"You will own nothing, and you will be happy" - The World Economic Forum at Davos

I'm no Greta Thunberg fan. In fact I can't stand the Swedish doom goblin and I can stand her parents / handlers even less. I can't stand her crowing about listening to the scientists in one breath and demanding that you, the ordinary chump who has to work and expend energy to put food on the table, give up meat and foreign holidays while her fans private-jet themselves around the world to lecture you. I can't stand her "the science is settled" talking points while she cozies up to the anti-nuclear lobby and woo-woo charlatans like Vandana Shiva. But there is one thing that she would probably agree with me entirely on, if she was allowed a thought of her own. And that is this.

Look at this. No, not this node. The device you are viewing it on. I'm betting that it's either a smartphone or laptop computer and that it was manufactured in the last 3 years. Possibly the last year if it was a smartphone. Now, what was wrong with the last device you used that precipitated you purchasing it? I'm guessing it was one of two things - software updates, or the battery dying. The latest compulsory update to Windows 10 or iOS or Android probably bogged its CPU down with bloat to the point at which it was unusable in practice, and clogged up its on-board storage with pointless features you'll never use. Or, the battery stopped being able to charge and because the whole device is a hermetically sealed glass and aluminium sandwich, it's practically impossible to crack it open and replace it (and this applies to modern laptops as well). It was designed to be used for one to three years, then to collapse into planned obsolescence as the OS becomes unusably bloated and the battery life decimates itself. Oh, but they just happen to have a new model out. Don't ask questions. Just consoome product, then get excited for next product.

Don't bother thinking that some child slave in a conflict zone in sub-Saharan Africa was worked to the bone to dig the rare earth metals used in its battery and flat screen.

Throwawayness is heading into cars as well, unfortunately. How many Tesla Model S will still be working in 2060? Very few, given those batteries. Yet cars from fifty or even a hundred years old can still be made to work today. Yes, this means your nasty, evil, planet-cremating petrol powered machine is greener than your zero-emissions electric car, because it doesn't need child slaves to dig up half of the Congo to extract the rare earth metals to build new batteries every few years after the existing ones are worn out. In Stephen King's novel 11/22/63 the protagonist touches on this when he compares his then-current Toyota to the Ford Sunliner he acquires during his adventures into the past. He comes to the conclusion that while both were designed to be affordable cars for normies, the 2011 Toyota he owned was a plastic piece of soulless trash while the 1954 Sunliner was built to be looked after and cared for. (Incidentally, I recommend that novel; it's a very fair minded assessment of whether they really were "the good old days" and accepts that some things were better in the past and some things were worse.)

Now try listening to some music. I don't care, any music. Just put a song on. Bet you any money it's in horribly compressed 128kbps MP3, and has been subjected to the loudness war so it's all screechy and horrible. But you probably don't notice that, or care about the music other than for a few minutes. There's no point having it in anything other than 128kbps MP3 because it has no substance. It was probably written by the same two people in Sweden, recorded by a creatively marketed teen pop slut, given a quick wash of wokeness to inspire buzz and reach on twatter, and then be forgotten about in favour of what is next.

Oh, I mentioned twatter, didn't I? Yep, 300 characters, that's all you get. Nobody cares about nuance, just post your best zingers and clapbacks. Orange man bad! Respect whamen! This is what a feminist looks like! Black lives matter (apart from the aforementioned child slave who made your phone possible, who you never even thought about because you have never thought this through). Who cares. Just mouth the platitudes then move on to the next trend. Throwaway opinions for your throwaway phone, throwaway music, throwaway content, and throwaway life.

I recently came into possession of a classic boombox, namely, a Sharp VZ-2000. If you haven't seen one of these, it's an absolutely monstrous piece of retrotech. Boasting a tape deck (and a really quite good tape deck), a linear tracking record turntable, and some really big speakers but with quality behind them, it is older than I am (mine was made in 1983), yet other than the belts wearing out and the switchgear needing some contact cleaner, it's still trucking on. It is really intelligently designed as well. The tape deck and tuner bar for the radio is at an angle on the top of the device so if it's on a table or the floor you can see everything without needing to bend down to peer at it. The case is made of nice thick hard-wearing plastic. The knobs are big and grippable. The speaker grilles are metal. The frame is steel. The whole device is designed to be thrashed around for years and still provide quality sound. Even the carry handle is parallelogram-shaped so it fits in your hand more comfortably - and as it weighs about 20 kilos, it needs to. I plugged my PC into its aux input and did some recording to tape on it and it sounds spot on. Not just loud, but full, especially when playing a FLAC or other high quality digital source. This thing is older than I am. What do most people today listen to music on, I wonder. A phone speaker? See above. Bluetooth earbuds? Good luck trying to fix those when the batteries expire. A separate bluetooth speaker? Probably built to look nice and sound good enough for background noise. But then, the sort of music that is routinely released nowadays is designed from the ground up to have no substance to it so who cares.

Not this. Big Bertha, as I've started calling my Brixton Briefcase from the heady days of 1983, was built to last. Granted, she was a pricy bit of kit when she first came out (£375, or £1,200 adjusting for inflation), but think about other devices you own that cost £1,200. How many of them will still be working or even serviceable in 2060?

But who cares, I hear you say. Streaming services and cloud computing is the future. Ok Boomer.

Yes, streaming services and the cloud. The epitome of throwaway. Listen or watch once and forget. Don't think about what happens if Apple or Spotify dies on its arse, or decides that the programmes and films you like to watch or the music you like to listen to is considered wrongthinkful, or the people behind it are unpersoned. You'll just have to go without, won't you. The heavy metal band Iced Earth being one case in point; with its "face" and main driving force Jon Schaffer being pictured having gone full foamer and storming the US Capitol, their record label dropped them and memory-holed them from their online store, and there's only a limited quantity of their stuff on Amazon. Regardless of what you think about Jon Schaffer's actions, overnight it's become a lot harder to get hold of their music. Following the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, a lot of streaming services dropped content they thought was potentially "offensive" or displayed "outdated attitudes." Want to watch or listen to something that is a cultural product of its time, like the Fawlty Towers episode "The Germans"? Nope, can't do that. It's been thrown away. Cloud computing is similar. What's that? Someone's hacked the servers in search of celebrity nudes? Sorry, all your files are gone. Want to open documents from twenty years ago to resolve a legal dispute? Nope, MS Office's online "software as a service" policy won't let you open old file formats. Sorry, but all your documents are thrown away. Want to play that online game you liked ten years ago to see if it holds up well today? Oh dear, servers are off. Sorry.

Meanwhile, despite what people claim, I can still access documents on 30 year old floppy disks from my Atari STE and cassette tapes from 35 years ago on my boombox. Because it has a record turntable, I can listen to music from 70 years ago on vinyl if I see fit, and it will sound good. What's that all the kids are "rediscovering" vinyl with thanks to influencer marketing? A Crosley Cruiser? Oh dear. That's made of cheap Chinese plastic and will wear out in a few years, and it'll be cheaper to just bin it and get a fresh one. More landfill fodder.

See, the throwaway nature of current year is not only an environmental concern - which it is, because your fancy smartphone being landfill fodder by 2025 is absolutely an environmental problem, but a cultural and societal one. Without the past, and knowing from where we have come, we have no idea where we are or where we are going because we have no context. We also have no way to leave anything to future generations. You're a long time dead, you know. If you live in a society where your existence revolves around insubstantial content and in which cheap shit that is designed to be used temporarily and recycled is the norm, that affects you on a subconscious level. Because if your home, your clothes, your relations with others, your material possessions, your tastes, and similar are all intended to be ephemeral, what makes you think you are any different. Those lengthy postings you spewed out onto Reddit or Faceache or similar? Gone. There was a forum I posted on as a student thousands of times. Some of it was low effort shite, but some of it was well thought out. That's all gone. The shitty fan fiction I wrote as a teenager? All gone. Thankfully in my case, but suppose it had been good. I may not have backups of it (as it happens I do, and you may not see it, but I'm keeping it because it is mine and I expended effort in it and some parts of it aren't totally hopeless). The paperless, always-online future where you are sold the next iteration of the same product every year which is designed to be irreparable because you're supposed to upgrade, where nothing lasts, and where nothing has substance or meaning, is not one I want.

And this is why I felt the need to acquire the boombox when I saw it come up on greedbay for a good price. Because it is a relic of another time. A time when things were designed to last and where people were encouraged to make things that lasted. A time when physical media was the norm and when your music collection wasn't suddenly going to vanish forever because of hackers, server outages, unpaid subscription fees, or it carrying implications or attitudes that are no longer considered fashionable or convenient in polite society. A time when things were designed to have features that people actually might want by people who were interested in what they were designing. I mean, the engineers at Sharp who designed the VZ-2000 clearly loved music and thought about what they might want in a portable stereo. The people who podged together the iPhone were thinking about how they could lock people into a revenue stream. None of them cared about anything other than Steve Jobs's ego. Who cares, it's going to be obsolete in three years. Much like this year's Top 40. Much like the current trendy cause for Hollywood to pat itself on the back about. Much like every film that's come out in the past 5 years with a few exceptions. Much like, well, all of today's society. I for one am convinced that ephemeral technology and products and culture makes ephemeral people who have nothing of substance and nothing of worth about them .


OpinionQuest 2021

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