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The Taxonomy of Tech Holdouts

There are nine archetypes of unplanned non-obsolescence. And they’re all in our office.

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

My laptop is plotting against me. For months, we’ve been waging a war over our way of life: Windows 7 or Windows 10. Recently, after a flurry of Microsoft feints and community counters, I hid the Windows Update icon, which somehow only made me more aware of it lurking, unseen, in my system tray. If I open it manually, it tells me my upgrade is ready and threatens to install Windows 10 as soon as I restart. For now, the threat is empty: I’m keeping the computer at bay with a piece of software called “Never 10,” the latest escalation of our standoff. Until Microsoft’s next move, we’ll stay in an uneasy stalemate: My computer is a carrier of Windows 10, but it isn’t exhibiting symptoms.

Windows 10 isn’t terrible. And I’m not a non-upgrader at heart: I’m a gadget guy, and I get so excited for some software updates that I read the release notes and revel in fixes for bugs I knew nothing about. But my laptop is a limited tool used for typing, web browsing, and other non-intensive tasks I can accomplish with Windows 7’s 2009-era technology. A new operating system would take time to install, and more time to learn how to navigate. That’s why I refuse to surrender.

You don’t have to be the Beeper King to resist new tech’s siren song. Who among us isn’t clinging to some relic of a more primitive time even though there are newer (and quite possibly better) options available? Maybe you’ve saved a device from the scrap heap so many times that you have tech-support Stockholm syndrome. Maybe you know you’ll never remember the passwords it’s storing. Maybe you’re a believer in “better the devil you know.” There’s no shortage of reasons to resist replacing a device that’s outlived its planned obsolescence. So let’s tour the taxonomy of tech holdouts, as embodied by nine Ringer representatives.

The Anachronist

The Anachronist wasn’t made for these high-tech times, but he or she is grudgingly getting along, not so much learning the language as piecing parts of it together like a tourist reading from a phrase book. The Ringer’s fresh-faced staff tends toward tech-savviness, but at least one of our twentysomethings is playing against type.

Ringer Rep: Michael Baumann. “I’m an old man at heart, which means I hate change almost as much as I hate spending money unnecessarily. So I bought an LG flip phone instead of the original iPhone and kept it until the hinges snapped five years later. I replaced my eight-year-old Xbox 360 last December, and between the fan on the Xbox and the fan on my old laptop, you could barely hear a thing in my apartment. I’ve got mostly new electronics now, but that’s only because I was dragged kicking and screaming to replace the literally broken devices I’d bought in college. All the devices in The Future are complicated and expensive, and if I had the choice I wouldn’t buy any of them.”

The Conspiracy Theorist

The Conspiracy Theorist is convinced that product updates are, if not necessarily nefarious, NSA-style schemes to monitor our movements, then almost certainly attempts to brick perfectly functional last-gen machines and leave us no choice but to buy the latest and greatest. If the Conspiracy Theorists are correct, then declining all updates is the best way for consumers to protect their investments while also sticking it to the E Corp in question. Debunkers dismiss Conspiracy Theorists as the tech equivalents of anti-vaxxers, but there’s at least some evidence to support the conspiracists’ claims. As an Apple avoider, I’m predisposed to think more like Mulder than Scully re: the iOS whispers, but I can’t quite bring myself to believe.

Ringer Rep: Riley McAtee. “I don’t update my OS, if that counts. I’m on a Mac running OS X 10.9.2, which came out in February 2014 (when I got the computer). That’s because the last time I updated an Apple product it was my iPhone 4 to iOS7, and my phone became an unusable, slow mess immediately after (I switched to Android just a few months later). I’m fully on board the conspiracy that Apple releases updates designed to slow down old devices, forcing users to buy new hardware, so I just don’t update my software anymore.”

The Decision Delayer

Why waste time and money trying to predict which standard will win the next format war? The Decision Delayer looks long-term, waiting for the frontier to be settled and for prices to sink. As a once-proud HD-DVD owner, I can vouch for the idea that early adoption is dangerous. But the terrible truth is that this carousel never stops: A more appealing model is always about to be out. Delaying might be prudent, but it’s fun to take the plunge.

Ringer Rep: Molly McHugh. “My TV has been through five apartments, two pretty serious relationships, and moved to three states. It’s not very good. I am often mocked for my tiny TV, and I believe it’s more like 38 inches every time I have this fight with someone, and then measure it, only to realize it is 25. I won’t upgrade for a couple reasons: One, I don’t have cable. Why would I invest in a nice TV if I’m going to be Chromecasting to it from a browser? Two: TVs have not figured out what the next cool thing is gonna be. Is it 4K now? Do I get a curved screen? A smart TV? A regular TV and buy a video game/content hub console again? Three: I refuse to set up my Chromecast and Roku, and reconnect my various streaming accounts once more until I’m 100 percent decided. See? See how many things I need to figure out before I get a TV?”

The Analog Lifer

Analog Lifers hoist eternal flames for equipment that most would consider archaic. They may dabble in digital, but like Neil Young and Quentin Tarantino, they believe fidelity hit its high point at some point between the phonograph and the iPhone. For the Analog Lifer, preserving a previous era’s appliance is the only way of experiencing art as its creator intended.

Ringer Rep: Joseph Fuentes: “Technics SL-1200MK2: This holy grail of turntables was handed down to me by my cousin, who must have bought it back in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Though it weighs a ton and the 45 button sometimes gets stuck, it still works like a charm almost 30 years later.”

The Positive Spinner

Prone to pointing out that old devices “do the trick” or “ain’t broke,” Positive Spinners try to put their aging products in a positive light. Content to settle for less than the cutting edge, these low-maintenance souls focus on what an outdated device does do instead of dwelling on what’s missing from its specs. I stream files to my TV with a Boxee Box, which was discontinued in 2013 and hasn’t had an update in ages. There are tumbleweeds blowing through its apps section, but it still supports every file format I’ve tried. It’s not the best streamer money can buy, but it’s good enough not to need a new one.

Ringer Rep: Jason Concepcion. “First-gen Chromecast. It works fine. I’m not sure how much better the new ones would have to be for me to buy it. 720P gets the job done, and I’m unsure that 1080p/4K is all that noticeable a definition upgrade. Maybe I’m blind.”

The Product Loyalist

The Product Loyalist imprints on a specific app or service and follows it forever, hoping their pair-bond won’t be broken. Product Loyalists wish the world would let them and their chosen devices grow old in peace, even as Big Upgrade tries to tear them apart in pursuit of profits.

Ringer Rep: Katie Baker. “For me it’s the Twitter program Echofon. On my phone it has evolved with the times well enough but on my laptop I have this ancient desktop version that I’m not even sure if they support anymore. Standard embedded tweets show up as links that launch Safari, and my laptop is old and slow, and so I’m always kind of sitting around waiting for three tabs to load just so I can understand the ultimately unsatisfying context of some stranger’s bad tweet. Still, Echofon doesn’t cause me a seizure like I get any time I am in the same room with someone who uses TweetDeck like a day trader looking at Bloomberg. Most importantly, it never pesters me with garbage like ‘8 people favorited your retweet.’ I will always appreciate and respect it for that.”

The Unplugger

By using dumb devices, the Unplugger reserves the right to get away from it all. We all wish we could Walden from time to time, but many Unpluggers try to have it both ways, unwilling to be tethered but equally unwilling to sacrifice the perks of plugged-in life. In clinging to the freedom to go off the grid, Unpluggers often end up delaying or mooching off moderns, who suffer so the Unpluggers can stay serene. As an Unplugger friend with an old-fashioned phone and a limited texting plan told me, “I aspire to be slightly less reachable than phones allow,” a philosophy that sounded inspiring only when I wasn’t trying to track him down.

Ringer Rep: Jonathan Tjarks. “The flip phone. There’s something really relaxing about not being hooked up to the internet 24/7. When I leave my house, I can turn off that portion of my brain, and just enjoy the world around me. It’s a little inconvenient, but it’s mitigated by the fact that it’s a lot cheaper, and that everyone else around me has a smartphone, so I can just ask them for directions or pay them to call me an Uber.”

The Nostalgist

The Nostalgist sees old tech as a time capsule, a portal to a more innocent era. What clunky equipment lacks in convenience, it makes up by restoring a fondly remembered frame of mind.

Ringer Rep: Alyssa Bereznak. “I keep my old 40GB iPod Classic on life support with the help of an Altec Lansing iPod speaker my grandma got me for my 14th birthday. It sits on top of my microwave, and is a frequent conversation starter. I can’t update it or alter its content, but every once in a while when I’m vacuuming I put it on shuffle and relive my musical tastes as a high schooler. An embarrassing amount of live Dave Matthews Band jam sessions in there.

“Anyway, if it ever dies for good I will not give up. I hear there are underground iPod refurbishers out there. My old coworker told me he does it as a favor for friends. There are definitely ways to keep the dream alive.”

The Careful Curator

Our last category, the Careful Curator, is a cousin to The Nostalgist and The Unplugger whose members believe that less is more. To the Careful Curator, having fewer options makes life more meaningful and more manageable.

Ringer Rep: Justin Sayles. “I still use my iPod Classic. And transferring the music to it is an often-arduous process of my own doing: I have the iPod synced with a desktop computer that doesn’t go on the internet. So that means I have to download the music on my laptop, transfer it with a thumb drive to a Dell, and then sync it. It’s a head-scratcher for my friends, who generally just stream everything.

“I have a Spotify account for listening to music on my phone (I’m not a mutant) but the Classic is still my preferred method of consuming music. Best I can tell, there are two reasons why I do so. First, sometimes I just want to be disconnected from my communication device. This is particularly true when I’m on a run, which I view as a daily hour or so to go off the grid. Second, the near-infinite nature of a streaming service’s library can be overwhelming. Where do you start? How will I ever listen to all this? Sometimes, listening on a streaming service is like trying to pick a movie on Netflix, and opting to scroll aimlessly for 90 minutes instead. The Classic allows me to focus on new music that I find interesting and old classics I shouldn’t forget.

“I began hoarding iPod Classics a few years ago when I realized Apple would stop making them. After numerous falls and other mishaps, I’m down to my last one. I’m currently debating paying the eBay going rate for a new old 160GB.”

That’s the problem with getting attached to old devices: At first, it’s cheaper than buying new ones, but eventually they turn into expensive antiques.