I thought about donating the old Gateway tower that I found languishing in the basement, since it still runs fine. It's running Windows XP smoothly on a Pentium II 800 MHz processor, 20 GB hard drive, and 256 MB of RAM (and another 128 MB can be bought on eBay for a whopping $3, shipped). It has a fast CD-ROM, 3.5" floppy drive, Zip drive, 2 USB ports, and ports for modem and ethernet.
Not only does it do everything that a normal person would need, it is backwards compatible to make use of old things that may be still lying around the house, like floppy disks.
And yet such a system would be rejected by all computer donation centers, who preen for their do-gooder audience about how they're keeping bulky electronics from choking up our landfills, helping out others in the community who can't afford or otherwise don't have access to computers, and so on and so forth.
Why? Because their vision of "bridging the digital divide" means giving the needy a set-up that's within striking distance of the computers that the well-to-do use. It doesn't mean giving them something that meets their needs for free. After all, on the Gateway system from 2000, how are the poor supposed to stream pornography in HD? Or the all-important function of hardcore gaming? Giving them a system like ours would only perpetuate the inequality gap in cyber-distraction.
The first hit I got for middle to upper-middle class Montgomery County, MD, was Phoenix Computers -- "reclaim, refurbish, reuse." According to their "what donations can we use?" page, your computer will probably be rejected as obsolete if it's not running a 2.0 GHz processor on a Pentium 4 chip, and will be harvested for parts. Talk about greedy.
Even the T40 Thinkpad that I'm using to type, upload, edit, and comment on this post would get rejected — only 1.5 GHz and a variant of the Pentium 3 chip. Yet somehow I've pulled datasets off the internet, analyzed them in Python, drawn graphs of the results in R, and made PowerPoint talks to present them to others, carrying these on a USB flash drive. And garden-variety web-surfing, of course. But, y'know, the computer experts are right — this thing doesn't provide surround sound for when I'm watching cat videos, so it must be time to just throw this wad of junk in the trash.
Was it just the greedy do-gooders in Montgomery County who took such a wasteful approach toward conservation? Here is an all-purpose page with suggestions for those thinking about donating their old computers, and they are only a little bit more forgiving, explaining that only those that are 5-10 years old are going to make the cut. But under these more generous guidelines, that Gateway that's running XP without a hitch would still get sent to the scrap yard. Not flashy enough for the discriminating tastes of 21st-century proles.
So, for all their talk about frugality and stewardship, these donation and recycling centers behave more as though they were the producers of Pimp My 'Puter for MTV. Aw yeah, son, Black Friday's coming early this year!
Zooming out to the big picture, this entitled mindset among the lower 75% of society is an overlooked cause of how fucked up our economy is becoming. In the original Gilded Age, wasteful status-striving was only an option for the one-percenters. But now that we have democratized access to debt, along with state-mediated schemes like Cash for Clunkers and Obama Phone, everybody can whine like an entitled little bitch their entire lives, and bury themselves under debt in order to play the status-striving game. Hand-me-downs are for losers, and everyone must be a winner.
Today's economic explosions will be far more severe, on account of how broadly the attitude of wastefulness has infected our society. And so-called donation programs that feed this petty sense of entitlement are only going to make things worse.