Perhaps you’ve had this experience… you walk into a place of business and see the computer and software they use to do their scheduling, billing, and ordering and you notice they are decades old. But, have you seen how productive they are? More often than not they are so fast that the computer has a hard time keeping up with their inputs.
This idea keeps rolling around in my head that I could purposely construct a similar situation for myself on my personal computer.
Could my next Mac be the last Mac I ever need to buy? And can I run the same software on it for decades allowing me to become even more productive than I am today? What would I gain? What would I lose?
On average I buy a new Mac every 5 years or so. Each time I’ve upgraded to a new Mac I keep the old Mac around for at least an additional 5 years. The laptop my wife currently uses for Zoom is a Mac from 2012 and we see no reason to replace it anytime soon.
Macs last. And the technology inside is so capable these days - especially the M series chips - that I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever need to upgrade after I purchase my next Mac. And that sort of excites me.
I currently use a 2019 16” MacBook Pro. It has an 8-core 2.4 GHz i9 Intel processor with 64GB of DDR4 RAM and an 8GB Radeon Pro 5500M graphics chip. It also has a terabyte of flash storage. In 2019 this Mac cost $4,200. I am very happy with this computer. For my day-to-day work I have more than enough resources. There is very little reason to upgrade this computer for many, many years to come.
Though, having the M-series all day battery life, rather than the dismal 2 hours I get now, is a huge temptation.
Battery life aside, though, I could conceivably use this computer until 2024 (which would be my average) or even 2029 which would be my stretch goal.
So, let’s say I keep my average streak going and I buy a new Mac in 2024 or 2025. That would mean I’ll likely end up with an M3 or M4 series chip from Apple. I like the idea of that because those chips will be multiple iterations in on their already well regarded chipset. And some of the M1 series chips will be nearly 5 years old at that time so we will see if they have similar longevity to the Intel chips. If I were able to hold out until 2029 the benefits would be even greater. If I plan to spend a similar amount of money on my next Mac, is there a possibility I can plan on keeping it for the rest of my life?
Why would I want to do that? I’m only 42 and I plan on trying to live at least 4 more decades. Could I possibly have a Mac that would run for 40 years?
Let’s talk about the current trajectory of software.
I’m a little worried about software these days. The best software ever written may already be in our past. Modern day app frameworks that are full of bloat, the overwhelming demand for cloud-first apps that barely work without an internet connection, and the ability to create truly great user interfaces seems to be dying — all of these factors add up to an uncertain future in software from my point of view.
To illustrate this point, in just about a month of early weekday mornings I wrote my own static site generator in PHP from scratch to build this site you’re reading now. It works remarkably well. It builds tens of thousands of files in just seconds. And my code isn’t very good. How much more productive do I need to get?
I could lose this superpower. Software will change. macOS is likely to become more restrictive. Programming languages will be deprecated. The keyboard and mouse may be replaced with gestures, voice, and eye movements. Which is all well and good for the next generation of users. In order to stay productive in my work and hobbies (photography, software development, and blogging) I think having a platform that stays in relative stasis over the next 4 decades could be an incredible asset.
I also think about large data sets like my photo library. Each time Apple releases an update of macOS I feel a pit in my stomach that they may change something that will completely blow away years of my cataloging work. They’ve done it before and I’d be naive to think it couldn’t happen again. Which is why I’ve developed my own workflow. I want my photo library to work until I die. And I don’t want to spend another minute redoing it.
The prospect of possibly having a computing platform that stays relatively the same for the rest of my life and prioritizes good usability, speed, reliability, and saving data locally to disk is very exciting. And it may just be that the only way I can ensure that I will have that is by stopping time and refusing to keep up with the latest technology.
It appears I'm not alone. While I've been thinking about this topic over the last several weeks, I've noticed others expressing similar sentiments in a variety of ways. I've only made note of a few of them. Such as Ev Williams wants to keep his small phone, Paul Stamatiou would like an old Powerbook to write on, Dan Rubin and Joe Van Cleave use typewriters every day, Jeremy Keith has expressed opinions about frontend web development getting out of hand. None of these people are saying exactly what I'm saying. But all of them are sort of part of the same milieu - people that have been around in computing for a long time sort of wishing for how we used to do things. In 5 or 10 more years perhaps we will long for how we did things today.