This week I am turning into my grandmother. All too often I find myself questioning the quality of life we are now living. The quality of the food we eat, and the quality of the products we fill our homes with. There is no question as to the quality of the air we breathe. But as we become smarter and more efficient, and also more aware of our immediate and global surroundings, we seem to be simultaneously regressing at an alarming rate. People talk about sustainable practices, eco-friendly, and going green, but it hasn’t filtered though from the talk down to the walk. In the last 8 years or so I have become increasingly appalled by the quality (or lack there of) demonstrated in the NEW and the IMPROVED. I’m sure this has been a problem long before I noticed it, but I guess I didn’t care much when I had disposable income to match my disposable life in a disposable city.
These days however, I am very financially and materially conscious, and I try pretty damn hard to be environmentally minded too. In relation to my home and it’s contents I aim to use appropriate products, that although aren’t the cheapest on the rack aren’t the most expensive either. I buy dolphin safe tuna, I use a vacuum cleaner with washable parts, and living in sunny Sydney get the most out of our solar heated hot water. And when everything is functioning properly, it’s happy days. BUT, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t battling with something or other falling apart on me. For example, currently my vacuum cleaner and camera have been sent for repairs, the camera less that a year old (and pricey), and the vacuum is 5 minutes out of warranty (bloody typical) also not cheap. I went back to the retailer and the first satanic worshi…, ahem, I mean vacuum salesman – who served me basically told me that it couldn’t be repaired and ‘here look at these new models over here, come on, you need a new vacuum’ was all he could manage with his limited brain programming. He couldn’t comprehend that I didn’t want a new and shiny replacement, I wanted my old one working (I say old in the loosest of terms… a sneeze past 2 years). Alas, that is not how things work these days.
I struggle with my land line which is a gamble every time I use it, never sure whether it will last a conversation or not. Our portable DVD player stopped working after just a few months and geez was that a nightmare to sort out because we purchased it overseas – interestingly one of the many people I spoke with in order to see it right informed me that it was a ‘replacement’ item. Really? You will just chuck it away instead of trying to fix it? There is our solar hot water system which saves us on our electric bill, is eco-friendly, and is working fine… now. It needed parts replaced twice in the first 2 years we had it installed. My husband’s old mobile phone had a very bad microphone which he had to shout into to be heard and often I giggled at the thought of him shouting in the middle of the street… HELLO? HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME??? It was “fixed” twice, and we then gave up. Our clock radio lasted less than a year, and the kids are most likely to blame, but really, a machine with buttons should be able to cope with it’s buttons being pressed, should it not? On our son’s 3rd birthday imagine his surprise when we pulled his brand new scooter out of the box, missing a wheel. At first I thought it was me, that coincidentally things fell to pieces in my hands. Then I learned why this was happening to me, and to everyone else also. Time for the technical stuff… for some this will be a repeat lesson, for others, I wonder if your jaw will drop as mine did when I first heard about Planned Obsolescence.
Wikipedia’s Definition of Planned Obsolescence:
Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design is a policy of planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete, that is, unfashionable or no longer functional after a certain period of time. Planned obsolescence has potential benefits for a producer because to obtain continuing use of the product the consumer is under pressure to purchase again, whether from the same manufacturer (a replacement part or a newer model), or from a competitor which might also rely on planned obsolescence.
For an industry, planned obsolescence stimulates demand by encouraging purchasers to buy sooner if they still want a functioning product. Built-in obsolescence is used in many different products. There is, however, the potential backlash of consumers who learn that the manufacturer invested money to make the product obsolete faster; such consumers might turn to a producer (if any exists) that offers a more durable alternative.
If you fell asleep during that bit, in a nutshell – things are made to break. Research actually goes into just how long we (the consumer) will stay loyal to a brand if the products break, and how long it takes us to switch brands because of faults. And yes I do realise that the quality is also so poor because the manufacture process takes less time and uses cheaper materials to make it more accessible to the general public. Do we care so little about really using sustainable practices and slowing down the degradation of this world? When will we change our disposable attitudes and work on improving the things we already have?
I guess there are those – more than half the population it would seem – who don’t care, and are happy to just buy a new product when the old one carks it instead of being fixed. The most sustainable option is not yet the first thing people think of. Whispers of just get a new one breeze all too easily into our ears. People need to change they way they think about this disposable life. By people I mean me and you, the consumers. Unfortunately the people making the big decisions in the big companies who could most efficiently change they way things are need to be told by their bread and butter that it is just not on before they will take it seriously. I am nearly at the point where I stop the fight and just give in, but the frugal hat I wear will not be blown off in the wind of a corporate fat cat’s cigar smoke. I cannot, hell, I refuse to buy into the disposable world… unless of course we are talking about nappies, everyone has their price.
Emma Eastman 2012