Planned obsolescence—designed to break and eventually fail—has been fueling our consumer culture for at least 60 years, if not longer. Being beholden to throwaway products will eventually bring everything down at some point.
This morning, I grabbed a t-shirt in the dark as I was dressing to head out the door for my twice-weekly swim at the Y. The fabric felt worn and lived in. When I got into the light, I saw it was my Uncle Tupelo shirt I bought at Bowdoin College in 1994, when the band came through town on their Anodyne Tour. I don’t have any other similar shirts that have lasted 21 years. The shirt is a Fruit of the Loom, 100 percent cotton, pre-shrunk tee, which was also made in the USA. My shirt actually outlasted the band, which splintered when the band’s creative duo of Jeff Tweedy left to form Wilco and Jay Farrar went on to form Son Volt.
I wonder when Fruit of the Loom offshored its manufacturing? Probably soon after.
I bought my Husqvarna 42 chainsaw in 1988, when I began clearing the five acres of land where our house now sits. I bought it from a power equipment company in Richmond, on Route 197. The business is no longer in operation, but 27 years later, my Husqvarna continues working. In fact, I spent part of yesterday afternoon clearing brush with it.
The saw has required minimal service and upkeep. Often, it sits for months, and probably there have been times when it was dormant for a year or two—only to spring to life with a little gas/oil mixture, some bar and chain oil, and a tug on the start cord.
Think about your technology products. They require frequent upgrades and updates—sometimes weekly—to function properly. And it seems that as soon as you buy a gadget, there’s already a new one out designed to make the one you just purchased, obsolete.
Oh, and the desk I’m sitting at. I don’t know how old it is. It came from my late father-in-law’s house. My son had it in his bedroom, which I’ve inherited—both the desk and the room—which is where I do my daily work and writing (including this blog post).
I wish we could get back to making things that last, and minimize the need to have so many gadgets and gizmos that are always breaking and requiring replacement. Life would be better if we cultivated a longer view about things and even people.