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Goldstuck on Gadgets

Dust off the old stuff

We all know that new technology becomes obsolete almost the moment we take it off the shop shelves, and after two or three years it has outlived its usefulness. But it doesn’t have to be that way. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK dusts off some of the tech that just goes and goes‚Ķ

Nothing gets old techie types more animated than recollections of their first computers, especially if they fell for the ancestors of the modern PC back in the mid-1970s. It was a time when you really needed to know about programming, about assembling components, and about other people who knew more than you and were happy to pass on their knowledge.

Many a cynical, hard-bitten veteran will go misty-eyed when you ask them to talk about their first ZX Spectrum or Commodore or Altair or Atari. You know, all that stuff that could do little more than show off your soldering skills, yet was powerful enough to change the world.

Until the mid-70s, when instructions for building such devices began appearing in hobbyist magazines, technology was stuff you bought once and it lasted half a lifetime. Ever since, almost anything more than three years old is lying in a cupboard or a storeroom or a landfill somewhere.

If it’s a cellphone, the industry is designed around a two-year life. Most phones crumble after a year, and urban legend has it that it’s cheaper to replace than repair most phones.

But surely it can’t ALL have gone obsolete? If a device or appliance was good enough for your grandfather, surely it must be good enough for ‚Ķ for ‚Ķ something?

That depends not only on the technology, but also on what you want to do with it, and when it was built.

The best example of old technology that still has life in it is the traditional camera. For the first time, digital cameras have reached a quality and price level where they make more sense than that old film stuff. But for many people, film remains superior. Good news: most photo kiosks still sell and develop film. A roll of 36 colour exposures costs from R34 upward. The cost of developing the film ‚ more than R100 a roll ‚ sounds the real death knell for your hobby but, if you can cope with that, nothing beats the sturdy print you can carry in your wallet or pocket.

The transistor radio is another example of technology that software companies can’t attack. Wikipedia claims it is ‚the most popular electronic communication device in history‚ , with billions sold in the 1960s and 1970s. As long as your parents or your younger self didn’t get too rough with it, there is little reason it shouldn’t still work today. And, get this, it still picks up every station that is broadcast over radio waves.

While toasters, kettles and irons are designed to disintegrate after 731 days (that’s one day after the warranty expires), microwave ovens go on and on. I used my annual bonus back in 1987 to splash out on the latest in microwave technology. The same machine graces my kitchen today, looking no more dated, and having been in for repairs only once in its lifetime.

But, also in 1987, I bought a state-of-the-art VCR. Around eight years ago a crucial part broke. Ever since, I’ve searched in vain for someone who could repair it. Perhaps it still looks too good for the landfill. Perhaps I believe in fairies. Surely it will work again someday?

* This column also appears in print, in The Citizen every Saturday. You can follow Arthur on Twitter on @art2gee

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