Tech Tip: The Pervasive Power of the Plain

buick dynaflowThere is some irony in my having been assigned this column. I’m as tech savvy as the next person, I suppose, but my tastes run to the tragically un-hip. I read my email in a way that only shows me actual text, no html, no pictures, and not even black-text-on-white background but a matrixesque green on black, generally.

But it isn’t because I am anti-tech. It is because I am pro-tech and specifically pro-tech-that-serves-me rather than pro-tech-that-serves-the-one-percent. There was a time one could confidently say that the same features that made Windows the easiest interface to learn also made it the greatest host for virus writers. I work with old-school apps and open-source software largely because it just isn’t as heavily targeted.

But it isn’t just protection from third-party malefactors. Corporate software, like other consumer goods, runs largely on the principle of planned obsolescence. The latest new-shiny makes outmoded and outdated the formerly-new-shiny with which one is currently saddled. It takes a real effort of will and appeal to wisdom not to get on the never ending consumer conveyor belt of having the latest greatest gadget.

One facet of the American dream, of course, is a new car every two years. Only a fool would imagine the capital invested in transportation, the tens of thousands of dollars spent on new wheels, could really have reached their useful end a mere 24 months later. That dream was of and for an America of corporate greed and profits.

Now pretend that where I wrote “car” I wrote, “operating system” or “smart phone” or whatever happens to be the hot new-shiny when you read this. While the 1% has most of us on that never ending circle, there are many fine folks making sure you and I have access to the tools we need to get things done, for no more price than downloading it and taking the time to learn a little.


robert linkConsidering the purported correlations of ease of learning new interfaces and neurological function (and I’m thinking specifically of remarks in Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies“) one could argue it’s worth your while just for the health benefits.

With the above in mind, then, today’s tech-tip: Learn about charityware, like the venerable text-editor, “Vim, and even if you aren’t likely to take the time to learn how to use the product, consider it an act of faith in the future to make a donation.

Robert Link


  1. says

    Robert, I utterly sympathize with the approach you first claim to follow: to keep as long as possible to tried and true ‘obsolete’ tech.

    So I don’t quite understand your point here: you’ll have to write a little more to straighten out the confusion you have left me with.

    First you seem to be telling me that ‘corporate’ software builds in obsolescence so instead of just running my old programs they ‘force’ me to change and ‘upgrade’ and – from my viewpoint and economics worst of all – invest time and nerves in a new learning curve.

    Then you seem to be telling me that the best solution is instead to change and invest time and nerves in a new learning curve for the latest ‘open’ or ‘charity ware’.

    It doesn’t compute.


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