Friday, July 20, 2007

how I miss my Fisher Space Pen

Subtraction is a blog by Khoi Vinh, the design director for the New York Times website. Among other things, he had a recent post on the fact that, unlike other elegantly designed items, most modern electronics, while often being shockingly well designed, are, due to planned obsolescence and somewhat to the current dominant high-tech design philosophy, are doomed to deteriorating inelegantly, if not catastrophically. The question being, why can't our iPods age gracefully, or even improve over time, like cast-iron pans or good luggage? The battered condition of your laptop or cellphone should be a badge of pride instead of an embarrassment.

My contribution to this discussion is that while lots of currently electronics are taking the right first step in divorcing enclosure from content, they all seem to have it backwards, providing interchangeable or replaceable shells for the (currently expensive) interior components. But, as hardware eventually becomes obsolete, why has nobody examined the possibility of creating a long-lasting, beautiful exterior with upgradable guts? There are obvious hurdles like proprietary hardware and no standard dimensions for most components, but some companies have more control over the future of their hardware than others. I'd be perfectly happy with recycling my cellphone hardware once a year, even paying for it, as long as it had a nice, heavy cast-iron shell. As it is, I just have to keep my trashy hinged plastic model for longer than it can really survive.

In a related note, there was a pretty fantastic article in the NYT about planned obsolescence and the unfortunate orphans it leaves in it's wake. Running shoes and digital watches aren't really getting any better, but great designs are often thrown by the wayside instead of being treated as the classics they could be, just so the parent companies can advertise something brand new. Given the iconic power of objects like Converse All-Stars and old-school Casios, it seems that perhaps better attention could be paid to recognising and preserving contemporary common classics. I'll leave you to find the article, but I will point you as far as the comments section, full of New Yorkers grieving for lost gel pens and Honda CRVs. I hope that these people carry on their collective yearning and form a society devoted to the preservation of lost common objects, tiny pieces of locally perfect design that are in danger of being forgotten.

1 comment:

T said...

And the Minidisc player! This obsolescence of our objects is a fascinating topic. Especially as our relationships with objects become more intense and more complicated. We lust after the objects and yet once that new cellphone is in our hands, we trash it. Because we've come to learn as consumers that the electronics we grow attached to are essentially disposable.