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Planned Obsolescence

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It’s just something you have to accept; entropy is running, and there’s no way around it. You can’t change the second law of thermodynamics. The entropy of an isolated system will never decrease, and we are all isolated systems.

Everyone knows that computers start going obsolete the minute you buy them. Much like us, who are dying from the moment we take our first breaths, they are also dying, their processors ticking down to the day they will power down for the last time. It is one of the many inevitabilities of the Universe. Death always happens, it’s happening right now, and it will always happen in the future.

It’s easy for one to forget, though, as one gets caught up in work and play and family and friends and all the wonders of simple existence. Why should one care about Death when there is Life to live?

The first time you push the power button, the fans start whirring and the screen blinks on as if to say “hello, thank you for bringing me to life!” In that moment, you never think about the years down the road, when the CPU will begin to lag and there won’t be enough memory, and the once-bright screen will have dulled to a much softer glow. While you're setting up your user account and configuring the desktop to your liking, you never think about the day a new operating system will be released and your computer won't be able to run it. While you're figuring out where they put the volume buttons, you never think about the programs that will be written that will use buttons that the designers of this computer would never have thought to implement. Because, in that moment, you are on top of the world, and so is your top-of-the-line computer, and obsolescence is the last thing on either of your minds.

Like so many things in the Universe, it happens slowly. It’s so slow that it’s practically unnoticeable, and no one gives it a thought as they go through life; everyone just continues doing what they’ve always done. And so do you; you work, you play, and you Live.

And then one day, you’re hanging out with a friend, and he shows you something that his iPod can do that your computer can’t, and it’s such a little thing that it shouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and it doesn't matter because you immediately go home and write a routine that will do the same thing. But somehow, it does matter a lot, and it hurts a lot. It’s frustrating, because once upon a time, you were top-of-the-line and unmatched, and this is the first time you realize that technology has marched on around you, without you noticing.

It keeps happening, too. You meet a woman from Chile who weaves spells effortlessly with her netbook, and you wonder why you can’t do that anymore. There’s a guy from Australia, who walked straight into a hurricane with nothing more than a Manual-enabled Nokia brickphone, throwing around power like it was confetti, and you wonder if you ever would have been able to do that.

It isn’t until you falter, and that quiet girl with her tablet and her gorgeous, concise wizardry step in to save you from the wave of force that you simply cannot counter, that you finally realize: there are others out there who are much better and faster. You are not unstoppable any more.

Damned if you’ll let it happen without a fight. There are things you can do, after all. Upgrades can be installed, problems can be patched, and broken parts can be fixed or replaced. Now that you’ve realized you’re falling behind, you can put effort into catching up, and you can do amazing things for the Universe again. Maybe you’re not number one any more, maybe you’re not the most top-of-the-line, but you’re good enough to do good in the Universe, and that’s what matters. Because now you know that number one won’t stay in that position for long, and it’s the long haul that matters.

You can both see it now, though, the slow progression of entropy around you. It hides in the way that old, effortless tasks now take time and concentration. It hides in the way resources have to be monitored and conserved, because what used to be more than enough processing power has dwindled as new, heavier software is released. It hides in the loud sigh of fans and the pained whirr of processors as parts begin to wear out.

It hides in the aches and pains, in the way more things need repairing and replacing as time goes on, and the way nothing seems to work like it used to.

True, parts can be upgraded and replaced. But every time you open it up, to put in more memory or replace a drive or clean something out, it doesn’t go back together quite the same as it was. You can fix what breaks, and you can improve what lags. But entropy is running, and there comes a day when the old is no longer compatible with the new, something breaks that cannot be fixed, or the screws that hold it all together get stripped and simply can’t do their job any more.

As the most important thing in your life sits there, in pieces, never to wake again, you look at it and wonder how things got to this point. You remember the first day, when you opened the box and hit the power button and believed you were unstoppable, and laugh miserably at how wrong you were. There are some things that cannot be upgraded or fixed.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

“I’m sorry, we did everything we could, but she’s gone.”

“There was just too much strain on her body – when the replacement valve failed, she couldn't recover."

“Take as much time as you need.”

A backpack sits in a hospital chair. The room is silent, and empty except for the body on the bed; all of the beeping and wheezing machines have been unplugged.

In the silence, the quiet sigh of a computer fan can be heard. The backpack moves a bit, and a sleek little laptop crawls out on spindly legs, followed by a turtle shell of glittering, layered silicon. They both extend eyestalks and gaze at the outline on the bed, covered by the white sheet.

The laptop speaks. “The Lone Power’s planned obsolescence is unfortunate.”

Silence presses down around them for a moment.

“Without,” the turtle says sadly.