Failed Machines—Techchronia

©Planned obsolescence or just old age

A few weeks ago an evil green line appeared on my laptop screen. I tilted the screen toward me a little, and the line disappeared. But the next day it showed up again. Now it comes and goes, but seems to be staying longer each time.

Of course the first thing I did was check it out on the Net. And of course my laptop had a lot of company. Apparently old Mac PowerBooks and Dells were susceptible to this malady a few years ago, and the best advice I got was “to just live with it”, and “hang on and buy a new machine, the screen fix is too expensive”. I guess I’ll live with it, unless I can find some better advice on the Internet.

This bites because I do like my machines and really take care of them. The laptop in question is eight years old, looks great and ran flawlessly up ‘til now.

It’s the same with my cars. And wouldn’t you know it? A few weeks ago I took my 15-year-old Mazda in for an oil change and air filter cleaning, and when I picked it up the idle started surging up and down every time I stopped. Naturally, I took it back to the garage, but no luck, and then to two other places, and still no luck. Sure it’s still drivable. But it’s irritating. So there it sits in the front yard under two feet of snow. I’m making do with the family minivan.
My car and laptop aren’t the only casualties. Since moving here I’ve had my stereo in storage, and finally took it out and set it up last summer. It was great to have big sound filling up the living room again. But when I pulled the grilles off the speakers to get that ever-so-slight improvement in sound, with the first I remembered my young kids pulling pieces of the foam off the edges of the speaker cones. So, I packed up the speakers and carted them off to Saint John for refoaming, which they did quite nicely. But after a week back on the job the left side woofer let go, and developed an annoyingly faint rattle-buzz that comes and goes at certain low frequencies. After a few weeks of trying to ignore the buzz, I packed up the stereo, and started half-heartedly surfing eBay for some replacements. I decided to stop obsessing, and started listening to iTunes on the computer, instead. Definitely not the same quality (what do you expect from a 2” speaker?), but at least there’s no buzz.

It wasn’t a week after I had the speaker foam replaced that my son wanted me to get my bike out and go for a ride with him. Easily done. I lifted the bike down from the attic, hand-pumped the tires and off we went. For, oh, about 10 minutes, when the front tire developed a slow leak.
Now this particular bike is a bit special to me. It was one of the first Canadian-built racing 10-speeds, weighing just 21 pounds with Dura-Ace components, lightweight frame, pearlescent paint and sew-up racing tires. And therein lay the problem. The sidewalls of the tires were shot, and even though the tube could be repaired, the tires themselves were not long for this world. So, off to the local bike shop for new tires. Except that there are no new tires for my 10-speed. The new bikes have a totally different rim size (one that won’t fit my 20+ year-old bike), and the manufacturers no longer make any old tire sizes at all—especially not sew-up racing tires, which were rare to begin with. Seems I’m in the market for a new road bike.

This pattern, unfortunately, is becoming familiar. Over the years I collected (and used) a whole lot of Nikon camera equipment. Toward the end every time I opened my favorite camera, an old 1972 Nikon F2, black dust would drop out. That black stuff was the dried remains of the light seals to keep the light out of the camera. Sure, I could have sent it away to have it repaired, but even finding 35 mm slide film out in this far corner of New Brunswick is hard enough—let alone getting it processed. And now it’s easier just to grab my rapidly aging digital camera. I may as well get some use out of it before it becomes a relic, too.

Perhaps the saddest example is a beautiful Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera Sharon found for me in a junk shop a few years ago. Here’s what the website has to say about it: “Released in 1972 and discontinued in 1977, the SX-70 was in many people's opinions Edwin Land’s masterpiece. It was the world's first Single Lens Reflex folding camera—let alone, instant photography SLR—and it packed into its sleek lines a simply awesome amount of technology and brilliant design.” What the website doesn’t say, and what a whole photography cult is mourning, is the fact that Polaroid stopped making instant film a little over a year ago—so nobody can use these things, no matter how beautiful they are.

But the very worst example of this slow decline is—me. I’m just not what I used to be. And just to prove it I went to see a doctor last week. The trouble is, there are no doctors here—at least no doctors taking new patients. So, off I went to the emergency room at the local hospital. After checking in I sat around for two-and-a-half hours before I saw the doc. And yes, something not-so-serious needs further investigation by a specialist. It could be worse, I suppose. And I know I’m not alone. Lots of people across Canada are ailing—and have no family doctor.

Ultimately, I want to think that if I really looked after everything—my car, my computer, my camera, my bike, even myself—that these things will last forever. But no matter how well we take care of stuff, the basic materials just keep wasting away, passing through the hourglass.
Mountains turn to sand, sand turns to dust, dust rises in the air, binds with ice and forms snow. The snow melts and the dust is washed into the river bottom. The river mud piles up over the eons and turns to stone. The stone rises into mountains. And so it goes. Life and technology be damned.


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