stewart_brand's picture
Founder, the Whole Earth Catalog; Co-founder, The Well; Co-Founder, The Long Now Foundation, and Revive & Restore; Author, Whole Earth Discipline
Good Old Stuff Sucks

In the 90's I was praising the remarkable grassroots success of the building preservation movement. Keep the fabric and continuity of the old buildings and neighborhoods alive! Revive those sash windows.

As a landlocked youth in Illinois I mooned over the yacht sales pictures in the back of sailboat books. I knew what I wanted — a gaff-rigged ketch! Wood, of course.

The Christmas mail order catalog people know what my age group wants (I'm 69). We want to give a child wooden blocks, Monopoly or Clue, a Lionel train. We want to give ourselves a bomber jacket, a fancy leather belt, a fine cotton shirt. We study the Restoration Hardware catalog. My own Whole Earth Catalog, back when, pushed no end of retro stuff in a back-to-basics agenda.

Well, I bought a sequence of wooden sailboats. Their gaff rigs couldn't sail to windward. Their leaky wood hulls and decks were a maintenance nightmare. I learned that the fiberglass hulls we'd all sneered at were superior in every way to wood.

Remodeling an old farmhouse two years ago and replacing its sash windows, I discovered the current state of window technology. A standard Andersen window, factory-made exactly to the dimensions you want, has superb insulation qualities; superb hinges, crank, and lock; a flick-in, flick-out screen; and it looks great. The same goes for the new kinds of doors, kitchen cabinetry, and even furniture feet that are available — all drastically improved.

The message finally got through. Good old stuff sucks. Sticking with the fine old whatevers is like wearing 100% cotton in the mountains; it's just stupid.

Give me 100% not-cotton clothing, genetically modified food (from a farmers' market, preferably), this-year's laptop, cutting-edge dentistry and drugs.

The Precautionary Principle tells me I should worry about everything new because it might have hidden dangers. The handwringers should worry more about the old stuff. It's mostly crap.

(New stuff is mostly crap too, of course. But the best new stuff is invariably better than the best old stuff.)