It may not be an universal truth, but it happens often enough. Nowadays planned obsolescence prevails, but in the past, when both labour and materials were more expensive, things were built to last a lifetime.
Yesterday a colleague at work asked me to borrow a barometer to conduct some research. She asked if we had a digital barometer available that can be moved from one place to another. I told her that our digital barometer is stationary, permanently mounted in a fixed location, but we can lend her an older, analogue device, called an aneroid, which is portable.
That particular device in question, an aneroid used to measure barometric pressure of the Earth atmosphere, was produced in 1939, that is 85 years ago, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a country that no longer exists. Yet, the aneroid works perfectly well despite its age, and is far more accurate than the majority of consumer-grade digital barometers currently in sale. If one were to match its accuracy, a digital barometer in the range of a thousand US dollars or more would be required. Still, the robustness and the high build quality of that analogue aneroid means it will probably be working well fifty years from now, while I have little hope for its digital counterpart to reach a similar lifespan.
Various materials, electronics and labour are cheaper now that at any previous point in history. This is both the blessing and the curse of our times. We can get any device, machine or tool imaginable, but most of those items will be obsolete, broken or otherwise useless in a couple of years, a decade or two at most. Every year smartphone producers convince us that we need the newest, the fastest, the thinnest model, with the best camera possible. And all the older, unwanted, less-than-the-best-but-still-very-capable devices will fill up drawers or, at worst case, landfills.
Somewhere in the ever-present race to get the best, shiniest things we have lost appreciation for things that are older and yet just as capable, if not better than their newer replacements. Of course this is not an universal and always-true paradigm, but in many cases older or even “vintage” (although this term is interpreted in a wildly varying manner) things are forgotten, even if they get the job done no worse than modern variants.
I am not immune to the allure of new and bright things, and I often buy products when I still have an older, working version. But I try to use some older things whenever it is possible or whenever I perceive them as superior to newer models. One example are Digital Single-Lens Reflex Cameras, which, in my opinion, were the peak of photographic technology. Modern mirrorless cameras have digital viewfinder instead of a prism or a set of mirrors, which is the biggest downside for me. No matter how great a digital screen is, it will never compare to an actual optical track leading from the lens to the eyepiece, with virtually infinite resolution, no delay and no power drawn. That is why I still use my old Nikon D90 and have no plans to move into the mirrorless dominium.
Sometimes older things are simply better.
This is article no. 8 from the 100 Days To Offload series.