Sunday, January 19, 2014

MBWS: Obsolescence

It's remarkably difficult to pinpoint words in my vocabulary that may be unlikely to appear in another's, so here's a word that appeared in one of my recent posts ("recent" being the order I wrote them, not necessarily the order they are posted in).


The verb, to obsolesce means, more or less, to dissolve into obscurity or uselessness. Obsolescence, naturally, is the state an item reaches when it finishes decaying.

Our whole economy is based on planned obsolescence.
 - Brooks Stevens

Our (read: United States) economy is based around persistent consumerism; that's what keeps the money flowing and the world turning. In order for there to be more things to buy, either new items must be conceived or old items must reduce in value and/or quality until they're essentially worthless. This isn't to say, however, that the items stop functioning; instead, that they don't function as well as those items that are now on the market.

Since it's easier to make new versions of old items than it is to come up with new, unique items, that's the route most producers and manufacturers follow. It's also easier to make items that aren't terribly durable than those that stand the test of time, so it's relatively easy to force the consumers to purchase newer and newer versions.

The older versions of all of these items are obsolescent or in the process of obsolescing.

Note, that when I say "item," I could be referring to anything from an actual product that you buy, something physical, a piece of software, to a service, and even something immaterial, like an idea. Anything that can be bought or sold can devolve into obsolescence.

People always worry that buying tech products today carries a risk of obsolescence. Most of the time, that fear is overblown.
 - Walt Mossberg

It's the whole idea that by the time you get it out of the box, it's already out of date. While it's technically true (though much worse than you think, items are usually out-of-date by the time they make it to the store shelves), technology, especially computer-based items actually obsolesce slowly.

Out-of-date computers are still perfectly capable of running recent and up-and-coming software, and performing tricks that we haven't thought of yet. Don't confuse out-of-date with obsolescence; they're two very different things.

Consider this: I have never bought a thumb drive for more than twenty dollars (not counting taxes). My first was a 256MB, and I paid twenty dollars for it. While that drive is certainly out-of-date, it still functions perfectly well, making it great for all of the text files that I like lugging around. (The wonderful part about being a writer over any other form of artist is file size!)

My collection also contains a 512MB, two 1GBs, a 2GB, a pair of 4GBs and 8GBs, and one 16GB. Aside from the two I keep at home to run my Lunix-based operating systems off my Windows computer, and the key-ring one on my actual keys, I keep the remainder on a lanyard all bundled together, the newer and larger bouncing against the smaller and older. They all still work, and though all of them are made out-of-date by the 16GB, none of them are obsolescent.


I hope that's one more word I've helped explain, above and beyond just providing a simple definition that doesn't do much along the lines of real-world examples.

If you enjoyed this entry and would like to see more of this series, please let me know in the comments below. Bonus points if you use this word correctly within it and applied to your own life.

You can read the entire series of MBWS: Making Big Words Smaller here.