Friday, August 24, 2012

Sustainable Technology

"Planned obsolescence" was a term coined by marketers in the post-WWII era to describe the process of creating items that the consumer would want (and later, need) to replace after a very short time.  After WWII, companies that had not been able to sell products either due to rationing, lack of money, or conversion to war materials production during the war enjoyed a boom in purchasing as their production capacity returned to normal and consumers released pent-up demand in the form of shopping.  And shop they did -- for cars, houses, appliances, and all the items we now associate with the "American Dream."

But soon, marketers feared that the demand could not continue, and the idea of planned obsolescence was born.  If you've ever wondered why appliances suddenly started changing colors every year or why the fins on 1950s automobiles grew larger and larger with each model, you can look to planned obsolescence for the answer.  One automobile exec of the period commented that he wouldn't be satisfied until the average consumer purchased a new car every year.

This is the long, history-instructor introduction to my point that technology has raised planned obsolescence to a new level.  Without pointing a lot of fingers right now (because most tech companies are guilty on some level), I will say that I am beyond frustrated with the pressure to buy new tech just because the screen resolution is better or the case is sexier.  And those sexy cases come with a price -- Apple's attempt to make their new devices slimmer has led to smaller dock connectors, requiring the purchase of new cords, new peripherals, or at least new adapters, and their beautiful new glass iPhone bodies have to be encased in an after-market rubber shell soon after purchase or they cannot survive a 12 inch drop onto a wood bedroom floor (not that I would know that from experience....ahem).

Anyway, I like new devices as much as the next girl, but I get even more frustrated when the devices that made my life better suddenly are unusable due to changes in software or operating system or connection.  That's why I was so pleased to finally be able to download the right drivers and software to resurrect my old AlphaSmart Dana and get her back into the writing process.

The AlphaSmart was designed in the 1990s as a laptop replacement for K-12 schools that couldn't afford to give each student a fully-functioning laptop to use during the day.  Therefore, the AlphaSmart solves a lot of problems:  it is cheap; it is virtually indestructible; and it really is only useful for writing rather than designing, illustrating, or formatting.  Because of these features, professional writers like me flocked to the AlphaSmart as a travel option -- it slides into a purse or briefcase, can withstand a drop or two, and is instant-on.

Now, all of these features (sans the drop-ability) are now supposedly offered by laptops and tablets, but let me tell you, nothing makes me as productive for certain types of articles as the AlphaSmart.  The keyboard lets me type quickly and with few errors, and the little screen makes me focus on the paragraph I'm currently writing rather than looking at the whole document or surfing out to Facebook or email when I get stumped.  For an article that won't require a lot of online research -- so, many of the articles I write based on an interview with a single subject matter expert -- I can just sit down, open my file of quotes for reference beside me, and focus only on creating the words I need.  Then, I attach the HotSync cable and upload the document into a Word file for editing and submission.

So far, I am reminded that I write better on the AlphaSmart, and I write quicker, too.  The other night, I wrote 600 words in 45 minutes, a number that would have taken about two hours with the distraction of a computer; last night, it was 400 words in 20 minutes.  I am producing my work better and faster -- and that's sustainable (and fast and cheap!).  I bought my AlphaSmart in about 2000, and I hope she lasts many more years.  Long live the AlphaSmart!
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1 comment :

  1. I bought a dana a while back and never used it much, but my son, oh man, my son LOVES it. He uses it all the time because he doesn't like to write by hand, and so he'll write stories and stuff on it. It's fantastic. Ours is having some problems and I'm going to get another used one off ebay because they really are the neatest thing.