I bought a netbook this week- a very cheap, basic one that I will not mourn too much should I lose it – purchased from the home of the interesting junk-mail catalogue, Aldi. This is the…let’s see…sixth computer I have bought. The first was a hulking monster that my father bought me for $1000 second hand with two 5.5 inch floppy disks, running on DOS. Then I replaced it with another desktop which took 3 inch floppies (that were by then no longer floppy) and may have even had a CD perhaps. I had a laptop in between- an enormous thing that made you go all lopsided and walk in circles when you hefted it over your shoulder. It was later replaced by a smaller Compaq which still works but doesn’t have a single USB port. Then an ASUS laptop that I paid close to $2500 for because I wanted a light model with an 80gb hard drive ( which I’ve just noticed is almost full) and really does need to be replaced sometime very soon. And now my very el-cheapo Netbook with a 250gb hard drive, purchased very much as a second computer. And all this within the last twenty years, I’d say.
I’ve been particularly struck by this cavalier obsolescence having just finished reading Behind Closed Doors. The purchases that she describes there were carefully considered, repaired when broken, and often handed down from generation to generation. Vickery points out that there were fashions in things, and people were quite specific in describing their orders. Her chapter on wallpaper focuses on fashion and the language for describing it. Wallpaper was valued because it provided a quick and relatively inexpensive decorative effect, sometimes used to decorate rooms that had been leased for ‘the season’ amongst the aristocracy in fashionable locations. She particularly mentions women’s handicrafts and challenges the dismissive perception that they were merely inconsequential and a way of keeping women quiet by having them sitting, stitching away at their embroidery. Instead, she notes that the handicrafts were often handed on, so much so that modern Georgians complained about the heavy embroideries of the previous century with which their houses were decorated. They did replace them with something lighter and more fashionable, but the fact that 17th century hand-worked decorations were still being used during the 18th century suggests that they certainly didn’t have the “ditch it” mentality we do.
She also notes that renovations (as distinct from just wallpapering a room) took decades and decades, especially to country houses when Gothic architecture was modified and extended for a more Palladian appearance. There was a strong familial imperative but often the generation that had initiated the renovation died before seeing it completed. It brought to mind our penchant for renovation “blitz” television shows, where everything is tacked up over a weekend. I think that with our demands for immediacy, especially when we are paying for other people to perform the work, we would wilt under a renovation that might take years, let alone decade after decade.