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On Modern Hardware

This is a companion piece to my previous post, “On Obsolete Hardware.”

Right now I'm writing this blog post on the most recently manufactured piece of computer hardware in my household, a Dell XPS 13 made in, I think, 2020. It was originally my wife's computer for school, during a time where she was going to be lugging it back and forth to class and to internship sites, and portability was king. I used a Dell XPS 15, which I bought on Linus Sebastian's recommendation back in 2016 the last time I went to school. In the time between when my wife graduated and now, our needs and wants have shifted, so she now uses my XPS 15, with it's larger screen and better onboard IO, and I use her XPS 13, with it's lighter weight and better battery life.

It's funny how our decisions and preferences change over time. For example, I don't take Linus's recommendation on anything anymore, since he was exposed to me ( and a lot of people) as a productivity and output obsessed Boss, and there is a lot of worker-owned content out there that deserves my support more. Back when I bought that XPS 15, and really when I gave my recommendation to my wife for her XPS 13, I was much more sensitive to, specifically, how “snappy” the computer feels to use. How responsive it is to input, how quickly it renders photos, how smooth the video playback is.

As I reflected in my previous post, this computer is objectively better than CrunchStation or his brother SwayBook (a 2015 Macbook Pro running Debian and Sway) in almost every way. Swaybook probably has the edge on display quality, and CrunchStation probably wins the crown in doorstop potential, but the XPS 13 has them beat on everything else. The CPU performance, in comparison to it's brothers, is particularly good, even though it's “only” an i5 mobile unit.

Yet, it doesn't have a name. I don't have the same history with this computer that I do with the others, even the one I recently handed off to my wife. Having opened it up, once, I've confirmed there's not a lot really to upgrade. The RAM and CPU are soldered on, so there's really just a battery repair or a storage upgrade to consider in the future, and any other repairs that might come up.

There's a.... well maybe a cultural artifact or a consequence of my upbringing that manifests itself as an unspoken and unnoticed instinct to make purchasing decisions based on my personal values. Baked in to this is a couple of problematic identities and behaviors that I don't like taking on, things like an identity as a “consumer” that my capitalistic environment stamped me with as I arrived in this world, things like expressing my personal beliefs by going out and buying something. This has been reflected on in the environmentalist space for years, this sort of “Plastic is not sustainable, recycling is a scam, I'm going to go out and buy glass containers and throw away my plastic ones” when the better thing for the environment is to keep using the plastic containers you already have! Don't go out and buy a new thing, “consume” a new object to express your identity as a “we should consume less” person!

This creates a tension inside my heart. I'm very very interested in the MNT Reform Next platform, an upcoming revision and refinement of their original Reform laptop to, hopefully, make it just a little more luggable. I love how repairable and upgradeable it is. I love how it ships a trackball by default. I love how it's made to last for a decade or more. I would love to buy one.

Can I justify it, though? If I apply the thrift I advocated for last time, can I look at this pile of lovely and useful electronic wizardry, this embarrassment of computing riches the Lord has blessed my household with, and say “Yes, the thing I need is another computer. This will look lovely next to the other ones.”

Do I just say no? Do I rotate it out with something else I don't need anymore? Do we bargain and haggle and negotiate with ourselves so that we can have the thing that we want, or do we just say “No. I have more than enough.” Can we do that in this modern age? Can we recognize it as admirable when it happens?

Maybe I'll get one anyways, just for fun. I don't know what the future holds. If the pricing is anything like the current pricing, it won't be an impulse decision. The thing that keeps me going in circles with Capitalism and Modernism is that the move I just described, to refuse to buy something as an expression of my values, is only marginally better than insisting on buying something as an expression of my values. Both cede the frame to this present evil age, both give weight to my purchasing decisions that make the way I spend my money a very very important part of my moral life and existence.

It's the modernist move, to make religious conviction a matter of how you “personally” “act” to “express” that conviction. If something like the Gospel is true, it's true for everyone, not just me personally. If the Gospel is true, it's true regardless of my actions. If the Gospel is true, it doesn't need me to express belief in it to make it true. That's Paganism.

So don't be surprised if I end up buying a new computer. Just maybe be surprised if it's another unserviceable, un-upgradeable ultrabook. I already have one of those.