Everything old is new again: new lease of life for old tech

Sometimes a great notion comes to my head, around coffee #2 on a Saturday. If I decide to do something with the notion, then it turns into a small experiment - with technology, or learning, or working differently. This is a write-up of one such experiment. To sum if up: I revived two of my old devices and am now using them as daily drivers.

The gear - what am I using?

The machine I use for 9 - to - 5 work doesn't change. I swapped my smartphone and my personal computer. My smartphone changed from Nokia G22 (which I've had for less than a year) to a second-generation Motorola Moto G.

My personal laptop changed from a Libreboot Lenovo T440p to an older Libreboot - a Thinkpad x200.

More about the new(old) gear

I bought the phone in 2014 or 2015, I think - two or three phones ago. It runs a custom ROM - a de-googled version of Android from /e/ Foundation. I've replaced the default launcher with an app called Unlauncher - a plain-text main screen.

I've had the laptop for about as long, too - gave up on it several times, only to see it come back to life over and over again. Right now, it runs Zorin OS.

Why would I go through with it?

The main reason must have been the desire to experiment. I knew how easy it was to get through every day with my newer gear - both the Nokia and the new Libreboot were sleek and speedy enough to enable so many things, all at once. Would I still be able to keep up my work and play on the old devices?

There was the question of giving the finger to surveillance capitalism, too. It's more pronounced in case of the phone: I am still unable to find a custom ROM for the Nokia, so have to put up with Google's slimy fingers all over my data. Gross. The Motorola is as de-googled as I can get it. Libreboot behaves pretty well in this respect, on both machines.

Finally - there was the idea of regaining frugal focus in what I use these devices for. I would find myself surfing the web on both screens at once, with several tabs open, wasting time - just because I wanted to. Switching to older, slower gear was, in theory, going to mean some "digital downsizing". I was curious to see how this would work out.

Well, how did it work out?

Moving between the laptops was almost no problem at all, initially. For over a week now, I've been able to do most of my learning, writing and social stuff with no worries at all. The old laptop is much worse at video, but handles music beautifully. Everything else is slower, and takes more time - which meant I've been working in the browser much less, and in plain text more. Also - finally got to use the git command line skills.

The phone was trickier. There were some apps which couldn't make the move - the old Android version is just not going to support them. This meant that I had to shift some of the less important apps to my tablet. The battery life on the old Motorola was a worry, until I switched the launcher. That looks to have sorted it.

Is the old gear the way forward?

I hope to keep using these for a while yet. I'm enjoying the slowed-down, pared-down, low-expectations rhythm. I know I can't have all the apps open at once on my phone, or all processes running on the laptop - so I'm encouraging myself to focus. For now, it feels fresh, and more purposeful.

It's important to recognise that I'm privileged to be able to do this: I get to choose my gear, and I get to keep old stuff lying around for experiments like this, and I get to ponder all this in my spare time.

But I won't deny: there's something deeply Good for me in working this out. There's joy in being able to live with stuff I thought was dead. There's nostalgia in remembering how things worked, in finding old quirks, or ancient photos on the phone's memory. And there's a mixture of frugality and resistance - where Tao meets Adbusters, and "make do + mend" goes hand in hand with sticking it up to technofeudalism.

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