Notes from West London · Technology

Technology Sucks (January 2016)

Technology sucks. I realize that I’m asking for trouble writing this phrase, in an environment that relies on technology. As I have written before on these pages none of these words would exist without electricity. Nothing here has been committed to paper.

But throughout the last 7 years I have found dozens of occasions to offer “Technology sucks” as the most appropriate comment on the technological woes of friends and family, and my own technological woes. Over the last month my wife’s smartphone stopped working, so she needed to buy a new one, and her beloved Kindle Paper White has just starting playing up so she’ll probably need a replacement. Broadband outages, hard drive failures, printers that stop working completely: we have all experienced these technological failures regularly in recent years.

Over the last year 4 (yes, four) different hard drives that we had been using most days ceased to function. First was the drive on this Mac Book Pro, just after its 2-year warranty expired. A very good local repair shop got it sorted (I’d happily recommend Chiswick Computers to any West London readers).

Then my wife’s computer (Windows 7, around 4 years old) ceased working. I’m pretty sure it was the hard drive. It won’t start up anymore. We haven’t bothered to get it fixed – we might buy a more powerful Windows 10-based PC to replace it, though like many people she can do most of her day-to-day computer tasks on her Samsung tablet. (And that was a replacement for a previous tablet, less than 3 years old, which became unreliable during 2015.)

And the two devices I use to record and time-lapse TV both failed in the autumn of 2015. I had a Hard Disk Recorder with built-in DVD burner and Freeview receiver (bought in 2012) which would no longer start up. And our BT Vision box (with around 180 hours of recordings on its internal hard drive) failed completely. This meant we had no live TV available in our living room leading up to the final of “Strictly Come Dancing”. (“Strictly” is my children’s favourite programme, recorded, re-viewed and watched most days: they dance a lot.) Our analogue TV from 2003 still works and I’m reluctant to get rid of it while it’s working. Because the UK now no longer provides an analogue TV signal I need at least a Freeview receiver to watch live TV. But in early December neither of my digital boxes was working.

(I have another Hard Disk Recorder, from 2007, no Freeview receiver, but built-in VCR and DVD burner. The VCR stopped working in 2010, the DVD burner in 2012. The Hard Drive itself is still working and we have a nostalgic collection of shows like “Teletubbies”, “In the night garden” and Justin Fletcher’s “Something Special” which the children stopped watching years ago.)

And don’t get me started on all the CD players that no longer work. There seems to be a simple rule. If it was a combined CD-tape-radio player from anytime between 1996 and 2010 then the CD player would stop working by 2015 but the tape players and radio will probably keep going forever. My bedside alarm clock-radio (from 1989) is still working fine. My wife’s combined CD-radio-alarm clock (from 2001) works as a clock-radio but the CD player stopped working years ago.

We just put up with it. When a device stops working we make it an excuse for buying a new one, with different functionality. But much of the functionality that I paid for, and still want, doesn’t exist. I didn’t remember buying the extra 5-year guarantee on that 2012 Hard Disk Recorder, but the shop I bought it from did, so I can get a replacement because the original cannot be fixed. But all of the new stock comes with HDMI only. I need SCART or red-yellow-white AV ins and outs for my old analogue TV, or to continue recording old videotapes onto hard drive or DVD. And I’m not doing this to make copies of movies or TV programmes. I take copyright very seriously. I still have a storage box full of old home videos that I need to transfer to some digital format. I managed to copy a few of them, like our wedding video. I transferred that from VHS to hard drive to DVD before the machine packed up. So my replacement machine will be a re-furb, over a year old but with all the right ins and outs (and a smaller hard drive, 320Gb rather than 500Gb). It has become very difficult to replace the technology we had easily available as recently as 2012. I do not regard this as progress.

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