I’ve been meaning to write about how the commoditization of so many different things that we use on a daily basis has changed our expectations of reliability. For instance, I find myself thinking that if I get a good 4 years out of something, then that’s amazing. Even with cars, I think of something 5 years old as aged and ready for replacement.
This is not about always wanting something new. It’s about forgetting that sometimes we should expect things to last. How many times do we see a car on the road that is 10 or 15 years old, still running strong and reliably? Why should I be frustrated with my “old” car that is not yet even 5 years out of the plant? A car is a bit extreme of an example – let’s look at the items we have around us on a daily basis. How many people have kitchen appliances that are more than 3 years old (other than the fridge, oven, or dishwasher)? More importantly, how long do you expect that toaster or blender to last? How many would be okay if they broke within 5 years?
The reality is that most appliances and have become commodities. Think of all the things you see at Target that used to be even $50 that are now $25. How they have become almost throwaway items. Even something like a computer monitor, which can be less than $100 if you look around, doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore (the environmental impact of perceiving monitors as throwaway is a pretty big deal, as an aside). And if we were to start throwing all this stuff away when we’re done with them, and they end up in landfills, that’s sad and a massive environmental issue.
I have been “proud” of the fact that I try to invest in purchases whenever possible. Yes, I can spend $15 and get a really lame coffee maker that will break down after a few years because the coil that heats the bottom plate (that burns the coffee after too long) wears down. Or I can spend $100 and get a high quality maker with a vacuum carafe that will last me 15 years. Same thing with my TV, which I bought 4 years ago and still feel will be just great for another 10 (until they come out with 50000p resolution, that is). And even my home theatre processor/amplifier, which I do intend to replace, is of wonderful quality and build. It’s just missing some functionality now that blu-ray and HDTV have different connections and sound options.
Speaking of coffee…I’m reading and hearing rave reviews about Starbucks’ new “Via” instant coffee. Supposedly it’s different from those big cans of instant coffee because
- it’s ground more for a french press, which is of course just soaked in hot water rather than dripped through a filter
- it’s sold in small, single-serving packets so they are less likely to get stale
After all this time thinking about how everyday appliances have become such commodities, having lost an expectancy of reliability and sturdiness…and now even my coffee maker goes down in the battle…