Screen memories

The New York Times says airlines are phasing out seatback screens, which I guess means that I’m about to have missed a formerly ubiquitous consumer technology’s entire life cycle.

I’m sure I’ve flown since 1991, the year Virgin Atlantic claims it introduced “personal screens,” but they don’t make clear whether they’re talking about the overhead flip-down kind, which I have used, or the seatback kind, nor do they say how long it took other airlines to follow their lead. Regardless, maybe because I always fly coach and never flew Virgin, I’ve also never seen a seatback screen in the flesh, or in the polycarbonate, and now maybe never will.

It’s at moments like this, the interstices between new and improved, that people of a certain age recall the family’s first color television set – it ghosted a lot – and how vaunted cable gave rise to the “57 channels and nothing on” meme. We cluck wistfully over money spent decades later on the CRT monitors that we “recycled” to Third World countries where e-waste is mined  for rare-earth elements by the decomposers of our global economy.

So consider it remembered, all that stuff, and consider the questions about planned obsolescence and consumer culture revisited. Shopping at Target last weekend with a friend, I saw how ginormous and super-hi-def television screens have become, and was surprised by how little they interest me.

My current laptop, still a very good one and one I’ve used with great care, nevertheless is almost four years old, a record for me, and my factory-refurbished smartphone is at least that many upgrades behind the curve. I haven’t owned a home entertainment system in well over 10 years and my internet radio, bought at a premium when internet radios were cutting edge, now is nothing but a fully functional waste of phantom power.

That first color television was a big damn deal, as I recall, because we wanted it. Wanted it badly. And those first computers, when I was in my 30s, were virtual love affairs. But the first laptop, and the second, and the third, not so much. The smartphones, not at all. So when did my enthusiasm for tech begin to track inversely to innovation? Whence this techno-erectile dysfunction?

Fading, fading.

Ah, me.