Old Tech


Old Technology is Best Technology

I’m typing this post surrounded by new. I have a Steam Deck charging, I have a Pixel 6a and a PinePhone on my desk. This laptop has 32 GB of RAM, and the Blu Ray player showing me Strange New Worlds is smarter than anything I am going to advocate for in this post.

On the other hand, I don’t have a calculator. My E-reader doesn’t touch networks, I don’t like cars built after 2004, and I think that pens are more important than keyboards. I do complex math with a slide rule long before I put it to an application.


I was raised around computers. I learned to read because of Hugo’s House of Horrors on an Acros 386. I remember typing applications into a computer from a magazine, and saving them to a cassette tape (in the early 2000s… ). Dial-up and I were… I’m not going to say good friends… reluctant acquaintances might be a better way to refer to it.

I hated most of it. Dial-up was unreliable and slow. Older computers were full of security holes and you always needed to upgrade them, or (as we see now) replace them outright. It was horrible.

Little did I know, it really wasn’t about the technology at all. In fact, there are several ways that an 8-bit computer could have substantial amounts of use in the modern day and on the modern internet. There are even multi-tasking operating systems that work on older hardware to provide a relatively modern and understandable experience. (Like Symbos)Symbos1.

I spend a lot of my time repurposing and reusing old things as much as possible and new things where appropriate.

Which brings us to the Amish…

Mindful use

The Amish don’t shun technology. That’s a fact that is so prevalent in the field of religious studies and sociology that I don’t need to cite it. I welcome you to google it if you want to. Google2

Instead, it’s far more nuanced. Generally, it boils down to:

Technology should benefit the community, not emburden it.

It’s about thinking long and hard about the technology you incorporate into your life, and how it might cause detriment. (I have entire posts about this and modern social media. Just click around a bit.) We haven’t been good about that as a society when it comes to information technology. In fact, we’ve been pretty bad about this as a society with all technology (looking at the 1865 papers on human-mediated climate change ::Shifty-eyes::) The Conversation3

There’s a follow on here, however. For this bit, I’m going to turn to Star Trek (and a non-coincidentally Amish-like race).

In Star Trek: Insurrection the primary conflict is… (Spoilers… I guess?) between two species: The Son’a and The B’aku. The B’aku are a peaceable happy agrarian species who are being observed by the Son’a under the pretenses that the B’aku are a pre-warp society (trust me, it makes sense). Long story short: they aren’t (They’re actually the same species, but the plot is no longer important here). They’re an extraordinarily advanced species even with knowledge of positronics (Advanced, even for the 24th Century).

When discussing this later, one of the B’aku assert that “When you make a machine to do the work of a man, you take something away from the man”.

Both of these concepts highlight something we do not do in the modern drive for the biggest and best next thing: Consideration of impact, and consideration of self-worth.

We really have become enslaved to technology (and capitalism)

No AI Required

Moore’s Law really fucked us up with this one: The number of transistors on a chip will double every 5 years (we finally hit that ceiling about 3 years ago). This drove people bonkers. The technological boom was insane. (the Commodore 64 was still sold as a NEW COMPUTER until about 1998. Think about that.)

In my working memory we have gone from systems where a gigabyte of RAM was an extravagance to 32 GiB in my latest machine. (Choices of SI prefix, also to make a point.) I also remember the introduction of the Start Menu in Windows. (But I was young enough to not hate it…).

That said, those machines are still as capable as they were. I was updating a website last year from a TRS-80 CoCo2 as a proof of concept. On the other hand we’ve been conditioned to need the next big thing. Moore’s Law and the explosive growth didn’t make those things less capable, it made us less efficient.

Modern applications are lazily controlled when it comes to memory allocation. Most developers never touch a low-level language, and of those fewer still will truly understand how to manipulate memory in a strong way. It’s not the fault of the devs, for the record. It’s the businesses that kept making higher and higher level languages (read: wayyyy more overhead) to make them easier and easier to learn to use. More devs, more profits.

Systems always interconnect with other systems

This drive made the need for more computers (guess what?! More profits…) and folks kept buying them. We still do. The problem with systems is that systems are complex, and meta-systems are moreso. A drive for new tech always comes at a cost of more raw materials. In this case, rare earth metals are the big one.

REMs are absolutely necessary for the construction of modern computers. From the ICs to the traces in the motherboard. There aren’t a lot of them. So what have we done?

The same thing we always do Pinky! Send our military to a new continent and we started mining. Usually, for super cheap (read: exploitatively). This lead to a compound of problems: We are ravaging the environment for things we don’t really need, and we have created a huge disparity in the “haves” and “have-nots”.

But, we can solve both of these problems with one solution:

Reusing Old Tech.

What the fuck happened to teaching kids the 3 R’s? Computers are a clear place to apply Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. We need to mine old computers to reclaim those REMs (for the ones just sitting in land-fills). We need to enable folks to repair and repurpose old technology with right-to-repair protections and accessible tools, parts, and education. We can utilize Single Board Computing to create modern gateways for upgrading tech for modern mitigations to old security flaws (and upgraded encryption methodologies.).

If we stop, just for a few minutes, we would be able to use what we have far more mindfully, far more productively, and help level the playing field such that we can become one society.



“J4YC33’s just this person, you know?” ~ Not Gag Halfrunt, probably…