My old iPad just turned five, and it’s starting to die. If it could wonder about such things, it might question this prognosis. Its memory, after all, still retrieves information as quickly as it ever did. Its face hasn’t aged a day, projecting as vividly as it did in 2012, when Apple called it “stunning” and “gorgeous.” It hasn’t suffered vision loss; the camera still works. The touch-screen works. Buttons work. Speaker, headphone jack, charging port: All still do what I ask of them. On examination, almost nothing about the device seems to have changed. And yet it’s starting to give up, and so am I.
I’ve lost plenty of devices before, but this death feels different. When my old iPad is powered down, it seems practically new; when I turn it on, it feels instantly old. Tap the familiar YouTube app, and I am met with a pregnant pause: one, two, three, app . Ditto for the App Store, Podcasts, Netflix and e-books. Newer games are often out of the question, which wouldn’t bother me much if Safari, the web browser, wasn’t constantly overwhelmed by complicated pages. My attempt to install an alternative browser ended with this message: Firefox requires iOS 10.3 or later. My old iPad stopped getting updates in the 9s. I wouldn’t say my old electronics always aged gracefully, but their obsolescence wasn’t a death sentence. My old digital camera doesn’t do what some new cameras do — but it’s still a camera. My iPad, by contrast, feels as though it has been abandoned from on high, cut loose from the cloud on which it depends.
It hasn’t been used up; it’s just too old. A pristine iPad from the same era, forgotten in a storeroom and never touched, would be equally useless. The moment it came online, it would demand to be updated; as soon as it was, it would find itself in the same grim predicament as my device, which has been at work for half a decade.
If my old iPad could talk, it might ask me what has changed. If it could feel indignant, it might suggest that it isn’t the problem, and that everyone and everything else is. While it would be wrong according to the logic of its creation, it wouldn’t be incorrect. It is a piece of consumer technology, so you would expect that everything around it — its own software, Apple’s new products, the internet on which it depends — would have improved in the last five years, and that it would suffer in comparison. What seems unfair is that my old iPad, because it does nothing but provide access to these ever-evolving services, necessarily has to get worse and that it may, before long, have nowhere to go. Above all, my old iPad has revealed itself as a cursed object of a modern sort. It wears out without wearing. It breaks down without breaking. And it will be left for dead before it dies.