My phone contract ran out of contract a few months ago, so I am told that I am apparently entitled to an upgrade. Great, I think. I go out and investigate getting a new iPhone, because I’m told that this is a really useful bit of kit, but little do I suspect that this is going to actually involve spending quite a lot more money than I had intended. Apparently my computer is “so old” that any modern piece of technology won’t connect to it. “Five years is a very long time these days” said the man in the shop. I am told, though, that I could just upgrade the operating system on my computer and everything would work fine, but since the only upgrade I could buy has been discontinued, I would have to purchase it at twice to three times the cost on ebay or amazon. Great. And, worse that that, I am told that when I do upgrade my computer I will have to buy new versions of all of the software I own, as none of it will work. And all of this just so I can get a new phone?
I also, on the same shopping trip, went into specsavers. I have a voucher from work for a free eye test as I work at a computer all day, and thought it would be time to get some new lenses for my glasses. The trouble is that I’m told that since I’ve had my frames for a few years, they probably wouldn’t survive having new lenses put in. Looking around the shop for alternatives, all I can find are square frames. The man at the counter says “we don’t do round frames anymore, you’ll have to look for them in a specialist shop.”
This morning, and returning to my computer troubles, I got the following message on youtube:
Now, once again my computer is too old for all of this. It still works for most of the things I want to do, can be a bit slow at times, but it’s alright. But now I’m being told I can’t use youtube properly as of a few weeks time.
It may sound like I am a moany old man who should stop being quite so frugal and should get more up-to-date taste in spectacles, but I bring these situations together for a point. There is a theory amongst some opponents of capitalism that the way it works is that you’re constantly bombarded by advertising and fads, and through this encouraged to buy more and more. The point I wish to make is that through making products defunct, through making entire technologies defunct, capitalism does something far more coercive that this. It is not simply that we live in a world in which society tells you to fetishise what is new, rather what is old is forcibly got rid of.
As technology becomes a more and more coherent entity, as we create systems that run off systems that run off systems, we risk the possibility of any choices in these kinds of matters disappearing. We must address the problems of these totalities in the sphere of consumption that are built upon a division of labour that by definition can never return us a totality adequate to our human demands, but only our demands as consumers. And where what is human may try to break through simply being consumers is exactly the point upon which this coercive strand of technological output is marking its domination.