Imagine that you are magically transported back in time to 1974. Some of you weren’t even alive then. Just imagine what it would be like not to have a personal computer. Imagine what it would be like not to have a mobile phone, a CD player, DVD movies, or advanced gaming. What would you think of 1974 technology? What would you think about 1974 society?
I’m only asking because it does present some interesting questions. For example, are we really better off with all this technology? Has it really made our lives incredibly better? I would like to say yes but something seems to suggest that it really shouldn’t be about technology alone.
What I thought was that someone living in 1974 would be unaware of the future advancements and overall be fairly happy with the current technology. Some more savvy people would want more. These people would be looking to the future to solve all the current problems.
What I have also realized is that these same people are always looking forward. They are never satisfied with where things stand. It is the deep nature of progress. There seems to be a glut of people working in the computer industry that are always expecting more.
The next step in thinking is that someone living in and for the future is not ever going to be happy with the present or the past. To embrace either of these things in theory kills the urge to move forwards. Unfortunately this philosophy causes other problems.
One issue is the rapid obsolescence of hardware and software. This has always bothered me. Large amounts of money are wasted on systems that only have a five to ten year lifespan. I would estimate the practical age limit for a home computer to be around four years at the most. Waste can be good for business but obviously is not desired by the consumer. If you compare computers to any other large purchase item you will find that the other item will last much longer and suit its task much better over that entire time. Cars are an obvious example. They can easily last for twenty years if taken care of properly. In Australia it is still fairly common to see cars approaching 30 years as cars are typically more expensive than America. We have a car that is now 10 years old and there certainly isn’t any reason to trade it in just yet.
What I would like to see is hardware and software that is designed to have a life of at least 20 years. I want to say 10 but I think 20 is more appropriate. It is perhaps crazy to suggest this for hardware given the fast improvement cycles but it can certainly be true for software to be able to live much longer.
Before I spend too much time on this tangent I want to get back to what I see to be the core problem.
Computer hardware and software is often designed from the point of view that it will not be used for more than about five years. This means that even though it would be possible to extend the life of both, it just isn’t looked at that way.
Given the shift in thinking with services, it is clear that it would be possible to pay a yearly or even monthly payment that would cover the raw hardware/software costs along with the assumption of upgrade at specific intervals. Also along these lines, it would be possible to more easily migrate from one system to the next. It could be seen as a package deal that would include Internet access, wireless networking, and a general support contract. I’m certain that this approach has been attempted before from individual players. I don’t think it would catch on unless someone like Dell or HP caught on to the concept of lifetime maintenance. I suspect that if a program like this was launched by a big OEM, it would change the scope of how upgrades happened and when whole systems would be replaced. The model, in general, works in the mobile phone business very well and there is no reason why a modified version wouldn’t work for computers as well.
If I was guaranteed a replacement every four years and was able to pay for the service over that time, I would seriously consider switching to that model. I believe the same idea applies to software as well. Instead of being stuck with having to upgrade versions every few years, a subscription model would essentially pre-pay the upgrade at a lower cost. Citrix has a model like this and it is becoming more common in the industry.
There was an intent to focus on how naughty it is to never be happy with how things are. Instead I got sidetracked onto the issue of personal upgrading hopes.
If you are solely waiting for some future invention to make things easier for you, then you are waiting for something that might never happen. It is far better to accept existing technologies since they probably already do enough for you anyways. For example, web browsing should not be a big resource user. However, once you start talking about multimedia features, the story changes. Email is more about bandwidth than performance. Flashy web sites are more demanding. The point is that the average user is not going to need so much power unless they happen to be fairly young with a desire to play intense games in hyper reality worlds. An unfair assumption to be sure but the point is largely true.
My Mom, in theory, doesn’t need the latest hardware/software. Unfortunately, Windows tends to demand much more than it should need. It comes from a mindset that it doesn’t matter how much resources you have. Windows seems to consume it in vast quantities without always giving value in return.
It’s a stark contrast to how things were in 1992 when 4MB version 8MB was enough to help Windows 3.1 win over OS/2. Perhaps it is long overdue for Windows to go on a diet. Maybe a few lessons could be learned from Linux?
Anyways, if you got this far please excuse my mild attempt to stir the pot. It does get a bit slow this late in the post and sometimes it helps to wake things up a bit.
One final remark about this topic. There are plenty of current technologies that are broken in certain ways. The difficult aspect is to admit that they are broken and that finding a way to making them more reliable would actually cause mini-revolutions in those areas. My classic example is the USB memory stick. It’s great to plug in but be careful when you pull it out. You could easily mess with the data especially given the sometimes radically slow write-back algoritms. Even when you play by the rules it still sometimes refuses to give the all clear. It is far too common that I need to yank it out anyhow and just hope that everything made it through. I find myself asking, “How common is this?”. The answer you already know.
As usual Jeff, I 100% agree with the observation. Just last year I went from PC to Mac because I heard that Mac machines have a 5 to 10 year lifespan. And since Mac devices can run windows with the assistance of Parallels software, the machine is far more useful and valuable to me over the course of it’s life.
This same “tomorrow will solve my problem” attitude extends into other areas as well. Most notably ecological conservation, or the lack thereof e.g. we’ll find a way to fix the earth later, these batteries are toxic, we’ll deal with that when they are in the ground. Usually the same people that look to progress to solve their problems cause other problems for future generations to solve. It’s a horrible cycle. In addition, nowadays, it seems there is progress for the sake of progress. Don’t you think Office 2003 was good enough. I thought Windows XP was just great. I have a 4 year old phone that my sister gave me when she was sick of it. I am actually going to buy a used Mac mini from a friend of mine because Apple’s devices tend to have a longer life than Windows.
I saw this show called Invention Nation on discovery channel where they showed a guy buying an old car and converting it from gas to electric with solar recharge. This did two things. Prevented it from harming the environment with toxic emissions and eliminated it’s land fill poisons. It demonstrates that progress can be had at a much lower cost and buy simply using existing and perceived outdated material and bringing it back to usefulness.
The leasing model is gaining popularity with computer equipments, especially for SMB. You will find a lot of retailers now offer leasing plans backed by finance institutions. The promise of such leasing plans is upgrade of your equipment in exchange of you older equipment (obviously covered by an existing leasing arrangement). Effectively you are renting, and the typical sales pitch is “tax deductible” when the equipment is used for running a business. It can be effective for a business, but less so for personal use. The business model is designed to keep you tied up with the lease on a continued basis. Incidentally, consider the perennial argument of “renting” vs. “buying” in the housing industry.
The capitalistic society that we have today will no longer condone a product that will last for a long time (and if they do they come at a high premium), as mentioned above this is designed to make sure that the consumers continue to buy new products, or upgrades. Obviously the environment will suffer because of the added waste and inefficient recycling. The credit card industry feeds on this trend, and is not helping either. There is also the trend of “interest free” (seemingly) purchases that span multiple years – encouraging the consumers to buy more at will. It is a viscous cycle that feeds onto itself.
Should one wait for the greatest and latest and ended up not having anything and be unhappy and grumpy and wishing for more? Take a camera as an example, do you wait for the next best model and in the meantime unable to capture the moments and memories in you life? In this regard it is better to have something that works and be content with what is in front of you. Don’t live for tomorrow, as tomorrow never comes… 😉
I thought both of these comments were exceptional. It is cool to be involved with people who have thought about similar things. It brings more depth to the topic and expands the ideas.
Consumption for the sake of consumption only breeds waste and unhappiness. The current focus on becoming green is just part of a larger trend to find balance with life on Earth for the long haul. The temporary nature of the current computer business model will mean that some day it will collapse under its own waste. Certain growth cycles can only be met if something else is dieing in its place.
Again, I thought these comments were beautiful and I wanted to thank you for your careful consideration with sharing your points. It’s the kind of thinking I like to see here.