“Digital Quality” and “No Moving Parts”: We Were Tricked!

It used to be that “digital quality” meant “high quality” because going digital was a way to do better what could be done with analog. Consider CDs, they often had very high quality sound. But we were tricked. Now a days “digital quality” is as crappy as the engineers and MBAs decide to make it. Consider Sirius Satellite Radio. Originally it was going to be called CD Radio, because it was “digital quality”, but they quickly realized their mistake. By doing more extreme data compression on the music streams they can fit in many more channels. The result is far, far short of “CD quality”. And God forbid you listen to their all-talk streams. The quality is horrible, makes me want to listen over a telephone circa 1965.

This morning, while doing some laundry I realized I was fooled by “no moving parts” in exactly the same way! I was waiting for a 40-year-old washer to advance to the rinse cycle, watching the old mechanical synchronous motor sequencer, listening to all its noises, wondering how much longer it will last. By reflex I thought “Moving parts! They will wear out faster.”

Ah, how I was tricked. Once upon a time “no moving parts” meant more reliable because it was a way to make something more reliable. But now it means as perishable as engineers and MBAs decide to make it. Our “no moving parts” electronics are made of ephemeral components that have calendar lives independent of whether they are used or abused. Lithium ion batteries are the nastiest examples of this today: they expire in time, no matter how you use them, they are custom molded into our telephones and computers, and they set the end of life for these devices–no matter how well we treat them–forcing us to land-fill our old model and buy a new one. Not just batteries, but flash memory, capacitors, LCD panels, and even LEDs–they all are being used in ways that will fail. Even the plastic cases we put everything in gets brittle and shrinks and discolors and will die.

I have a phone that is around 70-years old, and it could last another 70-years, though there won’t still be a wired phone system to connect it to by then. I have other phones that are just a few years old and are non-functional. From components that expire to wireless standards that have been retired.

My phone that has lasted all these years? It has tons of moving parts and is all analog.

-kb, the Kent who is clearly an old fogy to even ask the question.

©2014 Kent Borg

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