Living in the (technological) past - part 2

May 2, 2024

tech sustainability

Reading time: 6 minutes

Last year I wrote an article titled “Living in the (technological) past”, in which I talked about my approach to buying, or rather refusing to buy, new electronic devices. If you haven’t read it or don’t remember it, don’t worry - I asked an AI to summarize it, so you can get up to speed quickly:

"The author has never been an early adopter of technology and prefers using older devices over newer ones. They attribute this behavior to growing up in a working-class family where they had to be frugal with their money, which carried into their adult life. Despite knowing about the latest tech trends, they choose not to purchase them due to cost and finding no need for the new technology. This mindset has provided peace of mind, saved money, mental space, and potentially helped the environment by reducing electronic waste."

That’s pretty spot on actually. Thanks, openchat-3.5-0106-GGUF!

Anyway, in this article I was mainly talking about my preference for using older hardware rather than buying new, but lately I have found myself feeling more and more the same way about software.

Over the last few years, more and more software has moved to a subscription model, where you don’t buy the program for a few tens or hundreds of Euros, you license it for a monthly fee. And look, these monthly fees are so low, it’s much cheaper to license Lightroom or Photoshop than to spend hundreds of Euros buying it, and that way you always have the latest version, isn’t that great?

Well, of course it’s great, even fantastic - for Adobe. They can lure you in with low prices, then gradually make the subscription more expensive, and then move the features you use to the “premium” tier where you have to pay even more. Not to mention that they can remove features on a whim if they feel like it, or charge you even more if you want to keep them. And if you want to keep access to your files, you have to be subscribed until the end of time - “nice pictures you have there! It’d be a shame if you couldn’t open them because you decided to opt out of our subscription model, wouldn’t it?”

And now things are about to get even worse, because now AI is being shoehorned into absolutely everything, whether we like it or not. This week I noticed a new AI assistant on Gitlab, which we use at work. Github has AI assistants, Windows is getting them, search engines have them of course, and there are even hilariously terrible AI assistant devices on the market now that do a fraction of what your phone can do anyway, but for a ridiculous amount of money and terrible usability. MKBHD has some good videos about them.

And I better not even start talking about all the crappy software that’s running in modern cars. I don’t own a car and instead rent one when I need one, which isn’t too often, so I get a different car every time… and it feels like the manufacturers are competing who can make the most annoying infotainment system possible. As soon as you get in the car everything lights up, dings, chimes, a boot animation shows up on the display… I’m just driving down to the hardware store for god’s sake, I don’t need to be infotained all the way there!

I recently came across a statistic that most Windows users are still using Windows 10, which is now almost 9 years old, rather than switching to Windows 11, which is already 2.5 years old. And why should they? Windows 11 essentially feels like a reskin of Windows 10, but with outlandish hardware requirements, sluggish performance even on ridiculously overpowered high-end hardware, and of course a new AI-powered digital assistant called clippy cortana copilot. So why upgrade if your installation of Windows 10 is working fine for you?

Add to that the usual privacy concerns, the enshittification and the insane (and still growing!) amount of bloat that has plagued software for many, many years, if not decades, and to which we all seem to have become so accustomed that we just accept it as inevitable, and I’ve just about had it with modern software.

I recently installed Windows XP on a 2009 Core2Duo Macbook Pro and the thing flies! I know this is no longer a secure operating system, and browsing the modern web is all but impossible, but this system feels a lot snappier than my modern Core i7 ThinkPad with 16GB of RAM running Windows 10. I mean, what the hell.

I realise this is a bit of a rant, and hopefully it’s not too incoherent… but I’m just so tired of all the bloat, subscription models, cookie banners, cloud services, AI assistants, resource consumption, forced obsolescence etc that plague the modern software world. Of course, these trends have been around for decades, but I wonder where it will end… when you need the equivalent of a 2000s supercomputer just to type a text document or open an internet browser, something is seriously wrong.