You'd think a guy who writes about tech all day would have the latest and greatest gear. Confession time: I don't. In fact, most of it's pretty old and I sort of like it that way.
The winter months are the hardest time to not want new stuff. We're inundated with sales, and in a few short weeks we'll be ogling next year's tech at CES. As the resident Gizmodo "no I won't upgrade my PowerBook" curmudgeon, I'm here for support. Take a look at the gear I use, and how despite its age, all (well, most of) it has plenty of life left.
I Call Him FrankenPod
No, you're not seeing things. The image above is indeed a picture of my primary media player, and yes, it is an iPod mini.
Go ahead, get the Borat jokes out of your system.
Done? Okay, now hear me out. Don't judge a book by its cover. As far as I'm concerned, this little guy can blow away nearly any other MP3 player on the market.
Under the hood, I swapped the 6GB microdrive with a 16GB Compact Flash card. I can easily change it out for a 32 or a 64GB card once prices come down. It's also running what I consider to be the most feature-rich firmware around, Rockbox. What looks like a beat-up iPod mini is actually a robust, nearly indestructible flash-based portable audio player, all built for a fraction of what a new one costs.
The mini isn't the only old iPod that's easily moddable. Considering about 118% of the United States' population has an old iPod lying around somewhere by now, chances are you've got what you need for a fun weekend project. Even if your heart's set on the Zune HD's OLED display or the Touch's app catalog, some love and a little elbow grease can breathe old life into that old iPod, and give you a great secondary PMP.
The Little Computer that Could
When I walked into Gizmodo HQ on my first day, I was nervous. Some of that anxiety was the new job jitters, but I was mostly afraid that my 12" PowerBook wouldn't cut it. Gizmodo moves fast, and my aging machine certainly doesn't. I was on the verge of upgrading, but decided to see how my old hardware fared before taking the plunge.
Long story short: It did the job. Barely. But through compromise, I made it work. I love Firefox and all of its extensions, but Safari runs at half the resource load. Photoshop Elements does what I need without the huge footprint of CS. With a little thought as to what applications I was running, which ones I didn't need, and where I was willing to compromise, my plucky PowerBook and I made it through the summer.
As much as I love the little guy, it's not like I haven't thought about replacing him. I almost pulled the trigger on a new MacBook last month. At the last minute I decided that instead of buying a computer that would last me 2-3 years, I wanted another that could feasibly last for 4+. Whenever that computer comes out, I'll probably bite, but until then I'm happy squeezing a little extra life out of my aging hardware.
Look at how you use your computer. If you're rendering all day, never leave Photoshop, or doing any other heavy computing and you need the speed, then upgrade. But the rest of us can probably hold off a little longer, even tech-obsessed gadget bloggers.
Nice Peeling Chrome Paint, Dude
I'm fairly certain I'm the only writer at Gizmodo without a smartphone. Yes, dumbphones must die, and someday I will upgrade this one. But for now, it makes calls, texts, and even has an almost acceptable music player built in that works in a pinch. Google services run surprisingly well in a WAP browser, too, so I can get email and read my RSS feeds when necessary.
Would I love to have a smartphone? Sure. (Hey Brian Lam and Jason Chen, skip down a few sentences) But it's also really nice to be disconnected sometimes. My Gizmodo email account receives a very steady stream of emails, to say the least. I like being able to walk away from the computer and cut myself off every once in a while, without my phone constantly reminding me that there's work to be done (Okay overlords, you can read on from here).
Just Because it's Old Doesn't Mean it Sounds Worse
No, this stereo doesn't do DTS-HD Master Audio. It has zero HDMI ports. But it still does 2-channel audio pretty well, more than well enough for what I need it to do.
Repurposing old stereo equipment is one of the best ways to build a great system on the cheap. The turntable and receiver are my dad's old gear, coupled with a pair of speakers I yanked off of a CD player I've had since I was 14. The setup won't win me any audiophile cred, but it definitely does a much-better-than-OK job at playing music.
Not to mention that it's pretty cool to listen on the same equipment my dad once used. When I was 17, I found his old record collection in the basement and immediately started spinning it on his long-forgotten turntable. Call me corny, but I think it's pretty awesome to know that 30-some years ago he was listening to the same records on the same deck.
If you aren't lucky enough to have access to your parents' old stereo equipment, it's not uncommon to find some real gems at your local thrift shop on the cheap, tossed away by someone who thought McIntosh is a cheap Apple knock-off.
Okay, so Maybe I Want to Upgrade Some of It
I do have one thing that I desperately want, and will upgrade to soon: an HDTV. I've never owned anything besides tube TVs under 20 inches. The fact that flat-panel prices are finally reasonable, combined with the digital switchover makes it prime time for me to jump the CRT ship.
I want to say that it always makes sense to hold onto your old TV after you upgrade, but in this case it might not. Television sets were at their saturation point well before HDTVs came along. In 2009 there were more TVs per household than people. By now it's likely that you just don't have room for a fourth or twelfth tube anywhere.
If you find yourself needing to dispose of an aging TV, please do so properly. Donate it. Sell it on Craigslist. Or look into electronics recycling centers in your area. An old TV may not have a place in your house or apartment, but it might find a place in someone else's home. It certainly doesn't belong in a landfill.
See? I'm Not a Total Luddite
I might roll with old stuff, but I'm not some sort of quasi-neo-luddite. Plenty of other gadgets in my arsenal are much more recent than what you see here. I have a PS3, my music gets fed to my stereo through a Squeezebox, and I do have another receiver that handles multichannel audio, albeit a relatively cheap and older one (and in case you're wondering, I did take these pictures with a DSLR, but it's not mine).
So yes, even I don't always live by the "never upgrade" mentality. Planned obsolescence and the industry's fast pace make it impossible to live by that creed. But I also think that a lot of the time we feel "forced" to upgrade we're really being driven by gadget lust, that powerful desire which makes us overlook the benefits of using old stuff.
Here's what I always think about when that ol' familiar "gotta have it" feeling hits. The biggest and most obvious perk: buy new stuff less often, save money. I don't know about you, but if I walk away from a big purchase, I feel like I've won. It's like trapping money that was trying to escape from my bank account. And if you've got a bit of the tree-hugging hippy spirit in you, you'll feel good about cutting down on your e-waste output, even if only by a little bit.
Not to mention the freedom old gear provides. I imagine it's similar to the feeling of operating the Mars rovers. I know that my gadgets have gone far beyond their planned mission length, so I throw them around without caring if they get damaged. And once that old gear inevitably goes belly up, I'll feel no remorse upgrading something that lasted for so long.
But that doesn't mean I won't be sad to lose my gadgets. I've heard other tech junkies say that we should never fall in love with technology, because we'll just end up heartbroken when it's time to say goodbye. In my opinion, that emotional connection is exactly what we need nowadays. If we all try to love our gadgets, to start treating them more like companions than disposable tools, a lot more perfectly good gear could be saved from an untimely retirement.
I know more than a few of you out there are eyeing some new toys for the holidays. I am too. But before we let upgraditis get the best of us, let's consider what we already have. Maybe it's still good enough. Maybe there's a new part that could make our gadgets better and provide a fun modding project to boot. Take it from me: There's almost always some way to squeeze extra life out of old gear.
Now, if you'll excuse me, there's an old Dell tower around here somewhere that's begging to become a NAS.