I disposed of a couple of old computers and a broken VCR today. I
took them to our local recycling facility, but it still felt
wasteful. They were all about 10 years old, and all almost
working: One computer works just as it did the day it was made,
but what we ask it to do has changed. The other computer, a high-end
laptop in its day, works fine except for its battery and pointer.
The VCR has been broken and repaired before, but it broke again –
something with its tape-handling mechanism – and we decided it wasn’t
worth repairing. At the recycling center there was a dumpster half
full – not as many as I might have guessed, but then I don’t know
how often they empty it, either.
We’ve made a lot of progress since the early 19th century in producing
standardized, interchangeable parts, but I’d like to see a bigger
next step: interchangeable parts that could make completely different
products, that didn’t become obsolete – like
Tinkertoys or Legos (the originals, that is, before there were any ‘kits’), only not toys.