About 40 years ago, when I first got interested in the world of technology, everything was designed to last as long as possible. It wasn’t uncommon to have equipment that was 25 years old or more. These days, however, that paradigm has definitely shifted. It’s rare that any of our equipment is over 10 years old, for a couple reasons. The first is because of the advancement of technology, and the second is simply due to inferior manufacturing standards. But why have things changed so much?
About 30 years ago I worked in a local audio/video store, and we were lucky enough to have our own in-house service center. (Remember service centers? Some of you probably have no idea what those are!) We serviced everything we sold, and everything was serviceable. But towards the end of my time there, the service manager started telling me how many of the new products were simply not serviceable. Oh he could fix them for sure, but the cost of the repair was more than the cost of buying a new one! So, thus began the demise of the local service center.
From that point, the introduction of the internet and the associated online buying capability increased the pressure on manufacturers to produce cheaper and cheaper products. (Yes, I’m using the term “cheap” on purpose.) In order to stay alive and viable, every manufacturer simply had to follow the trend and lower their prices. The resulting reduction in price of certain technology products was astounding. TVs that were previously $25,000 were suddenly under $1000! We all enjoyed the ability to get on Amazon and order a new HDTV for less than we paid for an old tube TV at the local TV store 25 years earlier.
The Cost of Cheap Construction
Thus, the internet and online buying brought low-cost technology to the masses. But all of this comes at a steep price, ironically. Most products these days are designed to only last about 5 years. As a manufacturer, you simply can’t make a 20-year product and remain cost competitive. To add insult to injury, the resulting low-cost products have become completely disposable, in that they can’t be repaired for less than the cost to buy a new version.
End of Technology Life
Besides cost reduction, another reason that manufacturers moved away from designing products that last over 20 years is because of the constant evolution of technology. Who wants a TV that still works great if it doesn’t even have high-definition resolution? As a case-in-point, my parents kept their 30-year-old tube TV for way, way longer than they should have, because it was a $3000 TV in 1989 and it was still working great, 30 years later! Manufacturers absolutely don’t want that – they want you to always buy the latest and greatest technology. Since they can no longer make the money they used to make on 20-year products, they need you to upgrade the low-cost products every 5 years! (Would any of us be caught dead with a 6-year-old cell phone?!)
So, we’ve created this mess ourselves, and now we have to live with it. I must admit – I too love Amazon and eBay and buying fancy high-tech things at ridiculously low prices. But we need to realize that when we do so, we simply cannot expect these things to last like they used to. We can’t have our cake and eat it too, so to speak. Low-cost and long-lasting are generally two mutually exclusive things! My recommendation, therefore, is to buy higher-cost, longer-lasting things when performance, quality and reliability matter. When those things aren’t that important, buy the low-cost thing, but expect and be happy with a short lifespan.