The Ten Best

One of the problems of advancing technology is the speed at which it advances.  I’ve mentioned in the past the explosion in numbers of models, for example, of cameras, or fountain pens.

But it’s not just that.

The models are refreshed every year.  How old is your iPhone?

It used to be cars; now it’s pens, cameras, guitars, phones, computers–everything is updated about annually.  Change is the constant.

I’m reminded of a science fiction story I read in my youth called “The Olympics,” in which a man, highly trained to repair a particular model of machine, discovers during the Olympic Games (which now involve fixing that particular machine) that although he is well-trained on a particular model, for the purposes of the games, that model has been superseded, and his training is no longer useful.

(I think I read the story when I was around 10; I have clearly misremembered and distorted it–my memory is in fact based on Isaac Asimov’s story Profession.)

Anyway.  It makes me wonder…we live in a world where a four-year-old cell phone is considered practically an antique.  I watched old TV sets pile up on the curb as they were supplanted by flat screens; the first-generations flat screen TVs (and computer monitors) have now, for the most part, been supplanted by the second-generation screens lit by LEDs.  And so on.  The dustbin of history is getting deep.

One of the phenomena that accompanies this process is the “Ten Best” list.  You see it all over the internet.  The “Ten Best” mirrorless digital cameras; the “Ten Best” laptops.

Being who we are (“we” in this case meaning mostly people like me who live in first-world countries with a reasonable level of affluence), we want to own The Best.

But it’s a pointless chase.  While claiming to be authoritative, at the same time, so many “10 Best” lists aren’t dated, a transcendant irony:  These lists are, for the most part, terribly time-bound, for two reasons:

  1.  The 10 best of anything (granting that there can be 10 best for any meaningful vaue of best) will change in the next week or so; and
  2. Someone who has acquired something from a previous “10 best” list, say model 100a, cannot upgrade to a 100b.  They’re stuck at the point in time where they decided to leap.

So here I am, playing a game of “hey you kids, get off my lawn!”

The best tool is the one you have.  The best computer is the one you have.  The best pen, phone, bicycle, camera, car–is the one to hand.

New is sometimes just new.  It doesn’t necessarily mean better.

But there’s no way to publish that list.

 

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