Problems of everyday epistemology, II

This post is a continuation from a previous one, which you can find here.

Whenever anyone talks about phones, planned obsolescence comes up. Some people like to think of it as a conspiracy theory, and that is a semantic discussion I would rather not have at this moment. There is a certain amount of evidence that planned obsolescence is something that does indeed happen. I am not going to deny that. What I never hear discussed is are the discourses of degree that actually surround the ideas of planned obsolescence. As with most things in life, it isn’t just mustache-twirling ne’ev-do-wells at the heart of the matter. For instance, my grandmother still has a diesel-fueled car which have been rendered obsolete by the Italian state. The car can continued to be used, and the infrastructure remains (at a limited capacity) but the car will not be able to be sold at a future date. There is something of an obligation to drive the thing into the ground, but even that has the possibility of not happening, as even the selling of diesel fuel has a termination date. These are all things being implemented due to environmental laws to make Italy greener, but is still a form of planned obsolescence. I know very few people who have done the environmentally responsible thing and driven a car to the point of it not being able to be driven any longer. There was no fanfare for these people. In one case, it turned out to be a massive problem. Most people replace their car more frequently than once a decade, and it is hard to argue that their reasons for doing so were erroneous or somehow bad.

How long should a car last?

How long should a person keep a car?

Ironically enough, as I typed this I got a pretty critical computer error. I have been thinking of replacing this computer for some time now, but the environmental concern is always there. Do I run the fucking thing into the ground, at the risk of the work I am doing? How many attempts at repair should I undertake before I give up?

How the fuck long should a laptop last?

Phones and laptops have a different set of problems, but they give us insight into what might actually be the disconnect. Would you still use a computer from 1995 today? Would you have an expectation  Every year new software will be produced, and it will be created to the limits of the current hardware. I asked a friend if there would ever be a point where this wasn’t the case, and they seemed to think not. I have no idea why. Windows 95 was 19 MB large, and Windows XP was 1.5G large. I couldn’t tell you why we need to keep increasing the size of operating systems, but likely someone has a good idea.

How long should a computer last? If you had a choice between using your phone from a decade ago or your phone now, which would you choose? How about your phone from five years ago.

Or, if you have the choice of buying a new car from 2020 or a mint condition new car from 1995, which would you pick? I hear people say that cars haven’t improved at all in our life time. That might be true for the internal combustion engine, but frankly I have no idea. In all likelihood, neither do you. But more importantly, a car isn’t just its engine.

No matter how many of these topics I explore, I don’t find any evidence that make any suggestions towards a metric establishing the longevity of a product. I just don’t see how we can reasonably come to any of those conclusions. And that was the problem I had with the original ZDnet article. Where does that five year idea come from? How does one take into consideration use cases? Should a computer that is always on, 24 hours a day, used by 4 different people everyday in shifts, have the same expected lifespan as one used two hours a day?

Bear in mind, I don’t have an answer for any of this shit. I just don’t feel like anyone else has a good answer for it either.

Whenever these conversations come up, people always mention that there is a light bulb in the united states that has been on, consistently, for over 100 years, and it doesn’t look like it is going to go out any time soon. The people who make that argument really need to do better research, as that lightbulb has only lasted that long because it is dim to the point of not being practical. Were it to be any brighter, it would burn out at the normal rate. Yes, it is exceptional long-lived, but it is also impractical for any real use. It’s primary function is as a night light.

This is the equivalent of saying that there is a car that has been traveling since the 2000’s on one tank of gas, but it is only moving at 1mph, and trying to speed it up would make it explode. We really do have better uses of energy.

Again, I have no solution. Frankly, considering how it is one broken component that bricks a whole phone of computer, I have always felt that modularity would be the ultimate solution for phones and laptops, but no one seems to be going in that direction. Either the market or the technology isn’t there (or both).

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