Technical Obsolescence and the Art of Living on the Cheap
by Sergei Boukhonine
by Sergei Boukhonine
It is always
fascinating (albeit a little sad) to watch a venerable old technology
fall into obsolescence. Remember vinyl discs and LPs? They dominated
the recording industry for decades. Then compact
cassettes dealt them as serious blow in the 1970s and compact
discs delivered the coup de gr‚ce in the 1980s. Of course, LPs
and turntables did not physically disappear Ė there are still quite
a few diehard LP fans out there who praise their analog sound as
more natural and soulful than anything digital devices are capable
of producing. Nonetheless, LPs are now a niche technology.
We live in
an era when the speed of technological obsolescence accelerated
dramatically. Quite a few venerable and perfectly usable technologies
suddenly became overshadowed by hot newcomers. Just as with LPs,
old technologies did not suddenly stop working. There are still
capable of producing decent results; more importantly, they are
now quite inexpensive if not downright dirt-cheap!
Andrew S. Fischer
argued that with judicious spending even people on modest income
could afford dignified living. If one doesnít mind using newly obsolete
technologies, living on the cheap becomes a more realistic proposition.
Letís consider a few examples.
Sets. Amazingly enough, the cathode ray tube technology
in 1897 (!!!) and dominated the television market until three
or four years ago. Projection TVs were around for quite a while,
but had a small market share. Suddenly, LCD and plasma TVs came
of age. With their prices falling, CRT TVs are in their last throes.
What does this mean to a price-conscious consumer on a budget? Great
deals! After just five minutes of browsing, I found several excellent
used TV deals e.g. a Magnavox 27-inch color TV in excellent condition
for $100 or a Magnavox 19-inch TV for $15! When I was a poor MBA
student in 1991, an affluent and generous friend sold me his 9-inch
color TV for $100 Ė it was a great deal at the time. These CRT TVs
still function just fine but can be had for a song now! In the future,
their prices are likely to plummet even further as more and more
people buy LCD and plasma sets. The increased availability of high-definition
programming is likely push prices of conventional TVs even lower.
Monitors. These cousins of CRT TVs shared their fate. Here
is an ad for a Samsung
19-inch monitor for $20! This thing would set you back $400500
just a few years ago. And it is still capable of quality equal or
exceeding that of an LCD monitor of the same size. Better still,
you can get 15- or 17-inch CRT monitors for free without too much
Computers. Even the best computer monitor is of no use without
a computer. Personal computers always had huge depreciation rates.
Itís even worse now for desktops as many folks discovered that good
laptops can serve as perfectly adequate "desktop replacements."
Personally, I like my ThinkPad so much that the very idea of going
back to a desktop is painful. So, a price-conscious consumer can
find terrific deals on used and new desktops alike. Here is a Pentium
II IBM system for $45 or best offer. While this system is not
a speed demon, it is adequate for Internet browsing, chat, and productivity
tools such as Word or Excel. Unfortunately, it will not work that
great for the latest gamesÖ
Game Consoles. OK, so your $45 computer cannot handle the
latest hot game. Here are a few gadgets that can and they donít
cost an arm and a leg. The advent of Playstation 3 and Nintendo
Wii means that prices of older consoles dropped like a stone. A
used PS2 with games can be had for less than $100. So far PS3 has
earned mixed reviews; more importantly, there are still not that
many of them shipped to customers. This means that software companies
will keep producing new games for PS2 for years to come. Mind you,
PS2 is still relatively pricy. For real rock bottom prices for both
hardware and software, check out Sega Geneses, Gamecube, Nintendo
64, PS1, original Xbox, and others.
When tired of active and physically challenging entertainment such
as video games, why not relax in front of you new old TV and watch
a movie? A VCR may come in handy. It would have to be an older movie
since most studios stopped releasing films on video cassettes two
or three years ago. This is unfortunate but, on the other hand,
both VCRs and video tapes are dirt cheap. Here is a VCR
for $10; you could find one for $5 or probably even for free.
Video cassettes can often be had for a dollar or less. And older
movies are sometimes pretty good, even better (horrors!) then the
OK, so you categorically refuse to watch older movies on tapes.
You are in luck! DVD players might have slain the VCR dragon, but
are on the verge of obsolescence themselves. Regular DVD players
do not support true high-definition video. For this, you need new
technologies such as Blue-ray
or HD DVD. As
a result, while already cheap (starting at around $2025 new),
standard DVD players are likely to become extremely cheap very soon
down the road. Similar fate awaits standard DVD recorders and standard
Cameras. If you are not satisfied with just watching stuff
created by others, you can unleash your own creative powers by using
old cameras. A fine used 35mm film camera can be purchased for $1020
dollars (here is a fine point-and-shoot
for $6). A roll of film can be had for a dollar if you buy a
set of four at a local Wal-Mart. Processing and printing can be
done for $56. For a couple bucks more, you will also get a
photo CD. If you are not a shutterbug, film photography represents
an amazing bargain. If you want to plunge into digital photography,
a used 2-megapixel camera could be found for $3040 dollars.
This is more than enough for printing 4 by 6 snapshots; you can
even print 8 by 10 pictures. If you absolutely want a new digital
camera, you could buy one with 4 and even 5 megapixels for less
Cameras. If still pictures are not your thing, there are
several options. First, most still digital cameras (except SLRs)
take videos (granted, the quality is usually not that good). Second,
used non-digital camcorders can be found for much less than $100.
With some tweaking, their output could be digitized. But, the analog
format works just fine; all you lose is some editing and file-sharing
capabilities. At any rate, if you insist on having a nice new digital
camcorder, a non-HD one can had for less than $200 and a used one
even for less.
Music Gadgets. An audiophile on a budget can find various
bargains including CD and cassette players, boomboxes, component
stereo systems (receiver, cassette deck, tuner, equalizer, amplifier,
etc.), etc. Many of these things produce beautiful sound and/or
enough noise to make neighbors unhappy.
As we can see,
there are lots of opportunities out there. Granted, you need Internet
access to find most of them. But (a) broadband Internet access is
getting cheaper and (b) if you do not have it, public libraries
everywhere in the U.S. offer free Internet access (yes, libertarians
do not like "free" things such as public libraries, but
as long as they exist, why not use them?). When experts talk about
"digital divide," they usually distinguish between physical
access to Internet and skills required to benefit from it. Physical
access is not such a problem these days. Young people, for the most
part, have sufficient skills to use it. Older folks may have more
difficult time with technology, but there are many resources which
could help with training (libraries, community colleges, etc.).
Two final points:
first, donít be afraid to haggle. The asking price is often not
the final price even when people donít mention OBO. Some folks may
be offended by "lowball" offers, but others will lower
their prices. Second, to summarize this article, in order to spend
less, do not be an early adopter of technology, but rather a late
having grown up in the former Soviet Union, the author has first-hand
familiarity with living in reduced circumstances, without many gadgets,
and occasionally going to bed hungry. As Tevye the milkman said
on the Roof, poverty is not a vice. Besides, I really like
Boukhonine [send him mail]
writes out of Austin TX.
© 2007 LewRockwell.com