The Ship Of Theseus is a thought experiment proposing “if every part of an object is replaced over some period of time, does it still remain the same object”? The version of the thought puzzle concerning Theseus was discussed by Plutarch and talks about the Athenians preserving the ship upon which Theseus returned from Crete. Stored in the harbour, it rotted and decayed over time and so each part was slowly replaced so that it would not fall apart. Eventually every part would have been replaced, and thus philosophers discussed whether it could still even be considered the ship of Theseus.
Whenever I think about the Ship Of Theseus I’m reminded of both The Fitfh Elephant by Terry Prachett (really good book) and LBS, my network attached storage server.
I’ve talked about this server during my last two rebuilds, a device that I’ve cherished (like it’s cuddly namesake) and used for over a decade now. During that time I’ve replaced the CPU and motherboard twice, the RAM once, and every single hard drive has been replaced too. I’m pretty sure the PSU has been swapped over, leaving only the case (an aging Antec Three Hundred) as a constant; but even that has limitation and a replacement will be on the cards soon enough.
At that point, is it still the same file server? To me, it is. It may not be the exact same as when it was first assembled and booted, but I doubt I am either. This doesn’t change that I’m still me, and I guess LBS is still LBS. It’s seen me at my best and worst, and in summary form it’s been with me through:
- Dropping out of uni.
- Seven jobs.
- Nine different work roles.
- Over 1.5 years (non-contiguous) of unemployment.
- Nine (maybe ten!) house moves.
- The breakup of a six year relationship.
- A crippling meth addiction, quitting cold turkey, and subsequently six years of being clean.
- Me meeting, falling in love with, and getting engaged to Nikki.
- One third of my entire existence on this planet.
And maybe that’s what we miss out on when we use disposable tech; especially all-in-wonder units with limited user serviceability or upgradeability. When your tech keeps working for long after the warranty is out, even if it’s repurposed over that life, it becomes a vector for nostalgia and an extra family member. We imbue it with personality we derive from it’s mechanisms and idiosyncracies.