Gadgets for humans

The magic of mediocre technology

Being passable is a-okay in my book

header image mediocre technology

This is from Plugged In, TNW’s bi-weekly newsletter on gear and gadgets. Subscribe to it (and our other great newsletters) here.

Today we’re gonna talk about the joy of okay tech. Okay?

Not a fantastic joke, sure, but a good one just wouldn’t fit with this newsletter’s topic. And we’re all about consistency over here. And, of course, mediocre technology.

The other day, I discovered the current Apple TV is now over a thousand days old. And it got me thinking about adequate technology. My first Apple streaming cuboid (circa… 2012) felt magic. I could play low-quality grime videos on my phone and send them to the TV with a tap of a button. I’m not sure I’ve been as happy since.

But my current Apple TV almost 8 years later? Simply sufficient. It could be so much more, but isn’t. And that’s fine.

There’s something actually warming about mediocre technology that does what it’s meant to do. You know the type: things that aren’t bad enough for you to replace right now, but not good enough that you’d actually praise it.

Effectively, the gadget form of how my parents view me.

On reflection, it’s amazing how much of this tolerable technology has been in my life. You know, like the pair of Skullcandy headphones I had for years that played music in what can only be deemed as acceptable quality. Or the Iomega media player that did a slow and passable job of playing most of the video files on my hard drives. It might’ve taken days to select a file, but it sure did play the shit out of it.

iomega screenplay
I liked you a lot, but you truly were a piece of mediocre technology.

Or the hand-me-down laptop that took 10 minutes to start up, but would let me access the internet and do school work. I could play Doom, but little of anything released after 1998.

And what connects them? The fact they were truly, deeply fine. They each did a job — but would I recommend them? The answer to that depends on how much I like you.

Despite this, these and many other bits of middling tech still give me a warm glow when I think about them.

Yes, at the end of the day they’re lifeless bits of plastic and wire designed to do a simple task and just about managing it, but they were my lifeless bits of just-about-functioning tech.

The time I spent with these okay objects gave them a sense of life, elevating them above being things, into things I have actual feelings for. In a way, that’s the human experience in a nutshell: forming attachments when we really shouldn’t.

And it’s my cross to bear. Which — now I’ve actually spent some time with it — isn’t a bad cross at all. Who made this thing?

Are there any bits of barely tolerable technology you’ve formed deep, lasting attachments with? Well, either respond to this email, or drop me a line on Twitter — I’d love to hear about it.

I’ll leave you with this battle cry: MEDIOCRE TECHNOLOGY FOREVER! Oh, I’ve just been asked to leave my own house.

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Published June 12, 2020 — 14:22 UTC