Friday, May 27, 2011

Then vs. Now

Okay, whippersnappers, lissen up! I'm old Annie the geezer, and I don't like this new century.

Our species has been devising technology to solve problems with ever-accelerating efficiency since the first Australopithecus grabbed a club to scare buzzards off a wildebeest carcass.

We've come to the point of diminishing returns, my precious pets. This moment might have occurred in the 1990s (I'm sure it did), but it has become standard operating procedure. And it sucks. If you are over 50, or near 50, you will agree with me when I bemoan ...

...built-in obsolescence.

You whippersnappers will try to tell me that 8-track tapes and leisure suits had a built-in obsolescence too. I will counter that fashion has always relied on built-in obsolescence, and some inventions work better than others. What I mean by built-in obsolescence is labor-saving devices that are made to break down within eight years and entertainment systems that require a constant outlay of money, always more money, in order to entertain. Oh yes, and let's not forget that we need to get the latest computer gadget every two years, a gadget that becomes dated the minute it leaves the store.

Let me tell you pink-cheeked urchins something. When I was a kid, if you bought a refrigerator, it lasted 30 years. One washing machine and dryer would take a large family of kids into adulthood. Dishwashers never broke down, because they were people who used detergent and sponges. Remember Brillo Pads? I used them. I was a dishwasher. In 1978 I cleaned a whole huge Thanksgiving feast for 14 people, and here it is 2011, and I am still working! I can still scrub a pot!

In 1987, when we moved to Snobville, Mr. Johnson and I had to buy some appliances for our house. We bought a refrigerator. It still works. It's in the basement. When Heir was born, we bought a washer and dryer. They still work, and they've worked damn hard.

When we updated our kitchen in 2003, Mr. J and I bought all new kitchen appliances from Sears. Brand new dishwasher, refrigerator, stove, and microwave. The stove was recalled, the microwave is still working, sort of, the refrigerator has been repaired five times, and the dishwasher (though repaired more than six times) failed about two months ago.

Stubbornly, I insisted that we go back in time to the original dishwasher, AKA me, and I was pecking away at it, but Mr. J. doesn't like dirty dishes sitting around. Last weekend we went to the store I most detest on the planet, Home Depot, and purchased a brand new dishwasher. Do you know what the girl who sold it to us said? I kid you not:

"Dishwashers aren't built to last more than eight years anymore."

To which I replied, "Well, I know a dishwasher that has lasted 45 years without a single repair. Come on, Mr. J, let's go get a water ice."

He insisted that we purchase a new unit. We did, and a delivery date was set.

When I came home from school the day the new dishwasher was installed, I found a pool of water on my kitchen floor. The first time Mr. J used the machine, it leaked. He called the installer, who said the gasket was probably broken. I know what a gasket is, and there was nothing wrong with the gasket on the new machine. In fact, the machine continued to ooze water even when it wasn't running. It hadn't been properly installed. Now we have to wait until Tuesday for a repairman to come, all the while mopping up puddles of water from our hardwood kitchen floor.

Whippersnappers, this would not have happened in 1969. You just have to trust me. You want to know why we haven't sent any more astronauts to the moon? Because nothing is built to work long enough to get the job done.

One last bit to this rant, and then I'm going to go hunt and gather.

In 1969, if you liked a band, you bought their records. Records were plastic disks that you played on a record player. Most record players were affordable, and once you bought one, it worked for years without any further expenditure. Records, if treated gently, were eternal. I don't have to tell you that. You go to the flea market! Point is, you paid for the record once, and then you didn't have to pay for it ever again. You owned it.

My daughter The Spare gave me her MP3 player, and it was a huge hassle getting it to run again, even though we'd been paying $15 a month on it for years without any use. A month or two ago, I was bragging about getting the thing filled up with music before the subscription expired. Because that's what the guy with the thick Indian accent told me I could do: load as much stuff on it without paying as I could in a month.

The month came and went. I loaded 835 tracks. Now a month has gone by again, and the MP3 player would not work, because the "licenses had expired." Just now I spent another 90 minutes chatting with someone on the other side of the planet, and once again he had to hack into my computer to re-up the player. It's working now, I think... but I have a sick feeling in the pit of my gut that I'm going to be billed for every last one of those 835 tracks of music. Not to mention the fact that I have to pay a monthly subscription fee just to use the device at all.

Makes me long for a time when you didn't even need a record player if you had a washboard and a pair of spoons.

There's no moral to this rant. I just want to leave notice here that, should "The Gods Are Bored" suddenly cease all new posts, it's because:

1. The computer malfunctioned.
2. My internet server decides I haven't paid enough to warrant being on the computer.
3. Mr. J gets a bill from Rhapsody for 835 tracks of music and decides no spouse should spend so wantonly.
4. I have no time to post because I'm washing dishes.

Where is Mr. Peabody? I need the Way-Back Machine, and I need it now!


Alex Pendragon said...

Now Anne, see, this just proves you never listen to me. I TOLD you back when you first posted about this that with subscription services, you can download music and listen to it ONLY SO LONG as your subscription is active, and that it all disappears once you stop paying that monthly fee. That's why I PURCHASE all my music from the iTunes music store, because once I download that album, it's MINE, and stays on my player or computer, and won't disappear on me unless my whole house burns down and takes all my hard drives and computers and back up disks with it. I listen to Radio Paradise, a listener supported internet station, to discover new music, and if I like it enough I go online and buy it just like we did at the music store. Good luck with your music.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I'm still buying and listening to CDs. I know. I'm insane to be tied to obsolete technology whose days are numbered. But I'm skeered, Anne, skeered of them teeny-tiny things with ear buds. I don't know how to put music on them. You're lucky. You've got teenagers to show you how.

Aquila ka Hecate said...

I've come to thank the gods for my iPod -it allows me to work in a noisy office without killing half my colleagues.
But I know what you mean about the lack of lasting quality. I've come to the conclusion that part of the built-in obsolescence is the fact that we (read: humanity) is getting stupider by the year. We don't know how to make stuff keep working anymore - and I'm not talking about the end-user so much as the people who design and build the damned things.

Terri in Joburg


oh my Goddess, what would happen if you squeezed the charmin?

kimc said...

My dishwasher was purchased more than twenty years ago, but what I did is, before I purchased it, I asked three different plumbers what dishwasher needed the fewest repairs. All three of them told me to get the bottom of the line Maytag. That may be obsolete information now, but plumbers are the people to ask. They said to get the bottom of the line because there are fewer geegaws to go wrong.
My refrigerators tend to die when my sister visits (she has a poltergeist I suspect) but they start again when she leaves.
The phones sure don't last like they used to when the phone company owned them....
We are set up with an economy that is appropriate for a growing frontier society. That is now an obsolete idea, and we may die of not changing to a stable sustainable economy. Have you read Collapse, by Jared Diamond? I recommend it.

Thomas said...

As far as gadgets go:

1. Linux, it's free & all of it's attendant software is free. It never breaks down and it's resource-frugal to the point that a much older computer running Linux will out-perform something right off the shelf.

2. MP3 players, buy one that's non-proprietary and just keep buying your music on CD. Us your ultra-stable and super-fast Linux computer to rip the tracks to MP3 and stash the disk somewhere so you'll never have to worry about losing your music.

3. Dishwasher, eh, I got nothing. Eat out more, maybe.

Planned obsolescence is real and it's real annoying but there's usually a way around it.

Anne Johnson said...

Thomas is my hero.

Patchouli Sky said...

Having grown up during the 1960's, I witnessed appliances lasting multiple decades, some with repairs, others completely on their own. The thrill of going to a record store, buying an LP, admiring the cover, and reading the liner notes and lyrics on the sleeve. We've been in our home for 18 years, and have been through 2 dishwashers, with the possibility of a 3rd looming.

Unfortunately, our disposables are much more dangerous now. All these computers, cell phones, mp3 players, etc. going into landfills and oozing whatever into the soil....

I've read your blog for some time, and enjoy it very much!

Anne Johnson said...

Thank you! We endeavor to give satisfaction!

Maebius said...

My co-worker calls me the Luddite IT Tech, because I have long started to eschew the newest gadgets. I don't physically own a cell phone (other than the emergency one work gave me for pages, and severely limited to work-only calls in), we just got DISH television as part of a bundle deal that was cheaper than our current land-line phone and DSL internet. I also have loudly and voiciferously pontificated to anyone who mentions that I should get an Ipod or similar MP43 player that records are the way to go. They are "Physical media" after all, and usable even after the power goes out, if you REALLY need to listen to them and hobble together a paper cone and a straight pin. :)

BellaDonna Oya said...

Thank you for this post! I can relate to every single thing you said here. I don't own a cell phone, iPod/i-whatever; we have a computer ONLY because my husband had one when we got together and he can't live without it. I AM the dishwasher, and am still working after 40+ years with few repairs. I still have my records, but can't play them because I can't find a record player that WORKS. Today we're lucky if something lasts until the 3-month or 1-year warranty expires (which it always does JUST BEFORE the whatever-it-is breaks).

And trust me, Home Depot is MUCH better than Best Buy!!!

Intense Guy said...

I would say "Made in America" meant quality (or at least it did at one time) but something happened around the 1960s and quality just became "lip-service" and "inexpensive" (read: cheap and shoddy) became the American marketplace.

Walmart doesn't understand the concept of qaulity.