This isn't a technical post, but rather I wanted to share some thoughts regarding our compulsion in the last decade to purchase and dispose of commodities with little regard to the impact on materialism and environment.
My father's generation grew up listening to records and later 8 tracks. Televisions were vacuum tube based and radios were assembled using various components. If any of these devices broke, there was a good chance that they could be fixed by the local electronics store. In fact, I recall as a child going into these modest shops and for some reason being interested in those little paper tags that would be tied to the device with a string.
These electronics were costly. Not preventatively so, but expensive enough that you were buying a quality product without subjecting your purchase to a pre-defined shelf life. How far we've come. It wasn't just anyone that could afford these devices and with that limitation came a barrier to entry that also allowed for health profit margins.
Today, my stereo receiver which is capable of outputting 8 channels in 6.1 surround has a shelf life. If something breaks, chances are I'll have to toss it out and get a new one. This is exactly what happened with my Sony. I don't buy Sony anymore because their quality has gotten so bad that they no longer represent the brand that they once did, in my opinion any way.
As we have offshored production to China to meet our insatiable desire to consume, we have become accustomed to products of mediocre quality and are content to pay less and get less. After all, if that product breaks, we'll just go out and get a new one. This not only fuels our consumerist materialist culture but actually has a detrimental effect on our economy. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against capitalism, far from it, but if we are to disprove Karl Marx, we have to get a bit more responsible in our consumption of goods. If I can't win the cultural argument here, then I will use the environment since it seems to be very much en mode today...
When we buy something only to throw it away, where does that scrap go? In a landfill maybe, or on a ship back to China or India for disposal. Our landfills are so full that we actually fund a billion dollar industry of scrap cargo. So we buy from China and we then send them our garbage right back. Does anyone see an ethical dilemma here? I do.
Am I saying that we should stop doing business with China? No, of course not. China is a prime example of why globalization works and how capitalism leads to peace. China is simply fulfilling our demand to consume.
China is a reality that we all must contend with. And I am using China metaphorically, because we offshore production of just about everything to several 3rd world countries. The real issue is what corporations we choose to do business with. Which companies, given the reduction in operational overhead are dedicated to quality despite the tremendous savings in production costs?
Dell Computer is one.
5 years ago, my dad got me a Dell Inspiron 2650 for my graduation from college. It was my first laptop and at the time, was a pretty decent machine. Pentium 2 1.2 Ghz with a 20 GB hardrive and 256 MB of RAM. Through the years, it became the family laptop, usually sitting out in the den. Later, about 2 years ago, it became Christie's machine. Through the years, we have invested modestly in its upkeep. For example, we upgraded the RAM to 512 MB and replaced the battery twice. Oh yeah, we also had to replace the AC adapter because the input got so worn that the connection started shorting. All in all a couple of hundred bucks to keep this thing running.
Last week, finally, the machine wouldn't boot. The hardrive crashed and crashed hard. My first inclination was to go out and buy another laptop, after all, a comparable machine (by today's standards) is about $499. Then I decided to replace the hard drive and give it a go. For $79, I purchased a retail 120 GB Fujitsu drive (made in China) and installed it, replacing the bad drive. You know what? It worked. I installed Windows XP and was back up and running in no time.
My point is not to gloat or stand out as a model citizen. Instead, I am very pleased that this 5 year old Dell laptop that today is relegated to the simple task of email, internet and Quicken, is still in use instead of in a landfill somewhere. The reason for this is that it was a quality product to start out with and with the proper care and preventative maintenance, our investments can last far beyond the shelf life that we have become conditioned to accept.
The key is to choose a product from a company that stands behind it, and Dell is a great example of this.
I think that as we come to terms with globalization, and the impacts not only from it, but from our consumerist culture, we all should be responsible citizens and with that responsibility the onus is on us to be selective in who we choose to do business with.