Writer Thomas Hayden has made quite a stir in the blogosphere recently with his provocatively titled post “In Praise of Crap Technology” on the site The Last Word On Nothing. Acting as a sort of modern day Martin Luther going up against the seemingly unassailable papal fortress of the Steve Jobs legacy, Hayden eschews high-end toys like the iPhone in favor of cheap, sturdy stuff that actually works. He cites his $20 Coby MP3 player, his Roadace 404 bike, his durable-but-unlovely pair of eyeglasses, and his son’s hand-assembled wooden garbage truck as examples of the “crap” technology he so loves.
“I’ve stepped off the escalators of feature creep and planned obsolescence, and all the expense and toxic e-waste that come with them,” he says. “Crap technology, it turns out, is green technology.”
Hear-hear, I say. I too am interested in a phone that functions primarily as a device for making and receiving calls. I refuse to buy a Kindle because I think the centuries-old invention of the book works just fine. My go-to guitar is a $100 ($75 on sale) Rogue acoustic that may have been thrown together in China but plays really damn well. Additionally, I have to confess to an obsession with just about any technology that has been “superseded” but that works extremely well: typewriters, turntables, reel-to-reel tape decks, Betamax VCRs, Brother word processors, minidisc recorders, and my most recent discovery: the NEC MobilePro 900c, a distraction-free writing device if there ever was one. All of these things (with the possible exception of turntables, which are suddenly in vogue again) can be purchased for pennies on the dollar on Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, or your local Goodwill.
So obviously I am fully on-board with Hayden’s philosophy, and if anything I take it much further (and in a far more neurotic direction) than he ever intended. My chief issue with his piece is his designation of his favored devices as “crap” technology. To be sure, that catchy phrase probably contributed to Hayden being invited to appear on NPR’s Markeplace program last week, but I can’t for the life of me see how a bike that runs just as well now as it did in 1980 could ever be referred to as “crap”–even in jest. By way of comparison, does anyone seriously think we’ll be using 2011 iPads in thirty years? No, of course not; we’ll be on to the next trend. So it seems to me that Hayden, by using the term “crap technology,” is still buying subconsciously into the notion that his decision to choose the sturdy and functional over the fancy and transient is somehow something he needs to apologize for–or at least lace with writerly irony.
Mr. Hayden, I am your soul brother. But I am going to have to find another name for this shared passion of ours. “Functional” technology? “Value” technology? I need something that swings. Anyone have any ideas?
Robert Dean Lurie is the author of No Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and The Church