Why Can’t I Let Go of Technology I Don’t Need?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, April 7, 2019

If you live long enough you realize that things have a lifespan too. When I was growing up there were payphones everywhere. I don’t see them anymore. They still exist, but they are dying off. I do miss them. I can imagine situations when I’d even want to use one so I think AT&T should maintain payphones. Of course, we should let AT&T just pull the plug on this outdated technology.

In my lifetime I’ve bought over 2,000 LPs and 2,000 CDs. I have no LPs anymore, and I’m down to about 700 CDs. I hardly ever play them. I’d like to get rid of my CDs because I’d like to use their space to store more books I won’t read but want to buy.  However, I struggle to let the last CDs go.

It’s not being able to let go that intrigues me. Why am I so attached to something that’s not being used? I know people that own everything they’ve ever bought, including their childhood toys. I’m not like that. If I kept every computer I’d ever owned, I’d need another bedroom just to store them. I actually like letting go of clutter. But not these CDs. Maybe I fear streaming music will fail.

I had no trouble giving up my LPs — I’ve done it several times in my life. That’s one of my problems. I get nostalgic for things I once owned and buy them again. I’ve built up at least four record collections. However, I think (I’m pretty sure this time) that I’m over LPs for good, and I’m almost sure I’m over CDs too. But not quite.

This week I was tempted to get back into the world of CDs again when I read about the Brennan B2. Its 2GB model can hold 5,000 CDs. I could put all my CDs on it, and then pack them away, or donate them to the library. The Brennan B2 connects to computers, stereos, phones, tablets, and just about anything that plays music. I could use my iPhone to call up any song from my collection and play it on the phone, or through my stereo system or on my HDTV.

The Brenna B2 is the perfect way to access a CD collection. Of course, (I chid myself) that I ripped my CD collection over a decade ago before I gave most of them away, and they are all on Amazon for me to play on my iPhone, iPad, computer, stereo or TV. But I don’t. Well, hardly ever. I just checked, and Amazon is still holding 1,792 of my albums for me. I was able to instantly play 45th Parallel by Oregon, an album I’d completely forgotten I bought. I probably should rip all those CDs I bought since that ripping project, but it would be a pain in the ass. And by the way, the reason I forgot I owned the Oregon CD is that I don’t like it. The reason why I only have 700 CDs now is I got rid of all the CDs I didn’t care about anymore.

So why am I thinking about CDs again? It’s that damn Brennan B2! It’s the coolest piece of technology I’ve seen in years. And when I read it’s built on top of a Raspberry Pi computer I believed it even cooler. But that inspired, “Hey, I could build my own CD server and save $679!”

Last night I was playing Spotify after I went to bed. I love dreaming while listening to music. And in my half-awake state, I told myself that the Brennan B2 could never match the convenience of Spotify or the size of its music library. So why am I agonizing over buying a Brennan B2 still? It’s become I’m still addicted to getting tech toys even though I have a lifetime of experience knowing I won’t use them for long.

I know in my heart of hearts I’d buy the Brennan B2, spend a couple of weeks ripping CDs to FLAC, build playlists, and then play with it for an afternoon. After that, I’d forget all about it. I see now that what I’m really thinking about doing, is spending $679 to have a couple weeks of tech toy playtime. By the way, that’s why I write these blogs sometimes, to think things through. But even this psychoanalysis through writing isn’t curing me of the urge to buy the Brennan B2.

I’m trying to talk myself now into getting out my Raspberry Pi that’s been sitting around doing nothing and building my own CD server. I even have a 1TB USB drive doing nothing to store those CDs that aren’t being played. I wonder if I could create a system that’s even half as nice as the Brennan B2? Did they write their software from scratch, or is it open source? I like the idea of accessing the music database through an IP address in a browser.

Of course, the Brennan B2 would be an amazing out-of-the-box experience.

No, no, no. This is crazy. Spotify lets me access millions of albums and I want to build a system that lets me access 700? Why don’t I realize this an idiotic urge? Well, the library sells old CDs for cheap. I could beef up my library considerably without spending too much. (Am I conveying my insanity well enough?)

There’s a joke in an old Woody Allen movie that he tells about a kid being told that masturbation will make him go blind. The kid replies, “Can I do it until I need glasses?”

That about sums up my ability to let go of technology I don’t need. I’m never ready to completely give it up.


16 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Let Go of Technology I Don’t Need?”

  1. I enjoyed this post. I, too, sometimes have trouble letting go of technology. My wife and I did a major downsize a couple years ago, and we had to be brutal about getting rid of stuff. It was really hard. We got rid of all of our CDs (many, many hundreds) and all of our DVDs. I almost didn’t do it several times, but I have to say that it was very freeing once done, and it make it easier to tackle more. I have a DSLR camera, lenses, tripods, etc., etc., sitting in a box that hasn’t been used in over two years, which should probably be my next thing. And still, it’s hard to do…

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

    1. My wife and I went through the DVDs today. I just couldn’t part with many. My wife pleaded. She told me I’ll never watch most of these movies again. And she’s right. But I just can’t let go yet.

      I also looked at my CDs, thinking I might thin them out again. Couldn’t find a one. But I have cleaned out 2/3rds of them in recent years.

  2. Last year I rode out a hurricane here in Florida. Electric was restored after only two weeks (very fast, considering the damage) but it was two months before I had an internet connection again and almost all of the cell networks were also down for over a month. Frankly, I enjoyed being disconnected for a while. I had books to read and hauled a little TV and rabbit ears out of the closet for local news. But of course I’ve lived without the internet, cell phones, or ebooks for most of my life.

    Our infrastructure is much more fragile than most people realize and our currently dominant money-grubbing ideology is very bad at retaining backups in the form of the more robust tech we used to have (like pay phones, cash registers, and card catalogs). This is true in part because our class system has come to disdain more publicly oriented infrastructure as only suitable for the poor and partly because of the mania to treat all parts of life “like a business”. Public utility is seldom a real consideration anymore.

    Most of our hipster minimalists don’t seem to be aware that their uncluttered, service-based lifestyle is a luxury good (they don’t really want to give up anything, they just want everything out of sight). I have the same simplifying impulse, but being able to rent or buy fresh at need is actually a very privileged position, and also very dependent on complicated systems being constantly accessible.

    Not saying you shouldn’t ditch your old stuff, just be aware of all that we are really trading away when we do so.

  3. My ex husband cleared out his cupboards recently and found the old Mac I did my thesis on in 1987 or thereabouts. At the time, lots of people still had their theses typed up by typists. It’s really nostalgic but neither of us really knows what to do with the old thing.

  4. While you are thinking about purging your CDs, I’m buying more. Marie Kondo has motivated plenty of people to “get rid of stuff” and that “stuff” includes music CDs. I just bought a couple dozen music CDs at my local GOODWILL thrift store yesterday. Why would someone get rid of THE BEST OF MARIA CALLAS or IRISH HEARTBEAT by Van Morrison & The Chieftains?

    Like you, I find it hard to part with books, DVDs, and music CDs. I listen to music every day. I watch DVDs during the week. I try to read an entire book each day (but that doesn’t always happen depending on the size). I have donated 30,000 books to the State University of New York at Buffalo, but I have thousands of books in my basement that need a home when I’m no longer around. I don’t want to burden my wife and kids with dealing with my books, DVDs, and music CDs so I’m slowly weeding my collections.

    1. The reason why people get rid of CDs is streaming music is so much more convenient and enriching. I can read an essay or book about music history and instantly play the songs being discussed. I can read about a new song in Rolling Stone magazine and go play it. I can think of Maria Callas or Van Morrison and play their work.

      I have Spotify connected to my receiver which is aware of my iPhone. The receiver is hooked up to a 5.1 surround sound system with 4 large floor standing speakers. I think of what I want to hear, punch it in on my phone and it plays through the stereo system. I have CD and SACDs that technically sound better, but only if I concentrate very hard. Streaming music sounds great played loud. I also got back into LPs to see if they sounded better. Not really to my old 67-year-old ears.

      Spotify goes with me everywhere. It’s just so much more convenient than playing CDs or LPs.

      I keep my CDs because I’m afraid streaming music will be outlawed in the future.

  5. Jim, you supplied the key element in why we keep our stuff: what if those services like SPOTIFY go away? What if Netflix doesn’t provide movies I want to see anymore? Even public libraries don’t buy as many books as they used to. But, if we own what we want, it’s alway available. Otherwise, we have to “trust” that companies that provide music and text services will be around to provide the “stuff” that we want.

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