Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 12.18

The IT department at my day job has the biggest budget in the company, and they need it to keep pace with our ever-progressing computer software and hardware needs. (Incidentally, they’re also sneaky enough to upgrade our desktops and laptops before I have a chance to clear the porn from my cache memory.)

I’ve been wanting to splurge on a high-def television for some time now, but when I start to shop around, it seems a new model that gives you a massage and does your taxes is always just about to become available.

I’ve had my current cell phone for only about a year, but people with iPhones and all the other latest devices that recognize songs, take video, navigate the highway system, and land the space shuttle look at it like it’s a painting on a cave wall.

And recently, Polaroid announced it will cease production of its instant filmthis month. Sixty years after it introduced its first instant camera, the company’s iconic film will no longer be available to shutterbugs, though many photogs claim to still use it regularly.

So today’s Inquisition is twofold:

Is technology advancing faster than consumers can keep up? And what, if any, outmoded technologies do you hang on to and still use?

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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71 Comments

  1. I don’t really have an opinion on the first one, but as for the second I’m going to go with pen and paper. I love to write things down, not to mention that PostIts and the like are still way more convenient than their electronic equivalent.

  2. Tech is definitely advancing too fast for many consumers, but then most of the advances are shit really don’t need. Be smart with your money, people!

    ‘Outmoded’ tech I still use? Well, I have a digital camera, but I still prefer my film cameras. Especially the Pentax K1000 with which I learned photography. No auto-focus, and I have to adjust the exposure. For outdoor photography especially, it takes much better pics.

  3. @Joshua: I suck at writing notes! If I attempt to write a note, I will use 3 or 4 post-its, because I am not happy with how the previous 2 or 3 were written. Yes, OCD. Also, I type a hell of a lot faster than I can write. I will actually write notes on Notepad and print them out. It’s horrible lol.

  4. I think most people with average incomes are just behind. For instance, I bought a Blackjack II recently because it was $50 refurbished. No way in hell could I afford a new iPhone or the new Blackjack touch (whatever it is called). But my phone is perfect and far more advanced than my last, very simple LG.

    I have an mp3 player, but it’s not an iPod and it’s about a year old. It’s perfect for me. It gets FM radio (yay NPR!), and plays video (which I don’t use much).

    My laptop is a few years old, but fine for what I need (I don’t game).

    I think it’s fine that technology goes a bit faster than we keep up, because for most of us, the later model is just fine — and since it’s the later model, it’s usually much cheaper than the newer model. That’s why I was able to buy an awesome phone for $50, while the newer model is selling for $300+.

  5. Oooh, and I am SO behind the times when it comes to TV. I don’t have cable. I have rabbit ears! And an oldish tv. I needed to get a digital converter! (Which actually gives me better reception so I wish I hadn’t waited so long! And now I get like, 4 PBS channels woot!)

    I just don’t watch that much on-air TV. The few shows I watch regularly I either download (shhh lol), go to hulu.com, or wait until it comes out on NetFlix.

    In fact, I LOVE my NetFlix. Right now, to save money, I only have the one-at-a-time deal, which is just under $10/month after tax, but still enables me to watch unlimited Watch Now streams. Which is awesome because I am not usually interested in newer movies — I love the indie and foreign flicks that NetFlix has in abundance, and I LOVE old TV shows.

    I am NOT ashamed that I watched the entire 3rd season of Facts of Life this past weekend on NetFlix.

  6. It’s always been that way. Manufacturers push out new products just fast enough to keep low-attention-span early adopters happy and to keep patent royalties flowing. Most people hang back and let the fanboys lacerate themselves on the cutting edge. Eventually, a stable product falls out of the melee and things settle down a bit until the Next Big Thing.

    Me, I have a low-def TV, regular DVD player and a beat up old cell phone that pretty much just makes phone calls.

    On the other hand, my shiny new laptop runs Intrepid Ibex. You have to have your priorities, after all.

  7. I’ll echo @Gabrielbrawley with the bicycle thing, but disagree that it is “outmoded”. The bicycle shall rise again!

    My favorite woodworking tools: a Record No. 7 jointer plane and a 1/2 chisel (scary sharp, natch) are 19th century technology. My favorite weeding tool is still a hoe.

    Technology is tricky. What counts as “outmoded”? My Sony Viao Laptop is 5 years old, but it still does everything I need a laptop to do. My desktop is 4 yrs old, but ditto.

    I don’t view myself as a Luddite. It’s just that some technology got well beyond good enough a while back and there is just no reason to replace it. I really don’t understand why anyone but a hard-core gamer would want to upgrade their desk computer any more.

    There are plenty of technologies I’d love to buy, but they’re not good enough yet. Ebook readers come to mind. It’ll be interesting to see what the Kindle 2 is. Medium-format digital cameras. There is no reason you can’t build the equivalent of a medium-format camera into the size of a 35-mm camera body. Electronic sensors freed us the physical size of the focal plane controlling the image size. We just await the next advance in sensor technology. We need also need true speech-to-text. If it takes a 16-core, terabyte, petaflop computer to make it work right I’ll be first in line.

  8. hmmm.
    Well, I still occasionally use my VCR. I’m not sure that counts as obsolete just yet.

    I found a Kodak Disc and a 110 film camera the other day, but I haven’t used either in ages. Probably don’t count.

    I have a few boxes of old 8-tracks and LP’s that I no longer have any way of playing, but I keep for sentimental reasons.

    My TV is about five years old and is not ready for the digital changeover, but I have DirecTV, so that really doesn’t matter, either.

    My computer has a Pentium 4 processor. Not too shabby yet.

    I guess I’m reasonably up to date. Who ‘da thunk it? :-D

  9. @Gabrielbrawley: It’s only outmoded if you’re still riding a Velocipede http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velocipede

    Even though I’m a digital “artist”, I still use pencil and paper to flesh out my ideas before opening up Photoshop. I also prefer to write my notes down on paper rather than type them. And one thing I’ll never replace is my book collection. I can’t stand to read long passages on a monitor, I stare at monitors all day long as it is. Books > Ebooks, in my opinion.

  10. I love my 1080p plasma and DVR. Then again I love my shovel and custom made compost bins and would never think of depriving my muscles the pleasure of shoveling snow. In the car I like to listen to music sometimes. I like listening to the radio which I suppose is real old school. I like the quiet of the woods when walking and the sounds of people in public places so I’ve never had a big interest in walking around with ear buds shoved in my head. Cell phones are for talking on so I’ll leave most of the texting to my kids. I love my old school Cannon A1 and shoot black and white with a tripod while attempting something Ansell Adams like. But for all other picture taking my point and shoot spiffy modern digital is the only way to go.

  11. Unfortunately, I can’t really use it anymore, as a landline phone is just the next worst thing to useless now, but I’ve got a 1938 red-bar telephone that I love dearly. I used it up until about 3 years ago, but now it’s just an ornament.

  12. @DMS: Especially the Pentax K1000 with which I learned photography
    ———–

    Pentax makes a fairly cheap digital back that will use all the same lenses. I want one… but I still use my K1K as well. Probably the toughest 35mm ever built.

  13. Planned obsolescence is why “the latest and greatest” tech toys are outdated on a yearly basis. They hold back features this year so that they have a “new and improved” version to try and sell people next year, when they could actually have released it last year. That’s what’s been happening since at least the mid-sixties. It’s a method to try and increase profits. How many of the new features actually increase the convenience and functionality of a product? Are the new features just neat and amusing? Except maybe for their wallet, consumers can keep up if they want. Personally, I’d rather not keep up with most of it because it’s crap I don’t really need.

    Old tech I still use? Ricoh 35mm SLR, RWD only pickup truck (easier to work on plus better MPG), Windows 2000 Professional and XP Professional (Vista is bloatware junk), Microsoft Office 2000, NVIDEA FX5200 AGP graphics card, a 3 year old cell phone, and a bicycle.

  14. @davew: I’ll give up my power drill before I forsake my Yankee Screwdriver.

    I’m a real mix, camping I have the latest syl-nylon tarps and gore-tex socks but still use a flint and steel to light my fires. I have a shiny new TV but am rockin’ a P3 home computer.

    The only thing I like more than a new piece of technology that makes life better is an old piece that has yet to be bested. In the end all the stuff we use is technology the only question is how you pick what to use and what to discard. If it works, is comfortable, affordable and doesn’t offend my sense of style then it’s cool whether it’s old or new.

  15. @davew: I couldn’t agree more about computers. I wish my 5 year old motherboard hadn’t fried a couple of months ago. I had to replace the processor too, since they don’t make any boards that take the old socket.

  16. I too have some areas where I want cutting edge and others where I could careless. I need the latest and greatest in all things bicylcing but still have a land line phone that isn’t even cordless. TV is old and I have basic cable that I never watch. I need the newest ipod available. Cutting edge is important only if it is cutting edge where your passion is.

  17. @Knurl:
    I started with the Pentax Spotmatic, so I’m even older than you guys with your bayonet-mount K1000’s. :)
    However, I did update to a ZX-7 (and a set of bayonet-mount lenses), and now use the lenses on a *ist DS and a K20D. No going back to film now – the new digital SLRs (DSLR) have as good or better quality, instant feedback, and are so much cheaper in the long run than buying film.
    Outdated technology: I keep a corded landline phone on hand in case of power outages.

  18. I have a mobile phone that is just a phone. It doesn’t send email, it doesn’t show me maps of my surroundings, it doesn’t track my shipments of increasingly obscure foreign pornography. It makes phone calls and, if I can’t possibly avoid it, sends text messages.

    In fact, I’ve flirted with the idea of starting a mobile phone service called “Justa Phone.” The target consumer would be a stone-age throwback like myself, who doesn’t want to accidentally take photos of his genitals and email them to his grandmother while trying to call and order a pizza.

    I’ve got the plan. All I need is many, many millions of dollars in start-up capital.

    EDIT: Aw crap, somebody beat me to it.

  19. I’ve given up on smart phones now since they aren’t even close to being the tricorder I really want, and the data services are too expensive.

    I like the discussion on cameras and bikes but to me, it seems like the basics are all still there just with slight tech upgrades.

    So, to me its all about the manual shovel in the snow, the reel push mower, and the rake….

  20. @Ssteppe: Man, would I like to see your Pentax!

    When I was taking Graphic Arts in high school and using the K1000, my heighbor came over with a 35mm Honeywell rangefinder from the ’50’s. It didn’t have the standard shutter speeds and F-stops we’re familiar with today. I don’t recall the details. I shot a couple of rolls, but couldn’t get the hang of the exposures because I couldn’t figure out just what the settings actually were. The optics semed pretty good for something that old.

    Besides my Ricoh XR-S (a solar powered XR) I have a Kodak Tourist Camera from the mid-forty’s or so. It’s a fold out bellows camera that uses 620 film. The last time I could find film for it was about 1983. It had also developed a very minor light leak in the bellows by then. It has stanfard F-stops (8.8 – 32) but the shutter speeds are 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, Time, and Bulb.

    With your digital SLR, does it pause for a split second or shoot immediately when you hit the shoot button? That’s the problem I’ve come across with several digital point and shoot cameras.

  21. I work in tech, but I’m not really in the gadget race. I easily get fatigued by always needing new toys, plus I don’t have the money for it. I love my MacbookPro, but I only have it because my boss gave it to me. I have one of the most basic phones on the market, a secondhand iPod shuffle, and a secondhand digital camera. I’m very uncool among my work circles. :)

    Technology is awesome – it’s the basis of my career, and my passion. But it’s there to help improve our lives, not control or replace our lives, and I think some people, in the endless quest for more and better stuff, forget that.

  22. Land line telephone. I have always hated telephony, and speak on the phone as little as possible. The idea of a cell phone is abhorrent to me. The incredible complexity of phone plans with respect to hardware/software/network certainly works against any desire I might have to get one. Mom asked if me if I wanted a cell phone for Christmas, and I looked into it. The hardware I want is not available on the network I want with the features I want. I could not find a single combination of features that would actually do what I might want a cell phone to do. So screw ’em.

    When I do use hi-tech devices, I tend to use them for antiquated media. The first DVD I bought was a collection of German silent films; I loaded up my first iPod with mp3s of Edison cylinders and Old Time Radio programs.

    I suppose if I could get a cell phone with a party line, I might be interested. :)

  23. I still have a cassette player and rock my mix tapes from high school. My VHS collection is obsolete. During my most recent foray as video store employee (circa 2007) I learned that VHS are no longer mass produced. I don’t have a digital camera…However, the only old-timey stuff I possess on purpose would be a record player and vinyl collection. It isn’t because I’m vintage or cool. It’s because I’m a social worker. Records are cheaper than Iphones or Blue Rays or new mac devices or mid-range quality digital cameras. I

  24. @wytworm: Will a digital “SLR” shoot the first shot as fast as you can snap your fingers? Will it shoot from the hip?

    I’m not snarking or trolling (you all know that). I’ve checked out a bunch of $400 -$500 demos including Nikon that fire slow. Does anyone here know if there’s a digital (not necessarily with changeable lenses) that can shoot the first shot as fast as a film camera? That’s the ticket on getting real stuff. Just asking.

  25. I too still have my K1000. I have been leaning toward getting a digital SLR though because getting good quality film is getting harder.

    The one thing I will never give up though is music on vinyl. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever own an MP3 player. All convenience aside every time I listen to one it just sounds so terrible.

  26. Oh shit yes. I have a mobile phone. I can talk to people on it and, in an absolutely emergency, send an SMS. That’s it.

    I’ve never owned a smartphone, a games console, an e-book reader or a GPS system. I do have four different mp3 players, of which only one is by a “name” brand – a cheap 4GB stick from Philips.

    Our laptop struggles to run Windows XP and we don’t own anything even remotely capable of running Vista (not that I would install it if I could).

    We bought out first flat-screen TV three months ago to save on floorspace. The bastard thing has been at the repair shop for the last three weeks.

    I’m a software engineer. Am I untypical?

  27. @Knurl:
    Yeah. What I have found is 500 or 600 shots in when the battery is dying it can slow down if it needs to charge the flash. Otherwise it is pretty instant. You can try them out at camera shops. I have a Nikon D70 which is a pretty old DLSR as far as they go. D300 is what I am looking into…

  28. @csrster:

    I feel your pain on this one, though we moved to flat screen HDTV when my Sony Trinatron 32 inch died…after only 10 years. I am disappointed that it had such a short shelf life. For a CRT that sucks.

    We replaced it with a Sharp Aquos LCD HDV and it is rock solid so far…

  29. That being said, I think technology is moving nicely in some areas and is pretty disappointing in others.

    Where is my hovercraft? Why do I still have to worry about dying some day? How are half the people in the world starving and without 24/7 power and clean water?

  30. @davew:
    “My favorite woodworking tools: a Record No. 7 jointer plane and a 1/2 chisel (scary sharp, natch) are 19th century technology.”

    19th century? Are you kidding? This tech was old in the 19th century BCE. Here’s some old tech you should investigate. It’s called a history book. It will tell you that the modern era actually began before the Kennedy administration.

  31. I only have a desktop computer… no laptop. Never owned a laptop.

    I prefer a paper wall calendar to any calendar technology. I can’t hit the “I’ll do it later” button on my calendar… plus it’s all pictures of sexy smart chicks!

  32. @Elyse:

    Plus it is the most irritatingly un-advanced and useless expression of technology. It is beyond belief that I cannot to this day share a calendar with my wife and friends across our desktops, pc/mac cell phones, et al

    I blame microsoft for owning the market then using that ownership to stop working on making email and calendars work right.

    Apple has a better idea about it but is obsessed with the proprietary-ness of their own solution.

  33. @knurl: Planned obsolesence is why I still have all kinds of stuff still in use. I use tech until it breaks and can no longer be repaired economically (or at all).

    The problem is becoming one where manufacturer’s are building tech that is not repairable. I find it almost impossible to get stuff repaired anymore without getting a sales spiel about how “…for just a little more, you can have a new one.” If I wanted a farking NEW one, I wouldn’t be in the SERVICE department with the old one, now would I? (My best John Cleese persona)

    It used to be easy to find someone to repair a TV or stereo (Indeed, my grandfather used to do this. I still remember the vacuum tube testers in all of the stores), but more often I find that the big box stores have driven the small repair shops out of business and now use their “service departments” as an arm of their sales force. :-(

    We still have a land line phone, but only because the town I live in has spotty cell coverage and my wife is a telecommuter that needs a land line for faxes.

  34. @QuestionAuthority:

    We still have a land line phone, but only because the town I live in has spotty cell coverage and my wife is a telecommuter that needs a land line for faxes.

    Before yesterday, I would have said, “Who the hell faxes anymore?” But I had to send some account information to our payroll department in Connecticut, and the process still in place for that is:

    1. print forms
    2. fill out forms with pen
    3. fax forms to payroll

    And we are a software company with an extensive global network!

    The payroll associate got a little snippy with me when I ranked her out for being the only department in the company still killing trees. Of course I didn’t want to piss off someone who has my account information and can “lose” my paycheck, so I shut up.

  35. @SamOgden: Good move. Paycheck = :-) No paycheck = very, very :-(

    Even some major companies still fax documents. You’d think by now that e-mailing PDF or something would be fine, but…
    Don’t even get me started about working on an Army base. I think they still use carrier pigeons for inter-office mail.

  36. @QuestionAuthority: We are being forced to live in a disposable society. More money is generated by replacing a unit than repairing. That’s fine if you have the money to spend, but quite frankly I generally don’t. The really sad thing is that such philosophy ignores the burn rate of resources and environmental damage from discarded products.

  37. Oh my, about four years ago I worked for Trellix and QA’ed their Trellix Web cllient software. It is a web publishing tool and loved it for building and publishing websites quickly.

    I used it for years and then when XP became the OS I found it no longer worked and had to abandon it.

    Recently I got a computer with Vista 128 as the OS and for kicks threw in a copy of Trellix Web, works like a charm and now I am so happy to be able to use it again.

  38. You crazy kids with your newfangled telephones, horseless-carriages, moveable type, irrigation based agriculture, stone monoliths, and larynx’s placed low in the neck in order to produce the full range of sounds necessary for human speech. Bah!

  39. @ davew – There is some fundamental physics that makes it impossible to “build the equivalent of a medium-format camera into the size of a 35-mm camera body” – no matter how good digital sensors may someday become. Lenses are ultimately diffraction-limited, no matter how well-designed and well-manufactured. You can similarly think of a lens as a communication channel, and all communication channels have a finite limit to how much information they can pass.

    The highest-resolution DSLR sensors on the market today are already getting close to capturing the theoretical maximum amount of information that lenses designed for 35mm-format bodies could possibly transmit. (And those ridiculous point-and-shoot digital cameras with a teeny-tiny lens projecting onto a teeny-tiny sensor that has 11 or 12 megapixels crammed onto it??? Sorry, that lens ain’t sending that much information to that sensor.)

    The only way around diffraction limits and similar maximum-information limits is to build a much wider lens that projects onto much wider sensor. So, if you need even more resolution than the current top-of-the line Canon and Nikon DSLRs, you’re forced back to medium-format sized lenses on medium-format sized bodies if you want to avoid the pointless absurdity of a sensor that has higher resolution than the diffraction-limited lens it is looking through.

    So, you can drop about $40,000 on a Hasselblad medium-format digital camera, and rest easy knowing that no future 35-mm-sized body will ever be able to have similar resolution, no matter how good sensors become.

    On the other hand, there are very, very few photographic jobs that could use the 30 or 40 megapixel resolution available from medium-format-sized digital cameras. Unless the print size is really huge, the paper – not being infinitely smooth – can’t be printed with that much information/resolution on it anyway.

  40. @Knurl: Actually, I still have the Pentax Spotmatic – I use it when teaching science (lenses) and health (the eye – iris, lens, etc.) Excellent demonstration tool.
    Technically, your K1000, being mechanical, is “always on”, so it’s fairer to compare a DSLR to an auto-exposure, auto-focus, motor-drive film SLR, which has a power switch. But when it’s powered up, a DSLR is just as fast to first shot as a comparable film camera. (And some DSLR’s are ready to shoot within 1/2 second of pressing the power button, so no problem keeping up with your K1000.)
    Point and shoots aren’t in the same league as DSLRs. They can take excellent photographs, but if you like your SLR, you need to compare to a DSLR, not a point and shoot.
    I was a die-hard film user (35mm and 120) until the late 90’s. Still used film for serious work until a few years ago. But digital has finally surpassed film in enlargement quality. With my K20D, I can print 24×36 enlargements that are sharper than 35mm film can produce. No going back to film for me.
    Keeping with thread topic – I still use a traditional charcoal grill and smoker. Better flavor than gas, although not as convenient.

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