5/18/2006

Built To Last: Light Bulbs and Vacuum Cleaners

Today at work, we had to put a work order in to have a couple light bulbs replaced. "Jeez," said the man whose sole responsibilty is replacing light bulbs, "I just replaced these." I suggested maybe he was using inferior light bulbs, but after he removed the old one he showed it to me and said,"See! It's a GE!" Which of course, means nothing to me... as corproate responsibility is no longer to quality product, but to the bottom line.
I bring this up because I discovered the Bulb Cam, a webcam of the oldest working light bulb in the US. It is in a firehouse in Livermore CA, and is 104 years old. Of course, it wasn't made by GE, but by a local electric company from handblown glass and a carbon filament. It wasn't built to be disposable, but was built to last.
This brought to mind last week, as I was taking my trash out to the building dumpster and saw a recently manufactured vacuum cleaner in there. In fact, it looked a lot like mine (so much so, when I got back to my apartment, I made sure it wasn't!)which is only two years old. That's because nowadays it's cheaper to buy a new one than it is to fix a broken one! Unless of course, you spring an extra fifty or sixty bucks for a service contract, when in the past, companies stood behind their product and would offer a warranty without charging!
I can remember the old Hoover Convertible uprights. They were made from all steel construction, and the most you might have to replace is a belt or a bag, and after a good number of years, the beater bar brush. There used to be vacuum cleaner repair shops, and when I was in high school, I worked in a hardware/appliance store where they actually fixed vacuum cleaners.
Nowadays, things are poorly designed and cheaply made, and last a fraction as long as things used to be. We are throwing more and more away and saving nothing, including money. When you are paying again and again for something, you end up paying more than if you actually laid out a little more for the higher end, better designed product. And because we are buyimg more we are saving less. The dollar is falling now against foreign currencies because there are too many of them in circulation and not enough of them in our bank accounts. Compare what you bank to the average Chinese citizen, who saves nearly half of what they make. And they are making it because America has decided to toss aside American made products in favor of cheaply made and priced foreign goods. We're digging our own grave and burying ourselves alive under a bunch of crap that's not being built to last.

22 comments:

Kvatch said...

I think that part of it may also be attitude. I've owned 5 cars in my adult a life. Never driven one over 60,000, not because they broke down, but because of circumstances and the fact that I considered cars easily changeable.

Now, to atone, I don't own a car.

Elizabeth Branford said...

Well Lew as you know I have ranted about this many times, and see the glut of cheap junk as detrimental and ridiculous. There are many times now where I pay a little bit more for quality.

How many cars will get easily crumpled up just from a fender bender? How many vacuums, vcr's? Particle board and fake furniture? It all makes its way into a landfill.

romunov said...

Slovenia has (will?) tax if you deside to dump a piece of hardware, be that a fridge, washing machine...
I doubt that'll save the problem, but I do think wild dumps will spring from the ground once again.

Lily said...

Yes, thats the argument for not trying to increase disposal costs to reduce garbage generating, people will just go dump it.

You practically have to get junk at a person's house to stop them from throwing it in the woods in some places.

No sense of shame either. People say "well if the government didn't make it so expensive to dump it the right way, I wouldn't be dumping it the wrong way."

There is no way to impose some personal responsibility. Just like you can't make people be motivated.

Omnipotent Poobah said...

I went into the local vaccum shop a few years back to get a belt for mine. As the Old Coot who ran the place was rummaging around in his odds & ends bin trying to find it, I went over and was looking at one of those EIGHT POUND ORECKS SO POWERFULL YOU CAN SUCK THE ENAMEL OFF A BOWLING BALL!!!!! vaccums.

When he saw me looking at it he said, "Son, don't be a goddamn fool. That thing is a piece of shit. It weighs 8 pounds. You can't clean anything with 8 pounds, why the lint weighs more than that cheap piece of shit."

When I left, I told him I appreciated his candor. The next month he closed up shop.

Lily said...

Hmm I was skeptical of that oreck.

But I did buy the Dyson. The purple one to get the cat hair supposedly. But its complicated and cumbersome. A bit of a pain.

But that man is a doll.

The Fat Lady Sings said...

Buying higher end merchandise doesn't guarantee quality either. When we re-did our kitchen, my husband chose a very nice faucet for the sink. We had a cheap one before, and it always leaked. Well guess what? So does the expensive one! Same thing goes for the better vacuum cleaner we bought. What has lasted is the Kenmore freezer that's 30 years old and still works as good as the day it was made. Or the tiller we bought at Lowes 23 years ago is used every spring and summer and has yet to break down once. Both of these items were made in America by American workers that evidently gave a damn about what they were making. Pity everything isn't like that.

justin barker said...

excelent post. This brings to light the farce that is modern economics.

Left of Center said...

there are alternatives to cheap crap. Instead of a cheap walmart vacume, by a Kirby.. you'll never have to buy another. INstead of crappy incandescent bulbs, switch to highly efficient flourescent replacements. Drive that car till it's falling apart. Disassociate what you drive with your ego. Nobody cares anyway what you drive. The less crap you buy the more you can afford quality alternatives for things you really need. Also, but some tools. Make some shit. Build your own patio furniture, or bookcase. Learn those skills forgotten by most of Americans.

tp said...

Well they can hire illegal immigrants to do things.

Americans don't like to get their hands dirty.

Yeah, its amazing how a vcr can't be repaired, things like that. May as well just get new.

douglass said...

TP, sometimes things break out of Planned obsolescence.

That Damned Jezebel said...

Planned obsolescence is right. This is true of these game systems as well, you need the new system to play the new games, it all perpetuates itself.

anita said...

i think of fax machines as disposable items now. i think that's because, with my cheapo panasonic, they charge you $50/hour to call customer service!! plus the time you have to spend on the phone trying to get the one person in the entire organization who is able to help you. and then the time it takes to explain what's wrong --- double that if you are calling some other country and and you need to call in a translator. plus the time it takes them to figure out that the part that is broken is no longer manufactured. plus the time it takes to go out and just chill out after that horrifying experience on the phone. that's ridiculous. the machine itself cost about $150. so i'm always throwing away fax machines. what's THAT doing to the environment?

Publius said...

But GE brings good things to life. We all know that. He was only making your life better by putting in the GE Light Bulbs. And now you mock him. No wonder why there are so few Good Samaritans anymore.

Lily said...

Yes, the void of decency rests squarely on the shoulders of Lew Scannon.

Nice to see him in the hot seat for once.

EmascuMan said...

Mockery is hurtful, and so wrong.

glenda said...

I agree with Eb about quality. A good burr grinder for coffee will outlast that cheap one I paid a dollar for at a garage sale that didn't even make it 6 months.

EmascuMan said...

I use a mortar and pestle. With my one good arm.

My kitchen is quite fancy though because my wife likes me to cook gourmet dinners.

Thank goodness for Alton Brown.

Brian said...

The part with a nearly new vacuum in the dumpster reminded me of a time a few years back when my box fan (I like a breeze as I sleep) died on me. It was the second one of that brand in less than six months. I did what any sane guy would do, I Googled the company's name and called them. I spoke to someone in a faraway distant land in a cubicled call center where the official language clearly isn't English and after a few incoherent minutes of her scripted explanation, I asked for her supervisor. "He's in a meeting". "I'll take his voicemail." I left a message stating my dissatisfaction with their products, their workmanship, their customer service, their inability to stand behind their products and was amazed when I received a call the next day asking for my address. They sent me a shiny new fan and going on three years, with my fingers crossed, it still works.

tp said...

There's a shocker!

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