When I was a kid I loved it when someone threw out some crappy device, and it was a wonderful time for it too because in those days all devices were crappy. It was the time when digital clocks, digital radios, and digital clock radios were all the rage and considered high-tech because no one really knew what “digital” meant, other than that it would have those funny block numbers that you could use to punch in 773440, which, when you turned it upside down, spelled “OhhELL”, which my friends and I thought was hilarious because we were idiots, but that’s another story. I loved it when someone threw out a digital clock that had stopped working because I could then pull it out of the garbage and take it apart to see how it worked, and maybe even fix it and put it back together, assuming the extensive rinsing I’d had to do to remove the tartar sauce, old spaghetti, and coffee grounds from it. And also assuming I had the skill and knowledge to fix it or put it back together, which I didn’t. I quickly learned that taking things apart was much easier than putting them back together, or at least it was in those days. Now if I really wanted to take apart my phone just to look at its inner workings, which I assume must be pretty cool, I’m not sure where I’d even start. At least old digital clocks and radios were held together with tiny screws that only required a rusty penknife and a tetanus shot.
Digital clocks and radios and other small devices also regularly got thrown out in those days because they were cheap enough that they could be easily replaced. It was the beginning of the end of the era of the repair shop, and I even remember the end of the television repair house call. We had a large wooden-cased TV set that weighed approximately three and a half tons and had actually served in the war, although it never specified which war, and would become surly and short-circuit if questioned too much or if you changed the channels too quickly which, strange as it seems now, you did by turning a knob built into the TV set itself. And once when that happened a guy in a uniform came to our house and I got to watch him take several parts out of our TV set, which was the coolest thing I’d seen because Star Wars hadn’t come out yet. Then when he was done he put it all back together without any parts left over and turned it to an episode of The Munsters, which had long since been cancelled and was in syndication because I’m old but not that old.
With my own “repair work” I did have some successes. For instance I had a pair of old walkie-talkies that stopped working so I took them apart and after a bit of playing around I discovered that if I placed one of them near the small black and white TV I’d gotten for Christmas and turned a round metal thing I could get faint, crackly TV audio to come out of the walkie-talkie speaker. Making the walkie-talkie produce a low-grade version of what the TV could already do was the coolest thing I’d seen since Star Wars which had come out a couple of years earlier, because I was an idiot. And it was pretty cool that I could accomplish something, although there was also a certain satisfaction in being able to take some old items and smash them to pieces, especially if I’d had a bad day.
All of this was a fond but distant memory until recently. I was outside taking a break from work when I found a…thing. I’m not sure what it was, just that it was metal and plastic and had a speaker at one end and tucked inside the other was a circuit board. I don’t make a habit of going around picking up trash because I try to avoid getting tetanus shots, but something about this thing intrigued me, mainly that it was broken and had been left on the sidewalk and mostly free of tartar sauce, old spaghetti, and coffee grounds.
Technologically speaking I’d been having a bad day. In fact I’d been having a bad week. I’d had issues with multiple devices, but as tempting as it is I’ve never been able to bring myself to smash a CPU or throw my stupid smartphone against a concrete wall so it was as though this thing of unknown provenance and function had landed, or been lying, at my feet just when I needed it. I sat down and broke it apart and found I still find circuit boards strangely beautiful. And there was something therapeutic about being able to use something valueless as a proxy for the stuff that had been driving me crazy.
Also when I was done I put it in a trash can. I’m no barbarian.
And then I realized that must feel this same frustration. I bet some of you reading this right now know exactly how it feels to want to break a device when it breaks down on you because we live in a world that’s driven by technology. In fact I’m going to guess that most of you are reading this on a computer, except when you paused to Google “funny words you can spell with calculators”. And this gave me a brilliant idea for a business.
Have old devices that don’t work anymore but that you can’t be bothered to dispose of properly? We’ll take ’em off your hands! Concerned about privacy? When we’re done that old CPU tower, laptop, or smartphone will be so thoroughly obliterated the only way to extract any data from it would be magic.
And for those of you who, like me, know the frustration of nonfunctioning technology, the heartbreak of data loss, who want to punish your computer’s crash with an actual crash, come on in! Customers must provide their own fists, hammers, concrete walls, and tetanus shots.
And now a moment that never gets old.
You’re no idiot, Chris. Love your ideas, old and new.
And I love your new comments and regular blog posts that always fill me with new ideas.
Man, I’ve wanted to re-enact that scene from Office Space many times! I’m an electronics tech and I still get frustrated with today’s technology. I actually have a note to write a post about how things aren’t made like they used to be. I know it’s a cliché but it seems accurate to me. Seems like the devices of my youth always worked until they just stopped working, while today we accept devices that work, say, 75% of the time. When they don’t we turn it off and back on, reload it, reboot it, get a software update and then see if it works now. Damn, you got me up on a soap box. Getting off now.
My friends and I did have hours of fun trying to come up with number combinations that spelled dirty words when turned upside down. However, my favorite number is 337 because when turned upside down it spells my name. In the day of pagers I would just send that to family and friends and they would know who to call.
Damn, it would feel good to be a gangster.
It is a huge relief to hear an electronics tech grouse about today’s technology. And for me it’s not just that things only work about 75% of the time. It’s that so many of those “upgrades” are completely cosmetic changes that don’t improve anything. They just make me have to relearn what I do and add steps. “You used to click over here. Now you click over there, and press ‘I’.” And a lot of my frustration this week was prompted by iTunes which keeps getting worse with every new version. Shouldn’t it get better?
Okay, I gotta step away from that and say it’s funny you bring up pagers because I used to page a friend of mine by sending him the number of a local “massage parlor”. Not that I was ever there, but the first time I did it he called there.
Yeah, sometimes it feels good to be a gangster. Or at least a prankster.
We used to go to a local Italian place. Across the parking lot was a strange little storefront that claimed to be a TV repair shop. Except it was never open for business, and if you looked in the windows there was very little inside that would suggest TV repair was ever undertaken there. Precocious Daughter eventually decided it was a front for the Armenian mafia. Because she’s weird. My point is, if you decide to open your electronics-destroying business, consider forming a partnership with your local legitimate businessmen’s club. Everybody wins.
The idea that the TV repair shop was a front for the Armenian mafia is hilarious and I suspect would have been a plot point for Breaking Bad if it had gone on another season. But, yes, thank you for that extremely good advice. I’d want my electronics-destroying business to be completely clean and on the up-and-up and not the sort of place that’s secretly running high-stakes croquet games in the back room. I swear officer, those mallets are for smashing laptops.
5318008. I’m such a juvenile! Also, when I googled “Words you can…” the phrase “make with a calculator autofilled immediately. Apparently, it’s a very popular search topic!
It is a very popular subject and I’m impressed by how creative some people can be, going well beyond the juvenile into the flat out surreal.
I once took apart a computer and started it with a screw driver. That’s all I have to contribute to this conversation.
That’s pretty impressive. I mean, I’m impressed that you took apart a computer because that’s cool, but starting it with a screw driver afterward is some next level stuff. I’ll be even more impressed if you mean the kind made with vodka and orange juice.
One weekend, ages ago, our garbage disposal died. So, I went to Home Depot and spent an entire day pulling out the old one and putting in a new one. I am prouder of that than my college diploma.
Congratulations: you have officially earned adulthood. That is definitely something to be proud of. Being able to install a garbage disposal is probably more useful in the long run than a college diploma.
I watched a movie called “The Last Word” a while back. I can’t say I would recommend the film as a whole, but one of the parts that did tickle me was Ray Romano’s character pitching a similar idea for a business:
“I would buy a cliff where people could come and throw shit off. You know, like fax machines and computers or whatever. Things that piss them off cause they didn’t work right. Like an outlet for machine rage. And the whole thing would be video taped in slow-motion so they could watch their heap of shit break into a million pieces back at home. Plus, for an extra couple bucks I would attach an explosive so it would blow up on impact. Just like they do in the movies. A big fire ball. That would be cool.”
That’s hilarious–especially since I’m imagining it in Ray Romano’s voice and he sounds funny–and also a little annoying. Although I should have known I’m not the only one who would come up with such an idea for a business. And as cool as watching computers and fax machines explode in a big fire ball I think my idea would be more therapeutic. And people would get more exercise out of swinging hammers and stomping on stuff. It would be like a gym.
First of all, tetanus shots are good for 5-10 years.
Second, I love this story. I was never a tinkerer myself but I realized that I am that exact age that lots of boys in my cohort did this with computers. They were simple enough back in the late 90s that you could take them apart and figure them out and so many men have such intimate computer knowledge because of that. I wish I had more of a mind for that stuff. Nowadays there are lots of computers you simply cannot open. Apple, in particular, likes to make this impossible.
I hate to throw out gadgets, especially electronics. I try to turn them in for recycling at the very least. But once I gave my old Blackberry that was still in working condition to someone off Craislist or the like. Mine was still new enough that he planned on giving it to his assistant but he said normally he bought them in order to perform catapault experiments. He would launch them and record which phones were the most durable (in and outside of watermelons, apparently).
Thanks for the reminder–it’s been at least ten years since I got a tetanus shot and I’m due for another.
And I hate to throw out old gadgets too. I really am very conscious of recycling and take them to the proper drop-off places, or let them sit around the house forever because I haven’t got time to take them to the proper drop-off places and I’m not just going to put them in the garbage.
Although catapult experiments would be an interesting idea.
Oh my goodness – I have smashed up so many electronic gadgets that were once ‘cutting edge’ because they became obsolete very quickly. Anything with a memory that stored personal info went into ‘the cupboard’ because I didn’t want some clever person to resurrect the said item and steal my data (as if!) When the cupboard was so full that stuff was falling on me when I opened the door, I decided I had to take matters into my own hands and I began ripping out circuit boards (with very sharp bits on – ouch!) and attacking them with a hammer on my patio. I found it very satisfying destroying devices that had caused me so much misery. BUT I have never destroyed a Mac. I still have my old boxy Mac Classic, an old mac lap-top that is still beautiful and a funky chunky old iMac in blue. However, I may attack my current Mac Pro because I can’t update it to the latest OS and I am very cross – where is that hammer?
And the picture at the start? Looks like the aftermath of a Who concert.
Yes! I went completely Keith Moon on that thing, whatever it is. But it’s been a long time since I really destroyed anything. Current electronics are so expensive that I just can’t bring myself to smash ’em up even when they stop working. I’ve got an iPod that went on the fritz but it’s still sitting in a drawer somewhere.