Science fiction author Bruce Sterling coined the phrase “blobjects”, to describe those little gadgets that litter our modern lives, small chunks of molded plastic and electronics such as cell phones, iPods, etc.  Blobjects are characteristically disposable, meant to be used for a year or two and then unceremoniously abandoned.  They are usually rugged enough to withstand daily use, but not as rugged as technology meant to last.

They often annoy the heck out of me.

I find most blobjects to be deeply unaesthetic.  For one thing, their disposable design makes them little more than glorified garbage.  That shiny new cell phone lasts only slightly longer than a styrofoam cup, in the grand scheme of things.  Yet we’re pulled the other way to think that they are not garbage, that they are important (and expensive). Therefore, we’re wont to keep our blobjects even when they’re obsolete or broken.

Another problem with blobjects is the overall poor design and construction quality in so many of them. The shells may be weak in some way, or the electronics buggy. Here’s an example… to turn off the ringer on my Motorola RAZR cell phone, I have to turn it down to off – each step down making noise.  So if I find myself in a situation where the phone should be silent but isn’t, I can’t make it be silent without making noise!  And due to the prevalence of blobjects, it’s hard to trust brand names – a company may make one that I love, and then make something else I hate. Consistency doesn’t matter, because it’ll be obsolete in a year anyway.

Yet another problem is feeping creaturitis, a tendency to load the interface down with software “features” that very few people want or need. It has gotten to the point where we can’t visit someone’s house and operate their television without instructions!

And as long as I’m listing off problems, blobjects are basically unrepairable. If they break, you get a new one, which may or may not be similar to the one that broke. They’re assembled under near-laboratory conditions by robots, and cannot be understood by human minds or repaired by human hands.

I’ve been trying to adjust to living with blobjects. For a long time, I resisted getting a digital SLR, because they’re all blobjects and guilty of disposability. My friend Rob gave me another angle to consider – “Think of them as film”.  Film is, of course, basically disposable. Treat the digital camera as disposable, use it like film, and don’t cry when it breaks or becomes intolerably obsolete.

Regardless, it’s a difficult relationship.  But it’s one that is unlikely to end, so I may as well learn to enjoy the benefits.


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