Culturalism · Economic History

How Tech Forces Consumerism

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, or perhaps impoverished, which in the United States sounds worse, I like older things. The simplicity and manual nature may not delight eyes trained for dazzling inputs, but they suit me just fine by allowing for closeness with the device. This becomes more difficult to achieve when everything – and I mean everything – is handled by central logic pieces .

But Big Tech doesn’t allow that, or at least less and less than before. I first noticed the issue after trying to downgrade from Windows 10 (which I don’t like) to Windows 7. Despite having a perfectly good OS copy on hand, I was henceforth peppered with warnings about security violations and lack of authenticity. No matter how many times I regard the messages and try to shut them down, sooner or later they come back, often with a loud notification sound to disrupt tranquility.

Difficulties became worse when I spent the past summer attempting to restore an old Optiplex 745 desktop. Because Microsoft dropped support for Windows XP, the machine was similarly awkward to use, and would not maintain security or time settings. Consequently, even the most mundane websites would spit out multiple alerts and attempt to block access. This includes the likes of YouTube and Google, to be clear.

When I recently purchased an old Nook Color to replace my failing Nook HD, the issues were also prevalent from the start. Apparently Barnes and Noble dropped support for older models in 2018, putting in place security policies that render the device quasi-useless. Many websites deny access, it is virtually impossible to access the Google Play app, and attempts to download browsers are greeted with claims of incompatibility. Ironically, the same messages usually urge users to download Google Play as an alternative.

Although I finally got it working enough through an email backdoor to use the reader functionality, the Nook saga emphasizes a very cynical goal of Big Tech: by making older devices clunky and obsolete through security updates, users are gently shoved towards making fresh purchases. Phone companies in particular are renowned for doing this, with the expectation that you will rush out to grab a new model every 2 or so years, keeping the money churn going. Never mind if a particular product works great and could last 10 years; the fiat must be expended.

What’s sad relates to the realization that older device models are probably not being recycled consistently, but rather tossed out with the trash. Thus all those valuable parts and metals will not make it into new phones, instead sitting in a miserable landfill, forcing humankind to strip more resources and generate fresh pollution in the creation of the flashy digital screen.

But who cares? Just swipe.

Culturalism

The Culture of Neglect

This past week I got to read through A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, the delightful tome of a Japanese spiritualist. What struck me most about his Buddhist philosophy was the emphasis on dignity and value for all things, including the inanimate objects cluttering life. This latter approach is one less visible in Abrahamic traditions, perhaps because they tend to focus on the afterlife as opposed to the material world. Regardless, it got me thinking about how we go about living, and the relationships between individuals and their possessions.

At some point as children, we all probably mistreated a toy. Perhaps broke the arms of an action figure, or melted something down just to see it ooze. Were we all little Sids in training, or did the behavior merely reflect a lack of instilled admiration for the value of those plastic objects?  Maybe too much is made of the concept, but Shoukei Matsumoto’s book makes that and more. He evangelizes the importance of honoring everything which has served us in life, from the moment it escapes the box to the time of being laid to rest.

Beyond plastic, the viewpoint expands to other questions. How many times do people throw away food that is uneaten, or allow clothes to become rags out of sheer neglect? How often do we see working appliances or furniture chucked out on a curb because they have some blemish, or are simply not as glistening as before? They may have served long and well in some capacity, but just when usefulness seems to fade, it is like they never existed.

I thought the same about the house I am currently living in. After weeks of effort and money, the place is coming together nicely, and yet it didn’t have to be that way. Even some minor cleaning and painting—relatively cheap and time sensitive—would have mitigated the issues now slowly being dispersed. Whenever I take a ride into town, I see countless siblings remanded to the same fate: forlorn, unkempt, overgrown by ivy, and my heart weeps for them. Unremarkable structures of wood, brick, and stone, yet as I pass they seem to cry out in solemn tones: will someone please love me?

 Yet the answer is silent. Every last one of them is a casualty of consumerist melancholy, much like the items we discard because a replacement is so easy to attain. So that new candidate can enjoy the spotlight for a few months, until the same fate caterwauls destiny where many junkyards have wandered.

Here I pause and try to imagine, what if we did more with less? Suppose those food scraps all went into gardens, those fabrics turned to quilts, and those plastic soldiers received a proper funeral.

Might we have souls of peace?