Slow Tech Home Theater.

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Thursday, January 28, 2010
I admit it – I am a sucker for fast-changing high tech products. I own three iPods and and iPhone. My laptop computer, now two years old, is hopelessly out of date, soon to be replaced by a faster, fancier, lighter model. I just ordered an LED backlit LCD TV to replace my three year old HD flat panel.

So now that I’ve finished the full-disclosure about my addiction to fast-tech, let’s move on to “slow tech,” which I define as “products that maintain their appealing usefulness for a period of five years or longer.” Here’s a short list of examples:

• The lightweight curved-handled snow shovel I just used to clear my driveway. The curved handle is a brilliant idea. We’ve had it for about six years. Looks like it should last another 20 unless I accidentally run over it.

• My white Krups coffee grinder. It’s got to be 20 years old and works as well as it did the day we bought it. Ann liked it so much she went out and bought a new one about a year ago, but it doesn’t work any better than the old one – so we keep using the old one.

• My Tivoli Model One table radio. Henry Kloss gave it to me as a Christmas present the year before he died. It’s small, simple, stylish and sounds good. As long as FM stations keep broadcasting, I’ll hang on to it.

• Our Jenn-Air countertop electric grille. Of all the appliances installed when we remodeled our kitchen in 1984, this is the only survivor. Still works like a champ and hasn’t gone out of style.

• My Cambridge SoundWorks 740 table radio. I know. Two table radios on the list – and that doesn’t count my 37 year old Advent Model 400 which I gave away to a friend 30 years ago and which still works very well, thank you very much. The 740 is my bedroom sound system (we do not allow television in the bedroom), and it does its job perfectly. It deserves to be on this list.

• Although we’ve only had it a few weeks, I suspect that our new Dyson ball vacuum cleaner will make this list. Its design is simple and clever at the same time, and it seems to be very robustly constructed. I’ll bet we’re still using it ten years from now.

And now, the shameless pitch for ZVOX:

Another new addition that should make the list is my ZVOX IncrediBase 575 system. I installed the original prototype 575 as my living room home theater system last summer, and it’s hard to imagine replacing it any time soon. It’s stylish in a simple way – visually integrating with the TV so you basically don’t notice that it’s there. It sounds remarkably good. And most importantly, its technology won’t go out of date. Five, ten, even twenty years from now the 575’s technology won’t be out of date. And I’ll bet it will still work fine, look fine and sound great. One reason for this is our ears. They are analog devices. They hear sound waves created by other analog devices – speakers. There is no way to digitize this final stage of the listening process, so it is not very likely that some new technology will pop up making our speakers hopelessly uncool. Of course we can be sure that several companies will claim to have created this new technology. But those people are even more shameless than I.

A new definition of the value of technology: the dollars-per-year equation.

I tend to buy a new laptop computer every two years. I usually pay around $700. So keeping up with laptop computer technology costs me about $350 per year – less than $30 a month. Not a bad deal.

My iPhone 3GS cost me $300, plus about $70 a month. And I’m guessing that in two years, there’ll be a cooler one that I have to have. So having an iPhone costs me about $82.50 a month. Expensive but, for me, worth it.

The ZVOX 575 is our most expensive system. 700 bucks. But it should reasonably last 20 years and stay stylish and fully functional – just like my Krups coffee grinder. $700 divided by 240 months is $2.91 per month. If I replace it after 10 years, that’s still less than $6 a month.

All of this reminds me of my favorite bumper sticker of all time. I saw it in the early 1970s on a Volkswagen Beetle. It said, simply:

Further reading:
Slow-Tech: Manifesto For An Overwound World, by Andrew Price. http://www.andrewpricebooks.com/


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