I have an old Apple II. I got it years ago at an antique store, for much less than the seller could have asked. The only problem is that it was just the Apple II, without any disk drives, and no software. That means I could do absolutely nothing with it.
Eventually, some family members got me a (single) disk drive and a copy of Apple DOS for Christmas. I eagerly plugged it all up, only to have it go up in smoke. Turns out that when the power supply gets old enough, it can’t really handle the extra power draw from the floppy drive(s). I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of blue smoke (or the smell of it) coming from inside the box.
So now I have a broken Apple II. It’s been sitting in my basement, on a cheap Ikea end table that is entirely too short to sit next to. I recently had to move it to make room for some exercise equipment, and that’s when I realized that I had to decide what I was going to do with it.
If you’re anything like me, then you suffer from the phenomenon I call “invisible clutter.” Basically, it’s when you have clutter in your house that you become numb to. It’s there, and you technically see it, but you don’t react to it.
Then one day something in your brain chemistry changes, and not only do you notice it again, but now it drives you nuts. You desperately want to declutter, but you don’t know how to go about it.
That’s exactly what happened in this case.
I finally made a decision, but it was an agonizing process. It was also an educational one; the fact that it was so agonizing said a lot about not only myself, but society at large.
I Don’t Like Hardware …
I came to understand one particular way in which I was allowing society to shape my impression of myself.
I’m a software developer by trade. Hardly a day goes by in which I’m not only interacting with a computer, but specifically modifying software. It’s something I’m decent enough at, and something I’m interested in.
That being said, I don’t like tinkering with computer hardware. But this is something I only, finally came to terms with when deciding on the fate of the Apple II.
You see, I know what I need to do to get it working again. I need to buy a new bespoke power supply, and wire it into the original power supply’s chassis. I also need to buy a second floppy drive, and some more disks.
So why haven’t I done any of these things for all the years it’s been broken? Simple – because I don’t actually want to fiddle with the hardware.
And yet, it’s not simple. It took me my entire adult life to come to terms with the fact that I don’t like fooling around with hardware. And when I stop and ask myself why it took so long to realize that, I can think of only one answer: society conditioned me into thinking that if I like computers, I must like everything about computers, including tinkering with hardware.
But when you really think about it, that’s kind of silly. People like riding trains, or flying small jets, but that doesn’t mean they’re keen on learning how to maintain them. Why should computers be any different?
But I Also DO Like Hardware …
I do think I like the idea of using old, original hardware. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have so many retro game consoles lying around. There’s something magical, something that feels right about running software on the platform and peripherals it was designed for. Ultimately I think it was this desire that made me keep the Apple II for as long as I have.
… But Maybe I Shouldn’t?
This is something I’ve been thinking more about in recent years. As much as I like using old hardware, the fact of the matter is that sooner or later it’s all going to malfunction. And while there is something noble about trying to keep things working as long as possible, it also has the stench of futility to it. Sooner or later, emulation is the only path forward for preserving old games and software.
From this perspective, holding on to a broken Apple II feels like a fool’s errand. Even if I get it working, it won’t stay that way forever.
Furthemore, consider this – if I were to try and emulate the Apple II on a modern PC, it would be faster and cheaper than getting the OG hardware repaired, and I have a feeling I’d be far more willing to actually play around with the emulator. What’s better – trying and failing to recreate the original experience, or creating a “close enough” recreation that I actually use?
This one was killer. “Enlightened” citizens know that throwing old electronics in the landfill is terrible for the environment, and that the better options are to either ensure it is properly recycled, or keep it in use (either yourself, or by giving it to someone else who will).
This is all good and noble in theory, but in practice it causes me no end of anxiety.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, what this advice fails to acknowledge is that it’s not just the environment, but the social contract that is falling apart. The idea that you can go out and find a local shelter, church, school, or other group that might take your old stuff requires an actual sense of “community” among the institutions in your neighborhood, one in which people know and trust one another.
Now I don’t know about you folks, but I’ve looked for this sense of community before in all the places I’ve lived. I’ve never really found it. We live in a time in which people who live right next door may not necessarily know or trust one another. And I’m sure if I – a man who is an atheist, and whose kids aren’t old enough to attend public school yet – cold called a church or a school, they’d probably wonder why in the world I was contacting them.
If I didn’t have this sense of Eco-Guilt, I probably would have trashed the Apple II, rather than move it elsewhere in my home. But since I do, it continues to remain here, broken and unused.
What Good Does Guilt Do?
I tried looking up advice on how to get over this Eco Guilt, and I found a few remarks that provided coping strategies. For example:
“Something is destined for the landfill the moment it was purchased and/or manufactured, not when you decide to get rid of it.”
“Keeping stuff around to prevent it from going to the landfill just turns your house into another landfill.”
Or this realistic perspective I found on Reddit:
“as much as I try to be responsible when donating or decluttering, I also don’t need another chore or job”
Because that’s the thing – if you end up spending tons of time trying to find a place that will take your stuff, it can start to feel like a second job.
It may not feel like a second job, but rather a third, fourth, or fifth. Because something else I’ve come to realize about modern society is that more and more of the things that make a civilization run have now become personal and individual responsibilities. In addition to finding good homes for used stuff, the average American is also now responsible for:
* Spending hours researching certain products to either find the best deal, or the best quality, in part because online reviews are less trustworthy than ever before
* Spending hours researching the best (or cheapest) healthcare options because you’re on a shitty High Deductible plan
* Periodically evaluating and recalibrating your retirement savings so you aren’t broke in your golden years
* Spending hours reading the news, because you’re a terrible person if you’re not up to date on the most pressing topics of the day
* Spending time volunteering in the community, for a campaign, etc, to try and rebuild that local sense of community that I just complained about not existing
And for some reason, the hardest thing of all for any of us to do is give ourselves some grace when we inevitably fail to do any or all of these things correctly.
Though I’m sure you, dear reader, don’t have this problem. Because if there is one thing that’s true about the Internet, it’s that I’m the only one who suffers from these problems.
What If I Regret It?
Deep down inside, I’ve had this fear that if I gave the Apple II away, the person who takes it from me would get it up and running in exactly the way I imagined I would, and that I would regret not having the experience they just made for themselves.
I’ve tried to fight against this by pointing out the fact that I did not, in fact, get it up and running. Which means that either I don’t really want it as much as I think I do, or I don’t have the talent/knack/money/gumption/whatever to make it happen. Either case leads to the same conclusion – it hasn’t happened yet because I can’t make it happen. So how could I possibly feel regret?
I’m going to at least try and find someone to give the Apple II away for free. If I don’t get any bites, I’ll bring it to the local county recycling center. And once it’s gone – regardless of how it’s gone – I won’t let myself feel any more guilt.
Good plan on giving away the Apple II. Letting go of that kind of project is hard, but it’s important to recognize when it becomes a burden vs a hobby.
I’ve also felt that “you must enjoy hardware” pressure. Even as PC hardware’s gotten easier, each bit of surgery I’ve had to do on my PC has been stressful – and that’s nothing compared to replacing components of older hardware.
I’ve struggled with the desire to emulate vs. the desire to use real hardware, although the barrier to entry on real hardware is (thus far) mostly annoyance or expense – cartridge blowing, for example, or replacing old power cords / controllers.
In a more recent and specific case, password entry has been a major barrier – King’s Bounty has a password system that not only has Os and 0s that are impossible to differentiate, but also doesn’t actually restore all progress. When I only had 15 minutes on average to play, spending 3 minutes re-entering the password before getting in was hard to take (it was kind of fun taking pictures of the password vs. having to write it down, though) – on top of having to actually re-do some things to get back where I was.
Oof on that King’s Bounty password. That’s always a bummer.
In regards to emulation, it’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot with the Analogue Pocket being in the news recently. I feel like there’s at least three “levels” at which you can play old videogames:
Level 1 – original hardware
Level 2 – FPGA hardware (ala Analogue’s many devices, and the MiSTer
Level 3 – software emulation
And maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s a lot of gatekeeping and elitism among those higher levels. But honestly, I think I’m rooting for the software emulation camp. It’s not that I don’t like OG hardware (obviously), and I think the FPGA stuff is amazing.
But if you want the most people possible to be able to play games at their most authentic (while also being the most eco friendly), the only way you’re going to make that happen is by getting software emulators to be as close as perfect as they can possibly be.
But there seems to be a lot of folks that are allergic to that idea. Hell, Analogue is doing a bang up job of making not want their products even if I could get them.