I have chosen to write this on the second oldest computer I currently own, my first color laptop, an Apple Macintosh PowerBook 540c. This one left the factory sometime in 1995. It is solid, heavy (second behind the massive Compaq Armada), and still running.
It will not be the machine the article is posted from. I have still not made up my mind there. In my normal fashion, though, you may rely on the fact that it will not be the most modern of them (my little Dell Inspiron Netbook). This document will be carried, via 3 1/2″ floppy disk (I have hundreds), to another machine, where it will be loaded in another text editor and then sent to the Vagabond Hacker blog, as the body of an email. As I type this, another old laptop sitting nearby is streaming my favorite online station, the former WMVY out of Martha’s Vineyard. That laptop, an old IBM ThinkPad 760XD, is still plugging along with Windows 98SE. As I write this, I am considering sending this from that aforementioned machine.
Now, as strange as this arrangement sounds, it works. This is not the normal way I would do things, of course. This is just a fun experiment, as well as serving the purpose of testing this old PowerBook.
Before I began writing this, I had planned on going in a different direction, going into a subject that is dear to me.
That subject is obsolescence, and why it is really a construct. In truth, though, things do lose their usefulness. Where computers are concerned, that occurs frequently. There exists an absolute cutoff for usefulness. For instance, even if I did have a way to connect this machine to the nearby router, there is practically no software that could be used to allow it to post the article, even via email. It could be done, certainly, a simple terminal program could do it. But unlike a browser, using terminal emulation is fairly complicated. You can learn how to, absolutely.
The thing is, you are not experiencing the Web the way it is meant to be. The great bulk of it has simply moved beyond the capabilities of this class of machines.
The quest to re-purpose older machines so that the Digital Divide can be bridged requires machines of a certain vintage, certainly not too old. Over at my Yesterdata blog I had once written a small matrix, one that showed how the Internet can be broken down into tiers, like lanes on a highway, with the older, slower machines confined to outer lanes, with increasing speed and storage as you moved towards the median. I no longer think that comparison is valid. While it is true that some people can make older computers do amazing things, it does take a fair degree of knowledge. For many people, it is simply enough to have something that works and does that job. They don’t want to be bothered with details.
I’m planning on acquiring a network adapter for this old computer, just for curiosity’s sake, to see how it can handle some Internet chores. My expectations are low.
The problem is one of finding an inexpensive, and legal, way of bridging that divide. Surplus computers are a step in the right direction. They are not the only way, but simply another path. It does come down to a problem of practicality.