Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reuse

While scouring the Internet for inexpensive fiber-optic transceivers (for work), I found that I can buy the parts used at half the price.  I would have preferred to use our old transceivers, but such is the pace of technology that even two Cisco switches, because they are different models, can't share hardware.

The technical details are usually what I try to avoid writing about, so don't worry about what a network switch is, or what a fiberoptic transceiver is. The point is, in order to make sales, Cisco has to change standards to force its customers to buy new hardware, even with incremental upgrades. The trade is so lucrative, that there's a site devoted exclusively to reselling used Cisco parts.  Which means someone, somewhere, upgraded (or dissolved, or looted, I can't know) and then someone, somewhere sold it to this company, who then test that it works, warranties it, and resells it at half the cost.

This amazes me. It's a very different world than home electronics. Laptops are rarely repurposed outside of DIY hobbyists. Desktops aren't even upgraded anymore. Every part is sent to the e-waste dump (or worse, the landfill) and is replaced by nearly identical--if judged by constituent molecular elements--hardware. It too will be junked after it is obsolesced.

I'm also doing a upgrade on my home PC, and like the old-school tinkerer that I am, I'm reusing whatever I can. But this is a major upgrade. Just by replacing the mainboard, I'm shoved down a path of new memory, CPU, and cables.  I even need to get get a different DVD player, as the IDE standard isn't even implemented on newish mainboards.  The only constant is the case and the harddrive. It's like I've gutted it, replaced the organs, but left the skin and memories intact.

Where does this technology take us? The disposable nature of our flatware, phones, and Ikea furniture is changing the way we think our habitation and its environment. Minimalism is difficult in the modern world precisely because its easier in terms of time and treasure to replace than to covet.

I'm not nostalgic for the family television or making the car run despite all signs that it needs to be parked at Pick'n Pull. I'm OK with change. But the massive amounts of usable but useless garbage we're generating boggles my mind. There are no incentives in the system for the frugality. We reward destruction.

Now I think I'll go find a rock to crawl under until the next big thing comes along.

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