Our society today seems to worship “new” with the voracious appetite of a bunch of Piranha’ in a teen-horror flick. Wherever we look we’re assailed with the idea that “new” is good, better than anything before it, and such an obvious choice that why would anyone look for anything else?
It wasn’t always the case. People used to value things that they’d held on to for years. Heirlooms were handed down through generations as keepsakes of favored relatives. People who looked after things used to talk about it with pride. It was a badge of honor denoting someone who was thoughtful and caring, thrifty and wise.
Now, such people are belittled as stupid, old-fashioned or just “dumb.”—what’s the point of hanging on to “old stuff” after all?
Not only that, but we are constantly “encouraged” to adopt this mentality. People trade in their cars after just two years to get the latest model, many people move house every few years to “climb the property ladder,” and as for electronics? Don’t even bother—that neeto-sparkly gadget is obsolete before you even leave the store with it.
This throw it away and buy another attitude is so common now that manufacturers blatantly build obsolescence into their products, and no one even notices! Amazingly, there used to be laws to ensure that auto manufacturers maintained parts supplies. Far less amazingly, these protections were removed mostly in the 80s when “greed was good.”
There are so many downsides to this “disposable” society that we’re constantly being pushed towards. Yes, it’s all one giant conspiracy, brought about by the evil alien overlords that control our government!
Okay, maybe not. But there are some serious issues with it. Let me count the ways…
Keeping up with everything new is an easy way to spend a lot of money. Take that house flipping idea, for example. Did you know that you don’t start to break even with a house investment until you’ve lived there about twenty years? Up until that point renting is actually a cheaper option. When you look at how much you pay in mortgage fees, assessment fees, interest, bank fees, inspection fees, legal fees, etc. the only people making money from this are the people selling houses and mortgages. Also, every time you buy a bigger house you have to buy more “sh-tuff” to fill it.
This way of thinking runs through everything around us. Companies build in obsolescence because they don’t want you to keep something for a long time. They want to sell you that boomshakalak now and then sell you the “new, improved, best ever” boomshakalak 2.0 in a year’s time. Turnover is key in the corporate world. Companies don’t care about customers, or quality, or product life. Everything is geared towards turnover and you, the consumer, pays the (expensive) bill for this.
Look at what happens with cars. Our current daily driver is a 2006 Saturn Vue. It’s not in bad condition, some spots of rust on the back door, but otherwise seems pretty healthy, despite having over a hundred and fifty thousand kilometers on it. It’s not a very exciting car; it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. There’s no built in satnav, no DVD players built in to the arm-rests, no hidden foot-spas in the footwells. But it’s solid and reliable. Maintenance has been light and apart from the back door it looks more or less as good as it did when we bought it. A large part of this is to do with the fact that its body work is all fiberglass (technically glass-reinforced plastic) and guess what, it doesn’t rust! Yep, that Saturn was GM’s attempt at a cheap no-frills range and to make the cars look different from the main line vehicles they were based upon, they used fiberglass for cheap body variations.
Of course when GM ran into financial difficulties. They used that as an excuse to cut the budget line and keep the high mark-up, high profit lines. Better for GM, but better for consumers?
This built-in obsolescence doesn’t just apply to complex products either. A few years ago, I went through three can openers in less than a year. Three of the damn things! You’d think there wasn’t much to a can opener, but apparently making one that lasts long enough to open more than three cans is beyond our current level of technology. I remember having can openers as a kid that lasted my entire childhood. I don’t recall anyone ever buying one unless they’d lost the one they had.
I have to admit I went on a crusade. I toured all the shops in town looking for one that was guaranteed. The best I could find was one made in Europe which had a paltry five year warranty. So we can send space probes to Pluto, but we can’t make a can opener that lasts.
Unless you’ve been submerged in a submarine under Lincoln Island, you’ll know that we’re facing a possible terrifying future of climate change. Many people ask what they can do to help prevent that. One practical action that goes a long way is quite simply to refusing to buy new things unnecessarily.
Most items, especially electronics, have a much higher environmental cost than their cost of manufacture. The manufacture of a new car, for example, has a carbon footprint equivalent to driving it! Not to mention the cost and waste involved in finally disposing of it. Then there’s the cell phone nightmare. It’s estimated that over 130 million cellphones are disposed of in the U.S. every year, creating a staggering 65,000 tonnes of waste. When disposed of in a landfill, a phone will leach over seventeen times the U.S. federal threshold for hazardous lead waste! Desktops and laptop computers aren’t much different and all of that waste is generally either buried (out of sight, out of mind) or shipped overseas (even further out of sight and out of mind).
Quality Of Life
All of this constant pimping and pumping of everything “new” comes with a social and mental cost too. The number of “cyberbullying” cases rises every year and children are often bullied simply for having an old phone or computer, or the “wrong” clothes.
The pursuit of “new” makes people dissatisfied with their lives and promotes feelings of frustration and anxiety–resulting in lower quality of life. Instead of enjoying the positives and the genuine experiences they have, they go off chasing down the windmills of modern. Everything must be instant: instant purchases, instant lives, instant relationships, instant divorces, instant coffee, instant fame, instant lottery wins, and instant karma. When “new” is everything, anything “old” becomes valueless.
So, for the benefit of your wallet, your world, and your sanity, let’s celebrate the old!