I was unfortunate enough to be subjected to a short, 20-minute burst of CNN yesterday, and while that’s unusual in and of itself, it was particularly sad this time because the drivel du jour included a brief segment about computer recycling.
I’ve dug through enough recycling yards in my time to recognize the husks that were on the screen — most of them looked like the ubiquitous Dell GX-series machines, probably Pentium IIIs or early P4s, or perhaps some Gateway counterparts. They’re usually recognizable by the zero-additional-cost “Midnight Black” shells and brightly colored connector overplates on the back, where all the cords and plugs are arranged. A lot of governments and offices bulk-buy systems in that line.
Ordinarily I’m a proponent of recycling old or unwanted things; it’s just the right thing to do, environmentally speaking. But I couldn’t help my initial reaction, which was, “Wait, those are still usable. …”
It was almost comic in hindsight: The report is showing rows of people tearing — literally tearing — the plastic off the cases, prying processors out of their sockets, ripping cables out of their jacks and then hurling the remains into large boxes with labels like “black plastic” or “aluminum.” A giant machine like a meat grinder was crunching up hard drives, and another crew was picking through the results, pulling out the valuable metal and separating the component boards for recycling.
And all the time I’m thinking, “What a shame. All that perfectly good hardware being destroyed. And all they really need is Ubuntu. Or Arch. Or even Crux.”
Of course there’s nothing to be done about it. One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, and the machines I have now are more often collector’s items than anything else. What would be a perfectly usable, amazing piece of machinery to me is a castoff to someone else, and labeled as trash.
It’s an issue of personal perspective more than anything. The average computer user is a lot like the average car driver, in that it’s just a machine to get you from point A to point B. And they don’t worry about it until it stops doing what they want. And then it’s time for a new one. My office is like that; the computers there are mismanaged and abused to the point of near unusability, but that just means it’s time to call up Dell Japan and order a new one.
To me it seems like people who appreciate older computers are like the backyard mechanics and mom-and-pop car repair shops I’ve seen everywhere in the world. The people who run those places are more like me (and probably you, if you’ve read this far), willing to tune a machine — be it a car or a computer — to make it work better, and last longer.
I hold no grudges, so if there are some who think it better to cast out the old and drop a load of cash for the new … it is your right. Be my guest.
It doesn’t make me any happier though, watching all those computers going through an industrial masticator. Yes, I know it’s the right thing to do. And who knows? Maybe those backyard mechanics feel the same way when they look at car compactors.