Thursday, July 18, 2013

Unplanned Obsolescence

Every time I want to feel old I get out my wallet and try to buy something computer related.  Works every time.

Generally I don’t feel all that old, not in a day-to-day sort of way.  I need a reminder for that.

Oh, I know how old I am, or at least I can figure it out – it’s simple math, once I manage to find out what the date is today (a chronic problem, not a recent development – one of the secrets of historians is that we’re really not all that good about dates).  I subtract the first number from the second number and I get a third number and that’s how old I am.

Simple.  And utterly meaningless.

I don’t change all that much from day to day.  Other than getting slower, slightly rounder, progressively balder, and progressively more outraged at the sorry state of the world, I really don’t change all that much from year to year either.  So if all I have to go by is internal cues, I would seem more or less ageless to me.

Then I walk into the local Office Supply MegaMart and that illusion gets blown right down the hopper.

I have taken a great many photos of family events in the past couple of months, and people want me to send them copies.  The joy of digital photography is that doing this is quick and inexpensive – you copy all the files onto a suitably capacious medium, drop it in the mail and there you go.

Did I mention that there were a lot of these pictures?  Well, there are.  More than can fit on a CD.  More than can fit on two CDs, actually.  It’s taken me nearly a year to get my picture-taking mojo back after snapping my way through Europe last summer, but Nuisance Man has indeed returned.  Smile!

So.  Pictures.  Send them off.

No problem, I thought.  I’ll just hie me over to the local Office Supply MegaMart and pick up one of those little packs of jump drives that they sell for back to school shopping – you know, the convenient thirty-pack of 2GB storage units in a variety of pleasing colors.  They ought to have a lot of those.  Last year you couldn’t move through the store without getting several caught under the wheels of your cart, and they make them small enough now that you had to wear a bandanna over your face to avoid breathing them in like dust.  I don’t think they even had anti-theft gizmos on them – the more you took, the happier the stores were.  It’s only been twelve months since then – should pretty much be the same, right?

Uh, no.  As with bacteria, there are a lot of generations between zero and twelve months when it comes to anything computer related.

Computer technology runs on a vastly generalized version of Moore’s Law.  The original law was all to do with how much information you could put on a chip, but the new edition essentially boils down to “Remember that bit of technology you thought was marvelous and still comprehensible last year?  That was obsolete when you saw it a year’s worth of generations ago, and the clerks today don’t even remember it existed so they will think you are some kind of ancient time traveler even for asking.  Try the Latest Version!  In a year this process will repeat.  Share and enjoy.”

Apparently the smallest jump drive on the market these days is 4GB, and they only come in black.  They do come in the handy multi-packs for back to school, though, so that’s something.  You just have to look underneath all the more visibly displayed 64GB and 128GB jump drives, which are the ones they’re trying to sell.

Other than backing up your hard drive, what could you possibly do with a 128GB jump drive?

No, don’t answer that.  I’m sure there are many reasons why the computer-savvy person of 2013 wants something like that.  It’s the perfect size for downloading the entire architecture of the NSA surveillance program, I’m sure.

But really, all I want to do is move some photographs.

Yes, I am aware of services that will store photos and related whatnot in “the cloud,” wherever that is.  If I want clouds I’ll move to Pittsburgh.  Now get off my lawn.

I still have the first jump drive I ever owned.  It had 128MB of storage space, or roughly 30 photos these days.  I can remember the first time I saw a 1GB jump drive – it was exciting, in a nerdly sort of way.

And now it is still exciting, except in an antiquey sort of way.

I bought the multi-pack of 4GB jump drives, because they will do the job and were cheap.  Next year I will hire a teenager to beam the photos directly into the minds of their recipients, unless that too becomes obsolete by then.

I certainly will be.


- CGL - said...

"As with bacteria, there are a lot of generations between zero and twelve months when it comes to anything computer related."


Thank you for being one of my people. I am grateful for technology and its rapid advances but much of it mystifies me.

Gristle McThornbody said...

Thank you for admitting you have to calculate how old you are - I thought I was the only one. If 'mid to late fifties' isn't close enough I have to do the math.

And yes, computer technology, while wonderful and magical, changes way too rapidly for me to keep up with. Anyone else remember programming in Fortran on TRS-80s? Even all my self-taught HTML skills are about worthless now. Sigh. I don't even know what 90% of the stuff on display in the Tech/Computer-Geek Emporium is used for anymore.

David said...

CGL - You're welcome! I like technology, but I'm not good at it. It's just a form of black magic to me.

Jeri - I stopped knowing exactly how old I was sometime in my 20s. It's been a math problem ever since.