in Posts, Slow Media

Digital is Frail

There are typewriters from a hundred years ago which still work as they did when they were built. There are notebooks from 500 years ago which can still be read. But try using a computer from just twenty-years ago, or opening a word document from ten years ago and see how well you get on.

Analogue tools lend themselves more to maintenance and care. With just a little bit of knowledge (which you can learn on the job) you could take apart a typewriter, clean it, mend it and have it working as good as new. The same isn’t true of a computer. You can’t easily switch a processor and, increasingly, it’s difficult to even swap out a battery when it fails.

A lot has been said about “planned obsolescence” but even if it isn’t planned, it is still inevitable. Digital tools degrade over time and one day, not so long from now, it will completely fail. No matter how well you care for it. If you keep up with firmware and software updates then eventually (just 3-5 years) your device will be slower. It won’t be able to do the things that newer devices can do, but, worse than that, it will be slower and more frustrating to use than it was when you bought it.

This seems to be an inevitable consequence of multi-purpose devices and may not be exclusively a digital / analogue divide; single-use digital devices (something like a camera or a DVD player) will probably last longer than a laptop or a phone, but they will eventually fail.

Over time digital devices get worse and there seems little chance that in a hundred years a computer bought today will function. There seems little hope that a document created today will be readable in 500 years. But a notebook you write in today might well be readable by your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren and even further.

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