Object Lesson #1: Seagate Backup Plus for Mac

Object Lesson posts will examine a product from its style and functionality as what it says it is to its packaging and potential repercussions, such as the environmental waste of its packaging. These posts are not necessarily a criticism of the item in question, but use the physical item as a way to ground and make specific a larger discussion of materialism. 

I resisted getting a Mac for years, partly because I shared (frequently expensive) software and hardware with my father, who has a home business and several networked Windows PC’s. After graduation, though, I needed a new laptop and the Macbook Air was a really, really nice graduation present. For the most part, I haven’t needed too many Mac-specific gadgets or software programs. However, I did want to back up the photos I have taken this summer before I go abroad, so I recently purchased a Seagate Backup Plus portable drive. It is lovely.

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I should have gotten my cat in there for scale but anyway it is only a tiny bit larger than an iPhone in an Otterbox (or an index card, choose your poison) so it’s a very handy size, I think. So far, I’m quite pleased with performance–I was able to get it set up and put my files on it last night in minutes. If I wanted to bring it with me to France, I could easily find room for it in my luggage. I don’t, so it will probably find a nice spot in my safe deposit box, just in case.

I always feel a little funny taking security measures with my data and files, because I’m barely employed, I don’t have any government secrets, I don’t produce great works of art. In high school, I had at least two hard drives blow up/burn up/fail to work on me, and I really didn’t care. Yes, I lost years of photos of my rabbits and pretty flowers and blurry pictures of me riding horses, but that isn’t a big deal, in the grand scheme of things. I don’t miss any of that information.

Now that I’ve used Google Drive and Flickr and online stuff like that for a few years, I would need to lose both space in the cloud and hardware to truly “lose” a lot of my favorite photos and essays and that sort of thing. There is little data I would miss, anyway. That said, I am getting to a point with photography when I don’t want to lose everything I’ve shot. I’m starting to enjoy going back and looking at (some of) my older photos.

I do not yet know whether this device will Hold Up, and that is a critical aspect of its design. However, I do know that so far it is exactly what I wanted, and, with a Best Buy coupon, it was under $70, which for a terabyte of storage space seems like a fair price. The streamlined design means that I don’t mind having it on my desk, and the cord is nice and short.

One of my pet peeves in buying things is that so often, there is a tremendous amount of packaging that comes with the item. While this is irrelevant to the function of the product itself, it indicates something about the company that produced it, and also makes my eco-consciousness wince. As a lifelong PC person, I have watched the amount of packaging on computers go from the truly outrageous to the possibly acceptable.

I gotta say, though, the Macbook Air was by far the most minimally-packaged. (I bought and quickly returned an HP right before settling on/breaking down and springing for the Air, and while HP has decent package design practice, that computer had about 2-3x the styrofoam and plastic as the Air.)

The tricky aspect of computer packaging is that the packaging needs to protect a thousand-dollar device. Unlike tee shirts I recently ordered, computers need to be cushioned by more than a thin cardboard sleeve. The Seagate backup disk had more packaging than I would like to see in an ideal world, but redeemed itself. The packaging mostly seemed to be striving for minimalism and almost all of it could be recycled.

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In fact, the largest waste here was the Best Buy bag. I’ll be saving the box and receipt for now, but the small bags protecting the device from scratches as well as the hard-plastic clamshell thing are all recyclable. Since the device is already protected by a thin, disposable plastic sheath, I don’t think the little bags were necessary (and one of them was for the warranty and product info booklet). The booklets could also be streamlined, especially since all of this information is available online.

Overall, I like the device, and I like that the packaging is not too extreme. I wish I had put my foot down with the Best Buy bag, but the cashier had collapsed on the ground literally minutes before ringing us up, it was a weird situation, and I just wanted to get out of there and back up my stuff (note: the cashier was fine).

As much as a part of me would like to go back to 1661 (there’s a longer story here — suffice it to say I had a summer job as an interpreter on a 1661-style tobacco plantation), I love photography, I love digital art and design, and I recognize the unfortunate necessity of buying things sometimes. The positive side of consumption is that it drives trends, so purchasing efficiently designed items with minimal packaging helps (to some extent) to push for these considerations in manufacturing (sort of the opposite of buying a Hummer). 

The other positive outcome of the ubiquity of these devices is that many electronics retailers (like Staples) offer great free recycling programs. So, if you’re looking to get rid of an old device, take it to be recycled, don’t just throw it in the trash. 

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