1.10.2007

Today's euphemism: "Value Engineering"

Yesterday there was a call for an alarm clock from the teenage department of our household.
My first response was to wrack my brain trying to recall whether I'd seen a surplus of usable clocks at the local thrift shops. My second thought was a recounting of all the alarm clocks I've had and disposed of in 45 years of living. A series of plain and fancy units began dancing in the fog which purports to be my memory. I determined to better understand "planned obsolescence" to see if I've been a victim. It turns out that there is a business buzzword for the concept--"value engineering." Have alarm clock manufacturers engineered their interests above mine?

The insidious markers of planned obsolescence show up in two ways. The cost of repair equals or exceeds the cost of replacement or repair is impossible because parts are made unavailable. And to keep us buying new new new they make sure prior versions are not interoperable with current ones and that the stream of "new enhancements" (technically minor) are hyped to the max.

Although I don't lose sleep worrying about the fashionableness of my bedside radio, at some point old technology looks embarrassing. An accidental amble down the electronics aisle is likely responsible for most of my "updates." But the last clock I remember tossing in the trash was too complicated to figure out and the battery cover had joined the cast of missing household goods. Somehow those seemed like good enough reasons to give up on it. How pitiful is that? My thoughtless tossing of endless paper cups and packaging materials has degenerated into a wholesale abandonment of the value of useful things. Magic things have become more important than useful things, which is why I'll shop all day for that special something that sparks an endorphin rush, but I can't seem to honor a chunk of metal that gets me to work on time.

1 comment:

LucidOnion said...

Planned obsolescence. Much has been said about it, but is it really the manufacturers or us that is to blame?

You hit the nail on the head when mentioning fashion. Consider car sales.

If people loved 1960 Ford Falcons, factories couldn't churn them out fast enough. But when we stop thinking about transportation and start thinking about our own image, well... That plain 4-door sedan with the vinal seats and crank-up windows just isn't good enough.

Resale value is based on desire. Manufacturers stop making parts because they are not profitable. People demand innovation because that is what we expect from our technological society.

The old products are worth less because no one wants them. Resellers must drop price (value) in order to move the items from their shelves.

Interesting thing about alarm clocks though. When a person gets the sleep they need, they will wake without a clock.

I wonder how many other items we consider necessary are actually are a result of trying to live in an industrialized world?

Which came first; the chicken or the egg? A modern marketeer would tell you it was the frying pan.