A couple of minor incidents, this week, caused me to think about obsolescence and how it impacts people.
While shopping for some craft supplies at the local Menards store, I made an impulse purchase of a Bell and Howell “Tac” Flashlight. After all, there was a large display of them in the middle of an aisle, the price was affordable, and I’ve never had problems with anything from that store. Less than a week later, a problem with the switch has become evident. Now I face the inconvenience of sending the flashlight back to the Bell and Howell company. I’m glad I have a few regular, “obsolete”, incandescent flashlights on hand.
An indication of the possibly defective flashlight is the fact that the company packed a legal “Arbitration Agreement” inside the box. It states that the buyer of the product waives the right to bring a lawsuit but is affected by binding arbitration. There is also a clause that the buyer has agreed to waive any class-action lawsuit. This goes beyond any simple “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back” sort of warranty. Since the “agreement” could not be read nor agreed to without purchasing the product and opening the box, I’m pretty much stuck.
Also this week, I decided to bring some old pinch-pleat draperies out of storage and use them again. Somehow, the drapery hooks became lost. I had to drive around town to find a place that sells the hooks. Finally, I had to stop at the local custom drapery and window treatment business. They had some, but not packaged for retail sale. The clerk counted out some hooks from the supply bin for me. I remember, not long ago, when a person could buy pre-packaged drapery hooks off the rack at nearly every department store or discount center.
The drapery hook problem is forgiveable. My draperies were purchased back in 1986. When I updated my decor in 1998, they were given to my step-mom. When she got tired of them, the draperies went to the attic. Now, 30-years later, I want to revive them. So, yes, the plain, off-white draperies are certainly obsolete, but are now “retro”.
The draperies reminded me about other interior design and fashion accessories. Most of these are rather costly. Sofas and upholstered furniture styles and colors come in and go out of fashion quite frequently. The same is true for floor coverings, wall coverings, bathroom fixtures, and kitchen appliances. I doubt that no matter how long I wait, harvest gold and avocado green kitchen ranges will ever become fashionable again.
Need I mention clothing fashion? Even if you miraculously retain your body size and weight, you’re encouraged to “update” your wardrobe regularly. Women’s wear is notorious for obsolescence, but men’s clothing also goes through style changes. Who wears acid-washed jeans or oversized, pointy collared shirts these days?
One of the most wasteful forms of obsolescence are motor vehicles. Even though the annual styling changes are not as obvious, they happen. Purely cosmetic changes encourage status conscious folks to replace vehicles more frequently. Other forms of planned obsolenscence show up as discontinued repair parts that could otherwise extend the safe, practical service life of cars and trucks.
Then there are the electronics and computer industries. Here we find a mix of planned obsolescence and timed obsolescence, albeit at a much more accelerated pace. It seems like every time I go online, there’s an advertisement for a thinner laptop style, faster processing speed, or better display monitors. Who remembers floppy discs?
What about printers? It’s well-known that new inkjet cartridges can cost us more than just the printer itself. The design of many cartridges prevents us from using every drop of pigment from the over-priced cartridge. A user can refill many types of cartridges, but that is a messy, inconvenient job that most of us don’t have time or patience to do. Also, the use of refilled or recycled cartridges can void the warranties of most printer manufacturers.
This brings to mind another obsolescence gripe I have–household light bulbs. Conventional incandescent bulbs seem to have a very short service life. The next stage, spiral shaped compact fluorescent lights were a solution by providing longer service life and lower operating costs. Now, we have LED lighting, which I prefer.
However, there are still many bugs to be worked out with this new technology. I don’t like the restrictions on placement. LED bulbs cannot be used inside enclosed light fixtures. Even though LED’s operate at much cooler temperatures, they are very vulnerable to their own generated heat. This needs to be addressed. The new generations of LED bulbs will make the present electronic bulbs obsolete.
Whenever possible, I purchase products that should have a long service life. Basic styles and color schemes also help extend the useful lives of consumer goods. That’s why I’m going to have the vintage draperies dry-cleaned and put up on the window.