Just a Theory

By David E. Wheeler

Disposable Computing

Minimalist Steve Jobs

Over the last year or so, we’ve been on a “clear out the junk” kick in our house. We’ve gotten rid of all of our CDs, most of our books, and a lot of clutter and crap in our house. It’s kind of funny, because as a former academic, I’ve always liked having stuff, especially lots of books. But no more. I mainly want to read books on my iPad or iPhone nowadays and have less clutter in the house. I’m at the point now that, when I saw Panic’s commemoration of Steve Jobs yesterday — featuring a recently-discovered photo of Steve sitting on the floor or his house with nothing but a lamp, a stereo, and a mug of tea — I thought to myself, “now that’s about right.” Nothing but the essentials.

I think that Steve’s philosophy of minimalism applies just as well to most Mac products. I don’t mean only not in the way most folks have discussed ad nauseam: the simple interfaces, few buttons, smooth edges. But also in the quality. Apple products are meant to be used — well used — for a long time. Macs famously last longer than PCs, and the build quality of the unibody MacBook Pros, Airs, iPhones, and iPads, is universally lauded. I’ve had a few iPhones since 2007, and have always managed to get a good price for them via Craig’s List, not only because people want them, but because they were still in good shape after extended use. These products are meant to last.

Kindle

Marco Arment’s $79 Kindle review catalyzed these thoughts for me. The words that really struck me were “cheap” and “disposable.” The new low-end Kindle is designed to be disposable. Money quote:

Knowing that this new Kindle costs less than the cover for my Kindle 2 is freeing: I can just carry it around uncased and unprotected in a (large) pocket, use it anywhere, and not worry about damaging an expensive electronic item, because it’s not. And it’s so inexpensive that I have no hesitation recommending it to pretty much anyone who ever reads books, because I know that if they end up disliking it or not using it much, it wasn’t a lot of money.

It also means that, if you have it for six or twelve months and it breaks, it’s not a big deal to buy another one. A year later, another. Pretty soon you have a bunch of these things in your house, collecting like corpses in a cemetery. Because they’re so cheap to begin with, once they break, they’re not worth anything at all. You won’t be able to sell them to anyone. They’re just junk at that point.

iPad

I’m over junk culture. I hate wasteful packaging, but even worse is wasteful products. I don’t want a cheap, crappy Kindle, because in a year it will just be more trash — either additional household clutter or landfill. We already generate way too much waste, especially in the US. I think it’s a much better investment to buy a product with good build quality, that’s built to last. Not only will my iPad last me for years, but it will still have value years from now. It’s far more likely that it will still be functional in two years than the $79 Kindle will be, or even two or three Kindles.

The iPad is a Contigo thermal mug; the Kindle is a Dixie cup. I’ll take the quality and durability every time. Longer term, it likely won’t cost me any more — and certainly costs the planet less.

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