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Living Behind the Cutting Edge
I’m currently using a four-year-old smartphone. When I bought it, it was already almost two years old and was considered a discount phone. I can still update the OS on it, though, and it still does everything I want it to do. I can send and receive texts. I can send and receive calls. I can read through email. I can add stuff to Evernote. I can update my to-do list, too. That’s pretty much all I need it to do, and it does those things just fine.
The computer I write on was purchased in 2013. It wasn’t anywhere near a cutting edge machine, even then. Before that, I used a computer that had been purchased in 2006. This computer doesn’t scream, but it does every task I need from it. I need to be able to edit lots of text and occasionally edit images. I need to be able to write simple computer programs. I need to be able to check websites on it. That’s pretty much all I need it to do, and it does those things just fine.
My children own a last-generation video game console that they can play on for about an hour a day. Their favorite game on it at the moment was released six years ago. That console has a lot of games on it that were huge “Game of the Year” releases just a few years ago that my kids have yet to fully explore. It entertains them (and, occasionally, entertains me) and that’s pretty much all I need it to do.
Our television was purchased almost a decade ago and wasn’t exactly top-of-the-line even then. It now has a big screen flaw on it, but it’s not one that prevents us from watching any programs. We can watch shows in 1080p on it, and it has a couple of HDMI ports for attaching other devices to it. That’s pretty much all I need it to do, and it does those things just fine.
I’m not particularly interested in replacing or upgrading any of these items. Sure, with each and every one, I could probably discover lots of new features, but would those new features change my core usage of any of those devices in any significant way? Nope.
I could have a brand new phone and I’d still just use it for sending and receiving texts, sending and receiving calls, checking email, updating Evernote, and using my to-do list. So why spend the money on a brand new phone just to do what I’m already doing with my current phone?
I could have a brand new computer and I’d still just use it for writing, checking websites, and a little bit of programming and image editing. So why spend the money on a brand new computer just to do what I’m already doing with my current computer?
I could have a brand new video game console and I’d still just use it to play top-rated games that I haven’t played yet, but there are still a bunch of top-rated games for the console we have that my family hasn’t played yet. So why spend the money to buy a brand new console just to do what I’m already doing with my current console?
I could have a brand new television and I’d still just use it to watch Netflix every once in a while. So why spend the money to buy a brand new television just to do what I’m already doing with my current television?
Obviously, the big reason that we live behind the current age is that our older devices do everything we want or need them to do. An old television still shows the programs we want to see. An old computer still lets us read websites and watch videos. An old cell phone still sends and receives texts and checks every information source we need.
If there’s a pretty clear use for a new piece of technology, we’ll consider upgrading, but without an extremely clear motivation, we’re most likely going to keep using the technology we have until it no longer functions in some key way.
That policy also rewards us with several other benefits.
First, it’s far cheaper to buy slightly older technology. If I buy a new phone that’s a generation old, I’m usually paying significantly less for that phone. If I can pay half as much for a one-year-old phone and it’s still four or five years away from being at the end of its software cycle, then I’m paying a lot less per year of use of that phone.
If I buy a video game console that’s near the end of its cycle, not only am I going to get it for cheap, but there’s usually a pretty large library of really great titles to play for it, most of which are usually part of a “Greatest Hits” line at that point, which means that the games are cheap, too.
If I buy a slightly less advanced computer, I’m usually paying a fraction of what I would pay for a brand new one, and it still handles every task I throw at it with ease. It’s still going to last for years and years.
If I buy a slightly older television, I’m usually saving a ton over the bleeding edge televisions and I can still watch everything I want to watch. It’s still going to last for years and years.
This same idea is true for almost every piece of technology. Buying the latest, greatest thing rarely gives us the opportunity to do anything meaningful that isn’t handled by the slightly older but much much less expensive technology.
Second, we get a lot more life out of our objects, meaning we have a lot more time than average between replacements. If we’re on a four-year upgrade cycle for phones rather than a two-year cycle, we get a lot more life out of it. If we wait to replace our television until it literally doesn’t work rather than when there’s some new slightly better standard, we get a lot more life out of that television.
Again, this comes back to replacing items based on whether or not they can handle the primary tasks we expect from them or not. Can our television display television programs? Yes? Then we don’t replace it until it cannot. Can my phone make and receive texts and handle a few key apps? Yes? Then I don’t replace it until it cannot. That means we hold onto what we have rather than jumping for the latest thing, even if the latest thing has a potentially compelling feature or two.
We aren’t deeply concerned about the safety and security of having an extremely expensive piece of technology that amounts to a significant part of our salary. Think of someone taking a picture of us on vacation – no one is going to steal a four-year old phone. If someone breaks into our home, they’re going to be really disappointed by an older television and a really old computer and a video game console that was state of the art in 2011.
The same thing is true if one of those items happens to break. I don’t flip into panic mode if our television decides to give up the ghost or if my cell phone no longer updates. It just means that it’s time to get a replacement, which is probably long overdue, and given the other principles listed here, it’s not going to be a super-expensive endeavor.
In the end, the cutting edge is fun, but it’s incredibly expensive and then it passes you by. Not worrying about it and instead focusing on what it can actually meaningfully do for you makes older technology seem perfectly useful, and it comes with a lot less worry and risk.
As I write this article on my almost-10-year-old computer with my no-longer-for-sale-anymore cell phone right beside me, I’m perfectly content in the fact that these devices do exactly what I need and I’ve received a ton of value for the money I’ve put into them. The cutting edge? It mostly just cuts.