Friday, July 30, 2010

The upgrade generation

I am old. Not, moss growing over me as I sit in my rocking chair decrying all these new-fangled inventions old, just middle aged old. I am, however, old enough to remember when the things you bought would last. It’s not that you didn’t want to upgrade to something newer, it’s just the thing you bought was well made, still worked, and you really couldn’t justify upgrading it. This concept is completely foreign to most people raised in the computer/cell phone generation.

See if this sounds familiar. You can’t wait for the two year contact period to end so you can get the free upgrade on the latest and greatest new smart phone. Remember when you upgraded to your current phone? Remember how this phone was so great, so superior to your old phone? Now, it’s just a phone. It doesn’t have the ability run the coolest new applications, or apps as they say, and it doesn’t stream live video. No matter. Twenty months ago, it was the latest, cutting edge device, and it was free when you signed up for a two year contract. Now, it’s a piece of junk.

The same goes for gaming consoles. I’m old enough to remember staring in awe at the white dot flashing across the screen of my Pong game. Then came all the gaming consoles. Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation, Xbox, and now, Wii. If you have a Playstation1 today, it might as well be a boat anchor.

Don’t get me started on computers. My laptop I bought back 2003 is a doorstop. Actually, I upgraded the software, and until recently, it still did some of the accounting work for my church. It is almost useless now. It still runs fine, it’s in great shape, but the technology has evolved so rapidly, it's now functionally obsolete. The dual processor PC that I bought two years ago is showing its age, as the once lighting fast processor speed and vast memory are now just enough to keep up with the latest software.

If it has a central processor, you had better enjoy fast, because soon it will be off to the high-tech scrap heap. For my son’s generation, this is this way the world works. You buy it, use it, and start looking for its replacement immediately, or at least in a few months. This was not always the case.

Before, iPods ,iPhones and iPads, there were radios, rotary phones and books. A transistor radio would last decades. If you go to a Goodwill store, you can probably pick up an AM radio made in nineteen seventy-four. Take it home, plug it in, and it will still work. If you had one those heavy, Bakelite rotary phones from the nineteen sixties, you could hammer a nail into the wall or crush the skull of a burglar with the handset, and it would still work. On my bookshelf, I have a pocket Bible given to me as a gift. It was printed in nineteen thirty four. It still works too.

Being in the telecommunications field, I have to stay up on the latest technology. Nevertheless, I am also a fan of artisanship, craftsmanship, of finely made things, things that will last generations.

I have a Winchester shotgun that is twenty years older than I am. I refinished the stock last year and it looks wonderful. It will last a few more generations, and break a few more thousand targets if I take it out the safe enough times. I have a saddle that was made for me seventeen years ago; it’s just now getting broken in. If I could find a nineteen forties era Martin guitar, or a nineteen sixties Fender Stratocaster, or Gibson Les Paul, I would sell all three dogs, both cats, and a few cows, to buy a handmade guitar like that. Well, I would have to clear it with the boss first, but she knows how much I would love to have one.

In our single serving, microwaved, high-speed data driven world, is there still an appreciation for well-made things?

Do you ever look at a piece of handmade furniture and appreciate the detailed joinery, how every piece was hand fitted, shaped, sanded, and rubbed with eight coats of finish, to get it just right? Can you look at a nineteen fifty nine Chevrolet Impala, or a forty nine Mercury Coupe and enjoy the lines, the style, the beauty of a classic car? Have you ever taken the time to read a poem by Whitman, or become wrapped up in a book by Falkner? Can you stand at the foot of a stone bridge and take in the imagination of the designer, the skill of the stonecutter, the hand fitting labor it took to make that bridge, one hundred years ago?

I hope we are not becoming so caught up in the next new thing, the latest improvement, the newest wonder-gadget that promises to make our life better, or more likely, to keep us entertained, that we forget the simple beauty of a well made thing.

No comments: