Home Engineering The dark side of technology
Replacements before obsolescence
Manufacturer-driven obsolescence is forced on many of us by the markets of computer operating systems and software. In part, they may reflect improvements in the technology, but for many, the extra features available in replacement packages are non-essential. I carefully chose the word ‘may’, as the improvements being offered by the new software are often unwanted and, I suspect, for a vast number of us, the software packages contain far more gimmicks and processing power than we have ever used, or we may not even recognize that it exists within the package version we are running.
The only clear effect is that new software seems less efficient, as it consumes a greater chunk of the computer memory, requires frequent updates (maybe to fix errors that have been discovered), and means some earlier programmes are no longer functional. Quite often it will cause the entire computer to be inadequate, and we need a replacement as well as the new operating system. In such examples with mobile phones and software, the ‘updating’ is trying to force us to buy new, on a timescale of one or two years.
The really irritating features of ‘upgrades’, format changes, and new access devices is that our documentation that was stored on earlier formats and read with earlier software may suddenly become inaccessible. No matter how much the software companies pontificate that we should update everything to the new format, this is unrealistic. So, whereas at one time all our business letters, bank details, and family records could be securely kept on paper in a cupboard for the rare times that we needed access (e.g. for probate), all these data are now irretrievably lost. Worse is that the current ones are accessible to skilled hackers. Electronically stored photos will also be lost when software and formats change. The concern and examples of cybercrime that I cited earlier should equally make us concerned about long-term security of any records that we store only electronically.
I admit that some updates are essential, but a recent discovery of one major operating system revealed that it had an inherent weakness against illegal Internet access. This feature had existed for 20 years before it was spotted. Such revelations do not inspire confidence. External access to our private lives, computers, data, and references is clearly an increasing problem, and numerous international examples of major companies and government agencies being security breached merely emphasize that for the general user we are very vulnerable. This is not unfounded paranoia (e.g. I have already cited the example of the Kremlin spending 50,000 euros on electric typewriters, precisely to maintain security). We should not forget that banking details in handwritten ledgers have survived for centuries, as have historic documents. Maybe there is a new market for ledgers and record journals.
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