My Life in Words

The Other Side of Tech. Advancements

May 17 , 2005

I understand the frustration many people feel over the constant state of flux in modern technology.   Indeed, it seems that current computer systems are out of date the moment they are purchased and set up.   Ted Hodges' article for Low End Mac's "My Turn" column does a good job of voicing these frustrations.   Hodges makes the argument that hardware becomes obsolete so quickly primarily because software developers are consciously developing larger, more bloated software that do not run effectively on older hardware.   He also points out that we, as the average consumer, do not really need "3+ GHz processors, gigabytes of RAM, 250 GB hard drives, 16x DVD burners, 256 MB graphics cards, and displays with resolutions of 2560 x 1600" to be productive.   While there is some truth to his assertions, there is another side to this argument as well.

Hodges clearly has a broad gasp of technological concepts, but the arguments he gives are limited.   He states that "The Internet doesn't go any faster just because you have a faster computer. Your CDs and DVDs don't play any better just because you have a faster computer. The human eye cannot tell the difference between 40 frames per second and 500."   First of all, the internet as an entity does not "go" any faster no matter what hardware you are using, but load time on individual machines can be improved greatly by larger, faster memory modules, faster ethernet plugs, and finally - yes, it's true - faster processors.   It is also true that CDs and DVDs will not play any better on a faster computer, but on a computer with the aforementioned 256 MB graphics cards, that DVD will certainly look a whole lot better.   On the same token, it may be that the human eye cannot differentiate between individual cycles, but the end result of 500 frames per second is a clearer, better picture.

Hodges' arguments also do not take into account the broader technological and economic pictures.   What we see in the consumer market is a direct reflection of the dramatic growth in other, more productive areas.   For instance, the same technological advances that have given us the above-mentioned hardware advancements have also made it possible for scientists to engage in more advanced research, students to engage in more active study and learning techniques, and engineers to design and develop safer cars, structures, and everything else we use in every day life.   At the same time, as consumers demand this same high level for their home use, it is driving the manufacturers to produce more of the technology at a cheaper price.   In short, consumer demand is also helping to keep prices lower for the true professionals striving to make our lives better, and those training to become them.  

The same cost concept applies to other areas as well.   As consumers with greater financial means are pushing the industry for "bigger, faster, more," it is driving prices down even further on the less expensive machines, making it easier for low-income families and financially-strapped school districts, among others, to experience the same greater benefits at a more affordable cost.   Further, as wealthier consumers upgrade to the newest hardware, it leaves the previous generation, often still very capable, available for donation to places that have a true need, and for whom even the increase to outdated hardware would be dramatic.  

But wait, we can go even further.   The BBC Online recently ran an article citing statistics which showed that computer use is growing at its fastest rate in third world Africa and Asia.   Again, as wealthier citizens of wealthier nations are pushing for "bigger, faster, more," it is making technology cheaper and more available for everyone else as well.  

I really do understand the frustrations of those like Hodges; it is expensive to stay on the cutting edge of technology.   There is a broader picture here though, and it needs to be seen as well.   While Hodges sees the selfish greed of developers driving computer users to spend more money, more often to stay on the cutting edge, I see consumer demand for newer, better products driving up quality of learning and life in other areas of the country and the world.

I agree with Hodges - get out your old computer, dust it off, turn it on, make sure it runs.   Then donate it to a worthy charity.   While you're at it, go out and buy yourself a nice machine too.   Whenever you start it up, remind yourself how lucky you are to be able to afford it and that paying for it is, in turn, paying for increases in quality of education and life elsewhere.



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