Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Once again I have been lazy. I have no excuse.

There is a good article by Beth Daily at the Boston Globe about how there is an enormous market for secondhand industrial and transportation technologies in second- and third-world countries. When a city replaces its bus fleet, or a factory goes out of business and its power plant is dismantled, the detrious is recycled in a very literal way-- it is shipped and reassembled in Guatamala, or Kenya, or Sri Lanka. It is a large scale version of what Bruce Sterling calls "the new composting the old," with "outdated" technologies not disappearing but merely retreating out of the view of those of us who remain slavishly up-to-date, becoming cheaper and more receptive to hacking or modifying.

The article takes the slant of sustainability, and does a good job of conveying the complexity of the issue-- reuse is good, but often repurposed items (such as diesel buses) are replaced because they are polluting or inefficient-- the idea being that, when that coal power plant next door shuts down, it actually will spew carbon for another 50 years or so, only in South America.

I'm tempted to step aside all of this calculation and simply be satisfied that things are being used to their fullest extent; that the world is becoming more complex and interconnected, at a very basic and ground up level, every day. I can only wait for the day when we start using secondhand robots from Nicaragua, or retitled Balinese spacecraft. The world of the secondhand is mostly immune from the world of branding and global identitiy -- what is getting sold is the possibility for energy, or conveyance, or communication. And an intangible alien quality that never quite diminishes with age.

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