Dave at Newton Poetry makes a good point in his post One Used Mac Per Child about the culture of throw-it-away that pervades our society. We throw away so many old computers and monitors – still functional, most of them, but no longer fashionable – that we end up “poisoning another country and its people.”
What happened to the “make do and mend” attitude? It got swept away by cheap deals in malls, deals that made making do seem dumb.
Dave makes a point of doing something about this waste, by ensuring that some of it gets re-used and recycled:
“Rescuing Macs from the trash heap is a hobby for me. Besides all the fun I have with these “obsolete” machines, in a way I’m saving them from being stripped, buried, or burned. Luckily the recycler we deal with is dedicated to keeping e-waste out of third-world countries. But my small effort saves the energy and resources it takes to either (a) recycle the computers or (b) create new ones. I haven’t bought a brand-new Mac since 2005; my iMac G4 works just fine, thanks.”
I particularly admire Dave’s proposal for a One Used Mac Per Child programme. Let’s round up those old machines, the ones that we sometimes see sitting abandoned, but still usable, on street corners. Round them up, re-install whatever version of whatever operating system they are capable of running, and get those things in use. Give them to kids. Set them up in family rooms and kitchens. Plug them into routers or install new wireless cards where possible. Find a browser that’ll work (we hear that Netscape 2.0 is pretty good and send them flying on to the web.
OK, some of them might be so old that flying might be a little difficult. But you get the gist.
Truth to tell, this is not such a new idea; there have been organized groups gathering, refurbishing and redistributing old computers for years now. What is new is Dave’s enthusiasm for recycling old Macs in particular.
Imagine what Dave and friends might do in response to a post like this one that appeared on the Mac UK mailing list a few days ago.
Poster Brian Harding had “half a Transit” of old Macs and Mac-related stuff that had to be got rid of after he had a clearout during some building work on his home. The list includes four Mac Pluses, five LCs, some beige G3s, even a Quicktake 100 camera. You don’t see many of those around. The point is: here’s half a van-load of old kit for the asking, free to anyone with half a van with which to carry it away. How much of it, I wonder, could be revived into kid-friendly Mac machinery?
My son, now six, has just started asking about computers. I’ve set him up with the creaky old G3 iBook that grinds its way through most tasks and can’t really survive long on its battery, but that still works well enough for him to be enthralled by it. The simplest of things – creating a folder, moving it around the Desktop, and dragging pictures into it from web pages – makes him smile and say: “Wow! Cool!”
As we went upstairs for his bedtime story last night, we got on to the subject of operating systems, and I tried to explain the difference between the Windows machines he uses at school, and the OS X machines he uses at home.
My attempt at a simple explanation was fruitless, but he chipped in with his view on it all: “The ones at school are green and blue,” he said, making a gesture to represent the default XP desktop. “And our ones at home are grey,” he continued, referring to the plain grey desktop background I use on all my machines.
I nodded. For now, that much difference is plenty.