It’s summer, and among the many home improvements we tend to get to when we can (roofing, painting, etc.), it’s a time when we sometimes upgrade our technology. Recently we purchased an LCD TV and a Mac Mini to surf the web and watch movies with, and generally use as our main home computer so we won’t have to replace our laptops or the ancient Mac that Aidan has started using. Why do this in the summer? It’s when I have a little extra time to shop and install these things.
All these purchases have me thinking about my curious relationship with technology. Though I’m generally known as technically savvy — I teach online, manage my department’s website, help others with the A/V equipment at school, and even do some light programming in my spare time — in many ways I’m a Luddite. We don’t own a microwave, and I’d just as soon never get one! A gas stove is ideal, and I prefer a wooden spoon and a sharp knife to the latest kitchen gadget. Some technology just doesn’t need improvement.
Similarly, I can’t stand cell phones, and to be honest I’m not a big fan of phones anyway. I wouldn’t be caught dead without my land line, but I’d rather not use it unless absolutely necessary. Email, on the other hand, is wonderful, and the occasional call on Skype is a good replacement for long distance, especially if it involves video conferencing with my family or with a student in my online classes.
I’d rather walk or ride a bike than take the car, whenever possible. But we’re thrilled to have Netflix in a small town where art movies rarely ever make it into the theater and the video stores (which recently have all closed, driven out by mail services and the DVD vending machines) had very limited choices. Streaming movies makes it even more convenient, but I have no use for cable or satelite TV — we still get our broadcast TV over the airwaves, though we’re glad that digital TV has improved the reception dramatically.
Computers are my biggest weakness, where technology is concerned. I have owned 5 Macs (the Mini is the 6th) since 1988, when I bought my first used Mac SE (and I’ve had three Macs in my office at school). I have always loved Macs for two reasons. They work (with very few system crashes or viruses) and they last. My Powerbook 5300, though incredibly slow and unable to connect to other computers thanks to a burned out ethernet card, still boots up. We don’t use it and need to recycle it. I sold my other two oldest Macs years ago, but Aidan still uses my 10-year-old G4 Tower on a daily basis, and Kim and I have 5 and 6 year-old laptops that function perfectly well. I’m hoping to get a couple more years out of mine before it gets too long in the tooth and gets passed down to Aidan. None of these computers is so out of date that it won’t function perfectly well (though the G4 needs a newer operating system, if we want it to run more recent software, and we have added memory and replaced a few hard drives over the years).
My biggest beef with computers, though, is that they ought to last longer than they do. They work, but can’t keep pace with the changes in the latest software after a few years. The other beef I have with them is that they waste so many resources, which is why I’m so happy with our Mini, which is 7.7″ square and about an inch and a half tall. It doesn’t take up much space, and it doesn’t waste many resources. Apple has also improved its packaging so that nothing comes in styrofoam anymore. They’ve turned their design expertise over to their packaging, and have designed boxes that use a minimal amount of cardboard and a little plastic wrap to cushion the equipment during shipping, resulting in smaller, mostly recyclable packages.