Sunday, November 13, 2016

What the Buddha Teaches Us About CD-ROMs

Part I
Last weekend I tackled a chore I had set aside for sometime: Clearing out several boxes of old electronics, manuals, CDs, DVDs, and the like. The boxes were the purgatory for those items that I just didn't think I could part with yet, or maybe I thought had some value not long ago.  But they continued to sit there, aging. So I broke one the boxes and pulled everything out. What was I really going to do with a circa 2007 Canon Powershot? I held the camera in my hand and looked it over. Seemed in good shape, little noticeable wear. Probably still worked if I put new batteries in it. But why would I? It's functionality is positively pre-historic compared to my iPhone's camera. I felt some sadness for this poor little camera. I had not thought of this camera in years. Eight years probably when I last used it. And then I thought about what I paid for it. Probably a couple hundred bucks. Not too much, but real money and it sat with a collection of other not-that-old but obsolete electronics, a network router, a modem, on old Roku device, and chargers for old batteries to the gear that was no longer of use. How much did all of that cost? Several hundred; a thousand dollars maybe? Ugh. Such a waste for such short usefulness.

I sorted the objects into two piles: Those With Obviously No Value, and Those With Questionable Value. Those with obviously no value went into a box to go to the electronics recycling drop off. Those with questionable value I set on our front curb and a few items were picked up by curious neighbors, artists, tinkerers. Whatever the objects, some were thought to have a possible second life by someone who could breathe life into them. Some no one claimed and they were re-assigned to the box of those with obviously no value; their fate now certain.

I turned to another box. A moving box-sized mess of old manuals and software CD-ROMs, floppy disks, zip drives. I sat on the tile floor in our basement and starting picking through. Manuals from an old Dell tower PC from the early 2000s. CD-ROMs for AOL that used to just come in the mail. Quicken 2000 for Home and Business. There were quite a few original licensed software CDs that came with the computer. The Dell Recovery Disks, Microsoft Office XP official install CDs. Stuff like that. There were easily 50 blank CD-ROMs never used. A big spindle case with 20 or 30. And another two dozen shrink wrapped in their jewel cases. I sorted out the paper manuals from the CDs from the jewel cases. Each would have to go to a separate recycling.

I paused at one point and thought back 25 years ago when I was emotionally conflicted with the transition from vinyl to audio CD. And then a little later as CDs took over for floppy disks for software. And now I don't even have a CD player. My circa 2010 MacBook Pro that I am using right now still has a CD-ROM drive but I rarely use it. My newer Mac Pro that I use for video editing and other tasks doesn't even have a CD-ROM drive. And that is fine. Good even. Everything just comes beamed to me from the clouds. No more fixed media. No more CDs, or DVDs for that matter, that take up space and are hard to dispose of. And almost as an out of body experience, I suddenly saw a vision! All the CDs, CD-ROMs, and DVDs that had been manufactured for the entire planet hidden in boxes in basements. An entire manufacturing technology exploded then imploded in a third of a human lifetime. It never occurred to me in 1990 that CDs were actually a transitional technology to get us where we are now: Information and data just flying through the ski. Music, books, and software. And all you need is the right antenna or cable connection to suck it in.

I dumped all the old manuals and paper inserts into our house recycling, then placed all the sorted media, CD-ROMs, some old Zip drives, and a few 3.5 inch floppies into their boxes, closed them up and said goodbye.

Part II

A fair number of the CD-ROMs were backups. I came across several with hand-Sharpie labels like: Emergency Backup #1, Emergency Backup #2.

And then I came across this one:

Amy's PC Backup. It's my handwriting.

No date. Nothing else to distinguish it. Amy died six and a half years ago and I had long since transferred everything from her old PC. All that remained was this curious reminder of something years ago, forget even existed , but now held in my hand. I don't remember backing up her PC specifically but I can imagine her nagging me: Have you backed-up my PC recently? Then feeling annoyed by the time I had to spend with that necessary task.

I sat there and stared at the disk a moment or two then started crying. Perhaps my emotions were closer to the surface having already moved to a sense of wistfulness for the passing of floppy drives and CD-ROMs in general. But I was not expecting to miss Amy at that moment.

"Remember the Second Noble Truth," the Buddha might say. "Your suffering comes from your attachments to things that are impermanent, which is all things."

"Yeah, sure, thanks Buddha. Maybe don't just sit there cross-legged and come over here and help me go through the rest of these CD-ROMs."


  1. Great post, John! If Buddha doesn't show up let me know (though it seems you are doing just fine with your "inner Buddha!")

  2. Thanks Pam! Of course your inspiration and guidance is part of my story too.

  3. Some of those items (cameras, jewel cases etc.), although dated, could be useful to the less tech-savvy. Consider dropping them off at one of the local thrift stores like Value Village of Unique. = )

  4. Hi Robin - yes, great advice! Some of our stuff did go to Value Village (along with some clothes and other items I didn't get into in my essay). We had a number of electronics where the battery had failed or leaked and had to go on to electronic recycling.