Reluctant Admission of Obsolescence

December 22, 2007 | By | 6 Replies More

I have a box before me, the determination of the disposition of which is at hand.

“Huh?” you may well ask.

I need room, and gotta choose stuff to throw away. This box is from my first job out of school, when I was as an industrial robotics designer. I designed and built electronic panels, composed communications protocols, programmed device controllers and their supervising computers, and pulled some all-nighters in rural factories. When the consulting company for whom I worked folded, I kept an archive of all the development I’d done. It came in handy a couple of times, when I had to go back and fix something.

However it is now decades later. The machines I designed and built have not only been retired, but the factory itself has been closed. I recently found this box containing detailed math derivations, design drawings, user and maintenance instructions, and the complete programs written for computers and other devices that you can’t get any more. The code is both stored on disks for which you’d have a hard time finding a drive, and as hard copy on a roll of thermal paper that is darkening on the ends. Antique? The code required line numbers!

This is a piece of my life I hold in my hands. But nothing in the box has either practical value or aesthetic appeal. None of the interesting stories that I could tell about those days are captured by the contents of this box. So why am I loathe to dispose of this obvious waste of my ever-waning free space? Might it be a reflection of my own mortality?

Then I remember that people hold on dearly to ideas that are long superseded, a topic oft covered on this site. Having now publicly posted the idea of this box, I may now have an easier time discarding the physical box itself. I probably won’t go the way of the box as long as I keep learning.


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Category: Technology, Whimsy

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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  1. Discarding an Era | The Object At Hand | October 23, 2010
  1. Erich Vieth says:

    My daughters used up all of their Lego pieces building their masterpieces. They needed new Lego pieces, they argued. I finally convinced them to take digital photos of their creations, so that they could bear the thought of taking them all apart to reuse the pieces.

    I'd offer you the same advice. And yes, writing about it here probably was probably a good step toward saying good-bye to your stuff.

    Over the past few years, I've started treasuring empty space more than treasuring my things.

  2. Maybe you could donate it to some museum? There's surely one for antique computer stuff.

  3. Mary says:

    Dan – As a museum manager, I'm going to second projektleiterin's suggestion. While the machines needed to play your disks may be obsolete from a market perspective, there are places out there saving the artifacts of technology. Your artifacts show a portion of the continuum and are useful from that standpoint alone – and probably from a content perspective as well.

    You say, "None of the interesting stories that I could tell about those days are captured by the contents of this box," but before you throw that box out, use the artifacts within as the inspiration to write those interesting stories. You will thank yourself later for having done so, as will your family members.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    I've finally decided what to do with this: Discarding an Era

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Dan: My law office is moving to a new building next week. Whatever we don't throw away we need to move. This is a great chance to make my life lighter. It's an opportunity to decide what's important and to let go of everything else.

      I'm saying goodbye to 100 pounds of paper from years past. Thank goodness that for the past 5 years, most of this type of stuff (can't give it up and can't let it go) is all easily placed on a corner of a hard drive–very little of it is paper.

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