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Crap technology, not crappy

Kai Ryssdal Dec 1, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Despite my best efforts on the show this past Cyber Monday, I didn’t end up buying anything. Didn’t buy on Black Friday or in the wee hours of Thanksgiving night either, for that matter. Truth is, there’s nothing I really need. And no sense spending money you don’t have to spend.

That’s music to the ears of Thomas Hayden, whose recent essay extolls the virtues of hanging onto your old stuff for a while. Except he doesn’t call it old stuff. He calls it ‘crap’ technology. His essay’s titled “In Praise of Crap Technology” for the website Last Word on Nothing.

Thomas Hayden, welcome to the program.

Thomas Hayden: Kai, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Ryssdal: You have to tell me about this piece of crap technology that’s your favorite. You brought it with you, right?

Hayden: Yes, I do have my Coby mp3 player right here with me. I think about it as sort of the well drink of technology. It’s not high-end stuff but if you’re making a margarita, you don’t need the best tequila, right? It’s just whatever’s good enough.

Ryssdal: Is it that you just — you don’t care about the latest and greatest? You are an Apple-ite? What is it that keeps you glued to the Coby?

Hayden: I love Apple products. I just don’t feel that I have to underwrite the advertising budget for Apple computers by paying top dollar for the latest thing. Really, if it works well, crap technology is green technology. I don’t have to upgrade because the next version of my Coby is going to be just as mediocre as the one I have. So I have no pressure to get a new one and throw out the old one. I generate practically no e-waste.

Ryssdal: There’s a difference though — right? — between crap technology and crappy technology?

Hayden: Crap technology is basically stuff that doesn’t have cachet, you know? It’s not slick, it’s not cool, but it works. Crappy technology, on the other hand, is stuff that simply doesn’t work. That’s the sweet spot of crap technology: no cachet but all the functionality you’ll need.

Ryssdal: I love that phrase: the sweet spot of crap technology. And also, actually, if you lose a $20 piece of crap technology, it’s $20 instead of $399.

Hayden: I got my Coby after losing my 30-gigabyte iPod. What I discovered: when you have a $20 piece of junk, you don’t lose it; when you have a $400 piece of glorious machinery, you do lose it. The crappy stuff just has a way of sticking around.

Ryssdal: You know what’s funny? When you’re doing an interview and you can hear the piece of promo tape. And that was it.

One last thing before I let you go. Besides the Coby, what other pieces of crap technology do you swear by?

Hayden: I drove to the studio this morning in my 2000 Ford Focus hatchback — well tuned. No body ever tries to break in, no matter what you have under the seat. I still have the 12-speed racer that I got when I started high school in 1980.

Ryssdal: Wow.

Hayden: It simply cannot die. And I take my morning coffee in a Mason jar — an old spaghetti sauce jar.

Ryssdal: No, come on!

Hayden: I do!

Ryssdal: Doesn’t it burn your hands?

Hayden: No, here’s the beauty of it: Pour your coffee into the Mason jar. Screw it on tight. You throw it straight into the backpack. Ride your bike to the train, hop on the train. By the time you’re ready to drink it, it’s cooled down to a civilized degree and you’re all set.

Ryssdal: Thomas Hayden’s essay is called “In Praise of Crap Technology.” It was on the website The Last Word on Nothing. Tom, thanks a lot.

Hayden: Kai, it was a pleasure. Thank you.

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