Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Built-In Obsolescence

Reading the New York Times this morning, I came across a few articles that spoke to a condition most of us have to put up with these days: obsolescence. The idea that all things, sooner or later (though probably sooner), becoming obsolete.

Look at Dubai. It turns out that until Dubai's recent debt trouble, homes that had been constructed a mere 3 to 5 years ago were routinely being torn down to accomodate newer projects. The city of Dubai reminds me of Shelley's famous sonnet "Ozymandias":

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Dubai is fast becoming such a "colossal wreck, boundless and bare" perhaps because it was built to be replaced. Built-in obsolescence.

That's why I took great pleasure reading about Cormac McCarthy's Olivetti typewriter up for auction. McCarthy, one of our most celebrated novelists, wrote nearly all of his novels, including three unpublished ones, over a span of fifty years on this humble machine. What writer today will accomplish such a feat on his or her laptop? I purchased my computer in 2005 and it's a dinosaur. I give it another 6 months before it goes belly-up.

Now, undoubtedly great literature gets produced on laptops and maybe even on handheld devices, too. But to read that McCarthy has written his masterpieces on a single, solid, sturdy, mechanical machine that has lived on and on is an inspiration. His novels mourn the obsolescences around us, acting as a chorus to question the values of a society that eventually destroys everything it builds.

For fifty years at least, McCarthy showed it was possible to buck this trend. And his novels, unlike Dubai or Ozymandias's ruins or even the Olivetti typewriter itself, stand the true test of time.

5 comments:

Ward said...

Hey Chad. Maybe I'm being a poop suggesting this, but how does one know it's really his typewriter? Smells a little fishy. Credibility is obsolete! Be good, cowboy.

Ward said...

Okay, so I read the NYTimes article and it sounds legit, Chad. I'll eat my old typewriter ribbon. So, here's the deal: I'll call 200 of my best friends and you call 200 of your best friends, we'll form a limited partnership, chip in $50 a piece, send a representative to Christies, and maybe we'll have a shot at that sucker.

Chad Reynolds said...

Sounds good, Ward. But where will the typewriter live if we win it?

Ward said...

Well, Chad, what if you took the keys for the first half of the alphabet and I took the other half? Or you write while I'm farming, UPS it to me in December, and I write while you're dealmaking?

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