of my annual income for the past several years). That this is the “norm” for these things is appalling to me, especially because this is a matter of quality-of-life, if not life-and-death, for someone with a serious ongoing disability, and the upkeep on the insulin pump supplies otherwise costs about $1600 a year, not counting insulin.
Apart from all of the above being an extended whinge on my part, what point am I trying to make here? I’m reminded of what someone I knew said to me in 2003 when I discussed my worship of Antinous. “Oh, that’s like worshipping Isis–it’s old hat and so 200 BCE.” Given that Antinous is a “new” god by the standards of most historians of religion, of course that’s an extremely jaded and incorrect viewpoint (no matter how much “for the laughs” it was stated), but the bigger question to me is: so, does “new is better” also apply to deities? And, who was my friend proposing would have been better or more appropriate to worship in 2003?
This does bring something up, however, that I worry about when it comes to trying to get younger people involved in polytheism. They are used to built-in obsolescence as the default condition of their lives; they don’t get overly attached to their iPods, computers, or cell phones because even teenagers have already had several, even if they’ve managed not to lose or damage them. What is “really old” in the views of many 15-25 year-olds I’ve met is anything older than 10 years. How, then, does one make things from 1000-2500 years ago appealing to that demographic, when they can barely imagine life before the internet and near-universal cell phone ownership? People can’t generally practice reconstructionism on an old computer or cell phone these days; how, then, can they be expected to do it with ancient religions? While there have always been some teenagers (including myself) who were interested in matters from the past no matter what, they’re in the vast minority. It will be interesting to see how this aspect of engaging with the younger generations might work in the near future.
Meanwhile, I have to see if I can work on those things (all Antinous- or polytheism-related) that I luckily backed up before I foolishly tried to restart my computer earlier today…