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The throwaway (upgrade) generation


As a man in his fifties, I am on the very edge of the throwaway (upgrade) generation. My parents, of course, never threw anything away. They used everything up. They wouldn't eat the fresh apples until they had eaten all of the old, mushy ones first. They kept things working forever, held together with Scotch tape and bailing wire, until they hardly worked at all, and were a constant effort to get to work. They took care of things they owned, and wanted them to last for a long time. They changed the oil in their cars, they maintained things.

My generation was the first to have "pocket calculators" in school. And, no, you didn't fix them. When they broke, you threw them away and got a new one. You might recycle it into a doorstop, or something, but that was about it. Yes, my generation started to seriously fill up landfills with stuff that was only a few years old. And more and more, there were no "user serviceable parts" inside of the things that we used.

But it wasn't until I started teaching Adobe software, in the late 1990s, that I started seeing a correlation between the willingness to throw something away and the willingness to upgrade. So  I saw a lot of people were still trying to eke out more life from their ancient computer, or they were using a version of software that was very old. And it wasn't always about not wanting to spend the money (although that's what I usually heard), it was about not wanting to be wasteful.

At my age, I know that I have to balance both points of view. I have an old car (2007) and I maintain it carefully. I often say that I would like to drive it forever. But of course after a certain point, as good as this car is, it will become like one of the pocket calculators that I had when I was a kid, and I will need to go get a new one, and recycle the old one. The computer that I'm working on right now still seems very new, but it's going on five years now, and it will need to be upgraded. I always upgrade the Operating System right away, and I just updated my Adobe software.

So, while taking care of things, and using them up is a good thing, you have to balance how much time you spend trying to make something work. I'm a Graphic Designer, so I already spend a lot of time on my computer, I don't need to be fiddling with it to get it to work. It's the same way with my iPad, and my phone. They don't seem all that old, but the new ones are so much better that there really isn't any retail value in the old ones. That should tell you something.