Monday, September 22, 2008

BEYOND PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE
Even if the next generation product is on the horizon, why change what works?

HAND-ME-DOWN CELLPHONE. I'm using a two-year-old cellphone. My kids get all the upgrades and sport the latest AT&T has to offer. By comparison, my phone is ancient, even though it can do things I've never even thought about...or can remember or figure out. My kids look at me pathetically, as if I were using a can with string.

BLACKBERRY ENVY. Lately, however, I've been experiencing some Blackberry and iPhone envy. I'm sure my life would be complete if I just had a Blackberry or iPhone. I can imagine how much more connected and efficient I could be. I might even be able to text message my sermons from the pulpit as I preached, if only...

PROGRESS ON MY BEHALF, AT MY EXPENSE. Cellphones are but one example of an accelerated expression of planned obsolescence. Think of razors, audio players, video players, cameras, video game systems, TVs, computers, vehicles, and myriad appliances. The product on today's discount shelf/online store is already out of date. Surpassing replacements are now in production and shipping tomorrow. "Progress" is being made on our behalf at our expense. "Hurry, hurry, step right up..." "There's a sucker born every minute." -- P. T. Barnum.

TWIN LAWS OF THE MARKETPLACE. Shadowing the thrill of ingenuity, communication technology, and breakthrough systems is a marketplace keyed to an age-old mantra. Planned obsolescence and limited durability are twin laws of the marketplace. If we can't be convinced that the functional product we currently use is out-of-date, out-of-touch, or limiting our true potential, then surely breakdown and irreplaceable components will convince us to buy anew.

IF IT WORKS, DON'T... I accept this scenario, this marketplace reality, this backbone of economic vitality. I dutifully act the part of an obedient American consumer, for the most part. But I tend to hang on to things that work longer than the average Joe. No, I'm not anal retentive. I just find it ludicrous to trash a functional product because something better is available. Besides, I spent no small amount of money on all those audio cassette tapes!

MY OLD CANNONDALE. I'm riding a 15-year-old aluminum-frame Cannondale road bicycle. That's ancient, by bicycle industry standards. I've upgraded most components on it over the years as they've worn out. But the core bike is fine. It's nimble, lightweight, fast, and it fits me. At 49, I can keep pace with cyclists half my age sporting the latest in cyclery technology. Do I occasionally envy their steeds? Sure. Could I justify some of the newer technology? Yes. But it's not likely I'll get a new bike based on such cheap temptations. I prefer to ride this bike for all it's worth...and then some.

"I'LL SHOW THEM." I suppose part of my resistance to planned obsolescence is an "I'll show them" shoulder chip. In the good creation/fallen humanity equation, I tend to see the fallen humanity side in spades when it comes to observing the American economic system. I know we are capable of honorable craftsmanship and reciprocally beneficial market transactions (good creation, image of God, redeemed purpose). But I don't see most consumer products as holistically crafted or marketplace transactions as authentically responsive. I see it as a calculating game of deceit and leverage (fallen humanity, greed, ends justifies the means). The game of baiting consumers with "necessary" products which will, of course, "need" to be replaced in short order, is less than honorable. But it's a two-way street. We get what we pay for. Who expects something that we purchased at such a "bargain" to actually endure?

A BETTER WAY. So, using a functional product well beyond it's planned obsolescence or limit of expected durability feels like a "win" for me as a consumer. It's a feeling of beating the system at it's own game. At best, such a "win" is short-lived and occasional. In reality, producers/marketers are making a killing on us ever-gullible consumers. I believe there is a better way than gaming the current system (from any angle). The better way is to bring producers and consumers together to create and recalibrate products that are produced in a manner and for purposes that bring life-giving energy, satisfaction, and residual benefit in a reciprocal circle of exchange.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:47 PM

    You are right on! I try to live this way too. ~ mm

    ReplyDelete

Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.