Buy or Rent (what do we own)

One very interesting feature of the PS3 when I bought it on release back in 2007 (I think it was) was the ability to install a linux OS. This was quite cool for people who wanted to give their new-age consoles personal computer abilities. But in 2010 with firmware update version 3.21, the “Other OS” option was killed off. Sony’s reasoning was security.

I remember feeling a little cheated. I payed £399 for a product with a list of features, and that feature list had just been made shorter.

The fact is; we now live in a new world where many of the functions of the devices we buy are held within software that is “subject to change”. In the eighties, a personal cassette player will always have its 3.5mm headphone jack and/or its ability to record. However our modern hi-tech devices, forever the intellectual property of their creators, are now in a constantly connected way. Where under the device’s terms of use, the true owners may flip direction, removing functionality in the name of progress or security.

I understand this to be a double-edged sword. We purchase connected devices that are part of a larger online ecology and, in the case of PSN, these devices are sometimes abused and used to pollute that ecology. So functionality is “Either” removed or the device is no longer permitted to remain connected to that network.

Whatever the excuses of functional roll-back are, they seem to me nonetheless, excuses. If I’m sold on a product and its functions, and one or more of those functions turn out to be unstable or destructive to the initial concept, to the point they are removed, then I have simply been mis-sold something. Though I don’t see hardware manufacturers offering refunds as an alternative to Firmware revisions.

But going back to eighties cassette players for a second, of course our hardware ownership is also compressed and restrained under the threat of warranty invalidation, but now also the restriction of spare parts. A simple cable failure in a high-end laptop could cost us anything up to £60 for an over-titled engineer to switch out – even if we choose to take the risk and invalidate the warranty to fix it ourselves, we would simply not be allowed to purchase the offending part (which would otherwise be a £1.50 cable if it weren’t so proprietary).

This is quite a different world were you from a generation that used to repair its own cars.

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