There is a view that modern technology leads to ever more complexity, to increasingly elaborate and advanced products, and furthermore, that this is a good thing. But sometimes, when regarding the creations of our technology, I get very uncomfortable. So many of them depend on the future looking like the present, only more so. Your Kindle can download your newspaper wirelessly and your iPhone geolocates you by cell phone towers because the infrastructure is there to do these things.
We don’t know what the future will look like. But the one thing we do know is it won’t look like the present. (Come to that, a whole lot of the present doesn’t even look like the present; try getting your Kindle to download a paper in London, or your iPhone to do much of anything in rural California.) So all these things we buy will become obsolete, and have to be recycled, or retrofitted, or put into some landfill site somewhere. And if we become attached to them beyond their fashionable lifespan, goodness knows where we’ll get spare parts.
All our shinies are only temporarily so.
Looking at a world where the economy is probably going to be tightening up for a while, I find myself drawn to things with deep value, things a little less dependent on the state of our technology and shipping infrastructure1 to build and repair. Living in a small country with a history of pollution problems, I want to own things I don’t have throw away after one use. And spending much of my time as a crafter, I am attracted to things that I can fix.
It seems to me that there are two classes of technology that fall into this category.
The first is obvious: old technology. A few examples:
The second category, which interests me more, is technology that has gone through a disposable phase and come out the other side, to a different kind of deep value.
Deep value isn’t everything; sometimes the downsides of these items outweigh their upsides. I prefer a sewing machine that zig-zags, so that I can make buttonholes. Older cars pollute more (my beloved VW took leaded gas…yum!); I drive a car I don’t maintain now. I don’t run Linux because it takes too much tinkering.
Still, given the choice, I like the things I can repair, reuse, and rely on. It feeds my sense of thrift.