Last week our microwave errored out. A new one for me.The keypad, which is the link to the brains of the thing, kept telling us there was a short circuit and we’d need to get it serviced. Unfortunately, the way most electronic appliances are built nowadays, the components are not meant to be ‘serviced’ or repaired. It’s far less expensive just to buy a new one than to pay someone to take it apart only to find out you have to order a new part from China, or India. New, comparably equipped machine: $159. The proverbial no-brainer.
On my way to the dump, I made a mental balance sheet of the things in our lives that we do repair vs. those we toss. The ‘keep and fix’ side was pretty light: house, car, bicycle and maybe a few major appliances. Very few. Just about everything else is throwaway or headed for Sal’s Boutique (aka the Salvation Army store).
As a society, we’re probably the victims of our own success. We developed and improved manufacturing processes to such an extent that the technology could be exported anywhere. We don’t make as many things as we used to because people overseas can do that for less money. We consume. When something is used up or out of fashion, we come up with the $159 or comparable and move on. For now, it’s less expensive to throw away.
I think, though, there’s a new collective yearning for having and using things with intrinsic, lasting value like high quality furniture because that is now the exception, not the rule. Finding such things is also more and more difficult. Being able to recognize good quality is as much a challenge as finding it. Consistent with our ‘replacement mentality’, readily available, mass produced commodities such as wood furniture and cabinetry have beauty that is only skin deep – just the thickness of veneer or a coat of paint.
One of the tricks for dealing with this rapidly ‘homogenizing’ and globalizing market, where more things are mass produced – less expensively – is to be able to talk to the maker, learn about what goes into a custom table or hand-crafted cabinet and start to get a sense of what’s beyond the appearance. Nowadays, that’s going to take some effort – probably not worth it for a $159 appliance but it just might be for a table you’ll use the rest of your lives and pass down through your family.