New Technology. New Trash.

It is funny the way we think about junk. A rusty old truck or abandoned farm machinery in a field somewhere is a cool find. Broken computer monitors or TVs lying outside are not as old, so they are a hazard. To see an iPad 2, or even the now hopelessly antiquated original version, lying out on the open earth would be just plain disappointing. (I guess you could call it an, “iSore,” but I would never stoop to such petty jokes.)

I wonder how many iPads and iPhones, Galaxy tablets and Kindles, are far from the eager hands of technology enthusiasts. How many have been abandoned? How many are now lying at the bottom of the ocean or are sitting in a landfill somewhere? How many of these still work?

In 1440 Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Had Apple been around at the time and released the Printing Press 2, how many people would have thrown away their old model for the new, slightly better version? (The Printing Press 2 comes with an extra set of font blocks and has a sleek, aluminum finish.) I bet they would have gladly thrown away their old models if they could. Then again, this is far from a perfect comparison. There weren’t millions of printing presses sold every year, and a one-pound iPad is far easier to discard than a multi-ton piece of machinery.

It appears to be a terrible cycle: technology advances, machines get smaller, and people throw more away. Perhaps one-day technology will advance enough to allow us to break free from this repetition. It would be cool if someone invented a biodegradable cell-phone: a phone that serves its purpose and then doesn’t sit around forever when nobody wants it anymore.

I have heard a lot about giant islands of garbage floating in the oceans. Accounts of the area covered by the Great Pacific Garbage patch range from the square mileage of Hawaii to more than the entire continental United States. The existence of this great mass of trash in the oceans makes me wonder if in the future, if it has not already occurred, there will be mountains of garbage where intrepid miners pull out old technology. They will have no idea they are harvesting tablet computers and cell phones. Instead, they will know these relics of our technological advancements as those shiny, flat rocks with lots of valuable minerals inside.

“One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” It is comical to imagine a person literally throwing away treasure, a stereotypical pirate’s chest filled to the brim with coins and rubies and gold goblets that he casually tosses in the dumpster. This image becomes even funnier when the gold and rubies are replaced with smart phones and tablet computers. Some people would rush to salvage some of this treasure, but I wonder how many more would think, “now that its been in the dumpster, it’s simply no good anymore,” or would be afraid of someone seeing them sifting through the trash.

This provides a powerful lesson: All treasure can become trash if an individual has too much of it, and I am afraid once it becomes trash, there is a good chance it will remain so forever. (Digging through dumpsters is not generally considered to be socially acceptable.)