Back when I was a kid, my mother and grandmother always made emphasis on one of many important lessons: that I should take good care of my things if I wanted them to last, be it toys, video games, or bootleg VHS movies. We never had much, but I was appreciative of what I was given, including those lessons—to this day, I still am.
In this post-socialist collapse reality of Venezuela, those family lessons of taking good care of what you have because replacing them is not something that we could easily do or afford are exacerbated to their maximum expression. It goes without saying that the economic crisis that the country has been going through makes it so that people can’t simply get new gear every year—there are far greater priorities at hand.
As such, it is not uncommon to see people here use old, worn out, and derelict pieces of equipment that are way past their due time. Seven or eight year old phones, often with cracked screens, roam the streets in the pockets of people not because of a ‘retro chic’ statement, but because it’s all that they have, and in these days, not having a working phone severely limits your day to day activities, including paying for food, so it’s better to have a bruised up device with a shortened battery lifespan than nothing at all.
Computers from about a decade ago are the main sources of income for some, including yours truly. Banged up laptops, with chargers often held together by tape, without a properly working battery, and with keyboard issues are what many among Venezuela’s youth have to use to study and learn—more so in these quarantined times of e-learning that we find ourselves in.
Planned obsolescence is something many just can’t afford to deal with, and a First World consumerist mentality is not something we can justify either. All pieces of hardware here will be used until they completely break down, everything has a potential use, and one man’s obsolete device can be another’s salvation.
Even if we set aside the whole package of the economic collapse of the country, obtaining new hardware has always been a tricky endeavor split across two main pathways: either you import it yourself, or deal with the increased markup prices and limited offerings of local stores.
That’s just a random example of the price of a laptop in Amazon vs. the local price at a well-known store here. Sure, if you have the payment methods and have a good private courier in hand you can import it yourself (which comes with its own risks) and save some money—if we operate under the assumption that you can afford it in the first place, something the sheer majority of the country can’t.
Cellphones are a far bigger market here than computers, and that’s what most stores chose to specialize on. Naturally, not everyone here is gonna be running around with the latest iPhones, so the bulk of the country runs on older devices and/or mid-tier affordable brands like Xiaomi.
In any case, if you can’t afford new hardware then the best course of action is to revamp older one. A custom android ROM can revitalize that seven-eight year old phone that you have around, the same goes for installing a flavor of Linux onto an old computer.
Over the past years I’ve seen and repaired far too many computers that, under normal circumstances, should’ve been decommissioned or recycled already. Obtaining the adequate spare parts can be an uphill battle most of the time, especially when we’re talking about hardware that’s no longer being manufactured.
You see it all here, between netbooks that struggle with today’s browsers and Operating Systems, to laptops with a non-working screen repurposed into pseudo ‘small form factor desktops’ when connected to an equally old 4:3 monitor display.
This type of ‘broken’ hardware is what most people have these days, and in an increasingly connected and online world, that ‘junk’ that still boots and works will have to do.
I am writing this entry using my desktop computer, which I built almost nine years ago. Some parts were damaged when I had to move and were replaced with cheaper ones, the GPU’s thermal paste had to be replaced, but it’s otherwise in good working condition. And just because it’s ‘ancient’ hardware by today’s standards it doesn’t mean that it can’t put up a fight.
The display monitor, however, had begun to die, and then along came the ‘blotch’ that plagued my existence for so long.
I learned to simply coexist with it, going as far as focusing on the properly working areas of it for my Photoshop edits instead of the messed up center and it’s altered colors, until it got too unbearable.
Now I’m using my older monitor, which I had passed down to my brother along with my older desktop computer—that computer’s power supply finally gave up last year, so it’s not like the old monitor was being used. It’s better to cannibalize your way into a properly working computer setup than to have two faulty ones.
I’ve only had one laptop in my entire life, the one I’m still using, which I got in 2011. It’s a good laptop, I saved an entire year off my paychecks so that I could afford it, and had some help importing it. Despite all my good care and all my efforts to keep it in good condition, it has seen better days.
It’s internal AMD GPU was sentenced to a quick death due to a widespread factory defect that I could not RMA due to me being here, it finally died in 2016. I was able to completely disable it by using Arch Linux to directly modify the UEFI, and for four years, it all was good.
Then the battery died in February of 2020, which reset the non-working AMD GPU and makes it unable to boot once again. My solution? Take my pair of jeans, wrap the laptop with it, and force it to overheat so that it bypasses the broken GPU and boots using the Intel processor’s graphics instead.
That’s why I just keep it on 24/7 now, but every power flicker shuts it off. Once I get out of this country I’ll see about repairing it properly, or at the very least, get a new battery for it, it’s still a baller work laptop, even after ten years, it’s got some sentimental value cause it’s one of the first things I was able to buy out my first job.
As ‘expired’ as my two computer devices are, they’re far better than what many can even hope to have these days, for which I am thankful for.
Sure, I can’t play the latest games in 4k or whatever (not like my internet connection lets me do much these days), but I was able to write Sword’s draft from scratch using both of them, charted the course for the entire series of novels, built this website, and they let me create all sorts of content within my limited skillset, such as articles, memes, translations, project trailers, et al.
Besides, even if I had the money for a more modern desktop computer, I would just have to leave it behind once I’m outta here, and a new computer won’t magically make my derelict internet connection any better.
Between 2009 and 2012 I invested in two UPS devices, their batteries died long ago and I can’t get new replacements here. They still function as power surge protectors, and they’re the primary line of defense for all of my aging hardware. Investing in power surge protectors is one of the best things you can do to keep your things alive, because it only takes one power brownout or surge to annihilate them—which is why we no longer have a working microwave as of last year.
My brother’s 2013 laptop kicked the bucket in early 2020. I repurposed one of my mom’s old laptops (from 2009) so that he has something to use in the meantime, he rarely uses my desktop computer. Those ‘Windows 7 debloat guides’ sure came in handy. In retrospect, I should’ve gone with a lightweight Linux distro instead, I just went with what was best for him in terms of ease of use.
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the Canaimitas, the laptops the Socialist Party gave to children across the country. They’re not particularly great pieces of hardware, and they’re kind of a meme in itself, but replace the e-learning Linux distro on it with Windows 7 and you have a properly working laptop.
The model with the red lettering logo has enough processing power for baller games such as GTA San Andreas and CS1.6. Although the ‘teacher’s version’ is the pro model.
As for phones, I got one in 2010 that I passed onto my mother when her Samsung Galaxy S3 was having problems, it finally died in 2019 when the screen gave up on life.
I had been given an iPhone 5 as a farewell/25th birthday gift from my previous employer at the time in early 2013, and it had a good seven year run. It was in perfect physical condition, but the battery bloated so hard that it destroyed it from within.
That bloated battery became a real hazard, it was safely discarded.
Because I still needed a phone to use, I took my mom’s old Galaxy S3, got a new bootleg battery, a new SD card, and installed a stable version of LineageOS. To this day it’s still a perfectly working phone, despite being so old and ‘obsolete.’
The only reason I got one of those mid-tier Xiaomi phones last year was because I kinda needed a properly working phone, I don’t need a brand new iPhone (nor can I justify its cost), and this aesthetically pleasing phone is quite the banger for my buck, despite the glaring backdoors that I’m sure it has.
And even in the non-electronics aspect of my personal belongings I remain frugal. I’m still using clothes from my college days of the late 00s, the last time I got new shirts was back in 2015—I have to save every possible penny for our escape, I’ll see about new clothes later on, but much of it it’s so worn these days, the same goes for my brother’s clothing—I’ll see to it once we’re outta here too.
Mine is not an isolated case, you will find many with their own version of ‘I’m using old stuff because that’s all I have’ in these lands, many of which are far less fortunate than me. Even old consoles see new life these days, say what you will about piracy, but that’s the only reason many children and teenagers in these lads get to play some video games.
Vehicles too, but that’s a whole other story for another time, I’ve spent more than a year and a half trying to repair my mom’s old Jetta.
In short, when your country has collapsed and the survival of your family becomes the priority, there’s no room for acquiring new stuff, and we go back to those maternal teachings of taking good care of things, because it’s not like you can easily afford to replace them, so you do whatever you can do with what you have, making sure it lasts for as long as possible, and if you can’t afford new things, then one must find solutions in repurposing old hardware.