I hardly know where to start, but that is why I am writing about this – to get my thoughts somewhat in line.
What happened to technology? I know that is a broad question, probably too broad so I’ll narrow it down a bit. Why is so much of what we buy, junk that is destined for the scrapheap or landfill, the day it is brought home?
I could attempt a long and boring explanation (as I see it) of competition, the profit motive, market saturation, planned obsolescence, intrinsic obsolescence (very scary), and the unaccounted environmental costs associated with the manufacture, distribution, marketing, sale, consumption, and disposal of typical consumer goods. I am not going to do that since the above sentence was long enough as it is, and I prefer opinions over facts – no one expects citations for opinions.
What I am going to do is propose some simple, and technologically not-so-simple, suggestions for a sensible set of guidelines for one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated features of modern living: the refrigerator.
I strolled through Home Depot recently to see what kind of refrigerators are currently available. I was kind of impressed by what I saw. There are so many features available, beyond just the freezer top or bottom, and the side by side. I found several very good ideas for organizing refrigerated goods, but nothing really new. With the exception of the use of copious quantities of plastic that makes the cabinet smell like a petrochemical factory, I did not see one genuinely original cabinet design or feature which hasn’t been around since at least the 1940s. Granted, some of these convenient door designs, extra drawers, and multiple evaporators, were good ideas then, and I’m glad these manufacturers are bringing them back.
Unfortunately, I feel these space age refrigerators are built on the same old junk of yester-year, with the exception that now, production happens in China, which by itself doesn’t suggest they are junk, but along with a number of other cost saving factors means that the components do not need to last much longer than the consumer expects to have it (10 to 15 years?) Actually, some of the domestic systems of the WWII era are still humming along in basements and garages, while the $4000 units for sale today won’t likely be any good by 2030. Even if an owner wants to repair one of these overpriced monsters, good luck acquiring parts for it, or getting it fixed after the warranty has expired.
And what’s with all the frigg’n touch-pads, and LCD screens? Do we really need Pandora internet radio on the god damn refrigerator? Forget about the stupid EnergyStar rating, when server space to handle your Twitter account probably consumes more electricity than the compressor of that monster Samsung.
Some of the strangest things about our culture surround the fact that we manufacture and use “single use disposable” items, but we make them out of a substance that will be with us for thousands of years, producing untold health and environmental damage. Well, it appears that the development of our household appliances are well on their way to mimicking the “use it and throw it away” cycle. Yeah, some plastics can be recycled once or twice, but plastic recycling is more of a distraction than a solution.
We can do better, and I see no point in waiting for industry to do something about it. That will be in the coming posts.