What electronic gadgets will stand the test of time? Short answer: none of them. That is my conclusion after sorting through a box of plastic-and-circuit-board-filled crap that is waiting to be taken to the next Fort Collins E-Waste Recycling Day. In fact, now that I think of it, I don’t own a single electronic item that has lasted more than eight years.
Below is a list of gizmos waiting to be melted down and recycled into a future piece of consumer rubbish that will only give a few years of service:
- LED screen for Dell laptop: This cracked last year while being carried on the back of a mountain bike. Okay, so I had abused it. But computers (especially laptops) are inherently fragile. I have many friends who had to bring their computers into a shop to fix broken hard drives, logic boards, or mysterious software problems.
- Power supply for Dell laptop: Very few computer manufacturers outfit their power bricks with sufficiently rugged strain reliefs. Apple’s (with their slick-but-thin-gauge wiring) seem to be the worst, but I also met another person whose Dell power supply failed in the manner mine did.
- Black Diamond LED headlight: The pushbutton switch broke and I could no longer turn off the light without, say, prying the light apart and ripping out the batteries. The headlamp worked for four years before this malfunction.
- Vistalight LED bicycle taillamp: This was screwed onto the saddle pack of my Cannondale. One day I was riding in the evening and unbeknownst to me, the lens fell off and the batteries spilled out… somewhere. I used the taillight for seven years.
- Power supply for Apple laptop: Someone tripped on it in a library in Sisters, Oregon, promptly breaking it. This was before the logic board of my Apple iBook fried some months later. The power supply’s effective life was only eight months.
- Olympus D-100 1.3 mega-pixel digital camera: I purchased this used in 2002 for $75, and it finally died in mid-2007. While it lasted only five years, I actually think that is amazing considering how many times I had dropped it.
- Palm M100: Like every Palm PDA I’ve owned, it only lasted a few years before malfunctioning in some way (this one exhibited errant black lines across the screen before finally dying altogether). The good thing is this one only cost $20 (used) on Half.com in 2003, and lasted longer than previous Palms I had purchased new.
- Ansco film camera: This used obscure 110 film. I used this in the late 90s as it was ultra-compact and fool-proof for loading film into (unlike 35mm film). It still works but is obsolete. I don’t think one can even buy 110 film anymore.
These broken items validate my philosophy—that one should think of electronics as disposable commodities. Not only will they inevitably break after, say, 1-8 years, but they depreciate quicker than a Kia that had rolled into a ditch. (A prime example is the desktop computer I purchased new in 1997 for $1700, but had to give away for free in 2005 since no one would buy it for even $50.)
Therefore, I will continue my practice of buying used electronic equipment that has already depreciated to almost nothing, or new items that are super inexpensive to begin with. Some examples include the used Olympus camera and Palm PDA listed above, or the used Dell Latitude laptop I am typing this on that cost only $180 from Craigslist last year. I figure, if (when) they break, who cares—at such low cost, no big loss. This gives peace of mind.
My latest purchase (my first in a year) fits these criteria. It is a blatant knockoff of an iPod Shuffle and cost just $17 on eBay (new, including shipping). I plan to use it to listen to French language recordings while running. You may laugh and say there is no way something that cheap could possibly last more than a few years. But then again, what will?