The old joke about computers has always been that as soon as you buy one, it becomes outdated. The joke itself is a little dated as it is a joke about frustration over computing costs, something that doesn’t have the bite it used to. But it is also a joke about how computers mysteriously become junk without us realizing it.
Windows XP’s recent retirement reminded me of a time, about 10 years ago, when it was still Microsoft’s latest OS offering. At the time I worked in a used bookstore that, for better or worse, was willing to consider buying just about anything.
So the occasional computer would come in.
As far as the secondary market goes, used computers are a very tricky thing, and we did buy – and sell – the occasional computer. But most of the computers offered to us were junk, its just that the owner didn’t realize it yet. They would insist that it was still good for writing, and that it could connect to the Internet, and all manner of other virtues trying to hide the fact that the computer still ran Windows 95. We would similarly see Windows 95 books and software. There seemed to be this psychological barrier with some people, that anything from the 1990s was still new. I’d have to point out to them that, no, Windows 95 was ten years old, (20 now), and I dare say it was the first time anyone had pointed that out to them. Some of them would awaken to reality, and others angrily refused to live in a world were a computer – any computer – could be junk.
There’s something about electronics that confuses our junk radar. Perhaps it’s that fact that even a 30-year old computer has circuits and transistors manufactured on an impressive micro-scale. Unless you’re an electrical engineer, electronics are always a little confounding, no matter how old they get.
It might be an American thing, or might just be a human thing, but we do tend toward hoarding our possessions, holding out some hope that they will be useful one day. But we know that our 8-track tapes are junk. We know that our cassette tapes are junk. Not too long ago, when DVDs broke through, all of us knew that, eventually, our VHS tapes were going to be junk. These are all discrete changes – do you use this technology or that technology? There’s no middle.
For all of our talk about how fast things changes, computing technology has changed gradually. We can look at a computer from 20 years ago and laugh at how outdated it is, but how we got here from there has been a fluid process. It is not as though we used computers that ran at 66 Mhz, had 8 MB of RAM and a 256 MB hard drive for five years and then BAM! we moved on to 300 Mhz, 64 MB of RAM and 2 GB hard drives and then BAM! we moved on to 1 Ghz, 256 MB of RAM and 30 GB hard drives and so on and so forth. If the changes over the years had been so abrupt we’d probably be a lot less confused; that older computer would more obviously belong with your cassette tapes.
But there are still those among us who resist believing that computers can be junk. If you are such a person, I have three parting thoughts for you:
1) Computers do age. I’ve written about this. Your old computer is junk because it is old, not just because it is outdated.
2) Yes, in a vacuum, your old computer is still useful. It still writes and connects to the Internet. And there is definitely a market for such devices as these. It is just that the computers of yesteryear are outclassed by the tinier devices of today. An older desktop computer might be adequate for desktop publishing, but it is just so inconveniently large that it doesn’t really matter.
3) Okay, your old computer isn’t junk. I encourage you to look into local electronics recycling programs. In a space such as this, it is easy to forget that not everyone has the technological tools that we do. That writer/internet box is useful to somebody, so look into who accepts electronics donations in your area!