For centuries, nay millennia, items that were owned in a home were passed down from generation to generation. The Industrial Revolution both reduced the time it took to create something new and made those items much more affordable. It also introduced the idea that an item could become "disposable" by choice not just when it broke or couldn't be repaired anymore.
|The venerable AT&T Model 500 Phone|
For some reason, our old AT&T phone sprang to mind. That thing was tough. I mean it went through two kids, two parents and lasted decades. We went from a two party line, to single party, then direct dialing using the same old phone. In those days you either remembered the phone number or had nearby some kind of a phone book. About the only phone number I am sure of today is my cell phone number (after a hesitation) and my home landline number. Here, in my hand as I walked to the trash, was a plastic cigarette lighter plug-in barely two years old that for some reason committed suicide. Clearly it was never designed to take the kind of abuse the Model 500 did from its many falls through the years. You know what? It didn't look any worse for wear the last time I saw it either.
Today, everything we buy seems to have a short shelf life. No matter how well or expensive clothes are, fashions change so fast that "in" today is "out" tomorrow. Used clothes have created their own industry for those less "in." Cars, literally computers with wheels, change technically so fast you feel pressured to buy for the latest safety features. However, I read recently the average age of cars in the US is 11 years. Considering the number of recalls the past year you don't know whether to buy new or sit tight.
Everything is like this. In fact, the consumer is so important today that if the buying machine stalls even a little bit Wall Street reacts with a nose dive and the GSA makes dire predictions of future economic activity. So, manufacturers clearly do NOT want things to last very long. Where once a manufacturer could and would brag about the quality of their product, they tout its "technical" advantages full well knowing that more will follow next year. No? Think of cell phones. The new Samsung Galaxy 5s just came out. Bigger this, faster that, creating a phone you can barely hold anymore. The downside though is that everything before is toast. Did we really need yet another phone? No, not really. Its just a manufacturer trying to increase its bottom line. The same with everything. Cooking pans that barely keep their coating a year, refrigerators that last maybe ten years when the venerable old 1950's GE lasted decades, the landline phone that lasts three years if you're lucky? Three? Well, factor in the cost of the new batteries it needs, you might as well get a new one. However, that is dicey as the programming gets more and more complicated with each new model. After three years I got my nephew to set both the time and date on my AT&T phone. I finally am not living in 2021! My iPhone settings take seconds to correct. If only most things worked that way.
Next time you empty your trash, think about this. How many of the items were broken from poor design, shoddy construction, cheap materials or all three? Then consider, did we want this? When you purchased it, were you looking for items that were designed to fail? In a short time? So, manufacturers ARE designing landfill trash because we, the buyers, are not demanding better just more. Maybe its time to re-think our positions. We might stumble a bit but there is nothing wrong with demanding better products with our hard earned money. Those that get it will thrive. Others not.
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