What's Wrong With Older Macs?
(Yes, the Word "Obsolete" is Pejorative)
by Phil Shapiro
Reprinted by permission
Yes, the Word "Obsolete" is Pejorative We live in a world where
many words carry value-laden connotations. On its face, the word
"obsolete" appears to be rather innocuous. On closer examination it
becomes quite clear how demeaning and injurious this word can be.
Here is why.
In the educational technology field, the word "obsolete" is often
used to describe older technology. It's an easy word to add to one's
vocabulary. It's an easy word to use without considering the
ramifications of what is being said. But stop for a moment and
consider what happens when you (or anyone else) declares a piece of
computer hardware to be obsolete. The implicit message is that users
of that technology are themselves obsolete.
Given that the word obsolete is often used in the same breath as
the word "worthless," when computer hardware is declared to be
obsolete the underlying message is that this hardware is worthless.
And the implicit message is that persons who continue to use this
technology are themselves worthless.
Follow this logic for a moment: The word "obsolete" entered the
language of microcomputer users via the incessant use of the word by
computer marketing people. The bare-faced purpose of marketing people
is to sell new computers by whatever means necessary. And one of the
most effective ways of doing so is to shame people into thinking that
their current computer is worthless and inadequate.
That the word obsolete is used to shame people came to my
attention recently when I tried to find someone to help troubleshoot
my septuagenarian mother's older computer. Mom lives a few hundred
miles away, so I tracked down someone in a user group who could
travel to my mom's apartment.
I was able to locate a user group member in her area who said she
could be of help. But when I later called my mom to find out if my
mother was able to receive assist, I heard that the following
dialogue had taken place. Mom told me that this purported "help
giver" had laughed out loud when she heard what computer my mom was
using. Mom was then given detailed directions on how she could buy
one of the latest model computers. My dear mother could easily afford
to buy a new computer, but she quite sensibly refuses to upgrade her
computer. Her older computer suits her needs to a tee. And mom knows
that she would rather not learn how to use a whole new operating
system. What struck me most about this incident is the fact that the
user group person laughed at my mother while declaring her computer
obsolete. Mom wasn't looking for derisive laughter when she sought
help to get her beloved computer working again. Yes, the word
"obsolete" is pejorative. It demeans those who choose to use older
technology. We would all do well to strike the word from our
vocabularies. What word or words can be used as a replacement for
"obsolete"? In my own vocabulary I use the phrase "older computer" to
describe an older computer. For similar reasons I do not use the word
"outdated" when describing older computers. Perishable food products
become outdated. Human beings, and the tools they choose to use, do
No tool is ever outdated if it serves the needs of the person
using it. Shakespeare wrote his plays and sonnets with a quill. Older
computers have a place in our world and people who take an interest
in educational technology should make special effort to not deride
people who choose to use older technology.
This is not to say that modern multimedia computer systems do not
offer a tremendous amount of promise. Every reader of Electronic
Learning takes great interest in what the newer technology offers our
But the wow-appeal of new technology should not blind us to the
significant benefits of older technology. And we, as caring
educators, need to banish the word "obsolete" from our vocabularies.
Pejorative adjectives, whether applied to computers or to human
beings, have no place in the classroom - - - or anywhere else for
If you hear the word "obsolete" being used by someone who is not mindful of its demeaning character, take a moment to explain to them the underlying message in their words. You, as an educator, can help people understand that demeaning characterizations of older technology carries with it the implication that users of that older technology are in some way lesser human beings.
Not so. Not so at all.
-- Phil Shapiro
©1996-04 JagWerks Media