The Myth of Obsolete Hardware

Aug. 15, 2020 [hardware] [technology]

I have often observed individuals who are quick to blame the age of their computer for any number of the technical ills they encounter. Things ranging from sites being too slow to load or a piece of media that refuses to play. Informed users, by contrast, might readily attribute these things to constricted network bandwidth or some codecs that need to be installed. But for the common user, is it really their fault that they perceive any hiccup as a sign of that dreaded obsolecense?

Just look at how the web has devolved. It is not uncommon for sites to load up dozens or hundreds of javascript programs, and mostly for the purposes of tracking and advertising. When this invariably causes pages to hang, stutter or for one’s laptop fan to spool up, it is not because the hardware components within have somehow become slower. With few exceptions, years old computer parts are still just as fast as the day they slid off the production line.

Instead, I blame pursuits such as the constant churn of hardware media accelleration extensions. I blame the unending scope creep of programs and entire operating systems as they increasingly consume more CPU cycles, memory and storage. And most of all, I blame the software that is today built lazily on top of libraries, which in turn rest on top of their own dependencies, making operations that were once streamlined into a mess of inefficient middleware spaghetti.

This is all unfortunately invisible to those of lower technical literacy that this writing begins on. They are kept on a treadmill which they cannot perceive, and perfectly operational hardware continues to find its way into garbage dumps. Encouraging your colleagues, friends and family towards blocking web content and using simplified software is not only a gesture to preserve their sanity but also to protect them from paying a tax incurred by lazy, inept, malicious or incompetent software authors.

*Disclaimer: Yes, I recognize that there are actual limits as to what one can get by with. Though I assert that this boundary exists at hardware aged about 15 years, rather than the commonly assumed (or engineered?) 3-5 years.