Saturday, January 12, 2008

Recently Watched: The Story of Stuff

You too can watch the Story of Stuff right here.

And now that you've done that, we can think about stuff.

Now, there are a lot of things in the video I can agree with, if they're true. If it's true that it's actually physically impossible for every person on Earth to simultaneously experience the same quality of life as those of us in North America, then that's pretty sad. If it's true that our quality of life is built on the backs of the "developing" world, then that's pretty sad. I'm not at all sure what can be done about it, but there you go.

At the same time, I really get the feeling that not everything in the video adds up, but I don't really have the facts to confirm or deny most of what is in the video.

However, when I watched the part about planned obsolescence of computers, I got the same feeling I get when seeing computers portrayed in most movies: it's all just wrong. It's so wrong that it calls into question every other claim presented in the film.

The main problem is the claim that only one tiny part of your computer changes from year to year, and the only difference is the shape of the socket (hence the "planned obsolescence" claim).

Now, presumably she's talking about the CPU. It's completely ignorant to suggest that
any CPU should be able to work on any motherboard. There have been major technological advances made in CPU speeds, and the supporting clock frequency from the motherboard, on-board system software, front-side bus speed, memory bus speed band, and any of a dozen other technological advances of the last several years are necessary to make it work. Technically it might be possible to build a significantly faster CPU and put it on an old motherboard, but it would be so hampered by the rest of the system not advancing along with it there would hardly be much point.

RAM, hard drives, video cards have all improved, and not in any planned-obsolescence way, but in a we-didn't-know-how-to-build-it-before way. Technological progress is not the same thing as planned obsolescence, although it might look the same to someone who doesn't know any better.

Now, that doesn't invalidate the point that maybe we don't actually need all those big improvements and could be happy with playing text adventures on our ancient PCs. I'm not sure that encouraging that sort of technological stagnation would be a good idea either - the only reason we're not all starving to death is due to technological advancement. The entertainment industry is an interesting one, and I work right in the middle of it so my perception of it is probably colored. I never find it quite as evil as she might like to paint it though - we don't plan to make new games to make the old ones obsolete, people simply stop buying them after six months (on average).

To be honest, I find American consumerism excessive and disgusting. As with all things, balance is key, and there is no balance or happiness there. Consuming seems to be the end goal, not happiness, which is a very bizarre way to approach life.

So, I'm going to keep driving my Civic Hybrid, recycling as much as I can, and just generally be a moderate consumer. I'm also going to buy DVDs once in a while, upgrade my computer when I can't play new games any more, and generally have a little fun once in a while.

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