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Fischer: They don’t make ’em like they used to

By Jen Fischer - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 20, 2022

Photo supplied

Jen Fischer

“They just don’t make things like they used to.” Last week, I was touring a listing and came across the furnace. “Wow, how old is this baby?” I asked. He told me it was original. “As in, 1946?” I was stunned. This furnace indeed was functioning, albeit with cacophonous effort, but it was kicking out heat.

Today, a normal furnace is created to last between 15 to 20 years. It is made to break. Literally. Planned obsolescence is not just something fabricated from our society’s sad tales of early product breakage, it is an unfortunate fact.

One of the most flagrant practices of such consumer injustice occurred clear back in 1924 with the simple light bulb. Some of the biggest light bulb manufacturers, including G.E. and Philips, formed an official group, calling themselves the Phoebus cartel, specifically for the purpose of striking an agreement that each company would deliberately work to reduce the lifespan of the light bulb. The original lifespan was 2,000 hours. The goal was to divide that in half. The consumer would be forced to purchase twice as many and the manufacturers would get the benefit. It took them a few years to figure out how, but they eventually succeeded in making the light bulb worse. As consumers, we had no idea.

Since that time, however, a light bulb has finally gone on for the consumer. We get it. With the advent of consumer dependency in the area of small electronics, appliances and even clothes (my Olivia Newton John workout outfit is still in perfect condition, but my Lululemon leggings that I purchased a year ago are threadbare), consumers have wised up.

The case of the suspiciously burned-out motor in the hand mixer I have used twice, the quickly depleting ink cartridges and the catastrophic crash of the computer and cellphone in the same week, lies the culprit: manufacturers’ anti-consumerism. Why not just get it fixed instead of replace it? Frankly, I’m all about that. This from the girl who fixed the carburetor on her lawnmower with the help of YouTube. It lasted two more months (the lawnmower, not the carburetor, or the girl). The problem with this competent solution lies in the fact that manufacturers also have the ability to block repair efforts, and this is exactly what they do. These companies refuse to reveal the “secret recipe” for fixing a product and protect these secrets under the mask of intellectual property. This way, they can monopolize the service completely, or not offer it at all.

I’m the first to admit that I am a definite consumer. The cost of convenience is one I willingly pay on so many levels. I wasn’t always that way. When my first child was born, I gave the whole cloth diaper thing a spin … for about three days … until I had run out of cloth diapers and found myself throwing them away rather than dealing with the contents myself. From disposable diapers to bandages, razors and toilet paper, I have admittedly used them all. Somehow, I feel a little better throwing something away when it has “disposable” on the label. At least they’re honest.

There has been some effort in “catching” companies consciously planning obsolescence. The problem, however, is that it is not illegal. Although it may be morally wrong, the practice is not banned. There have been a number of class-action lawsuits aimed at such practices as well, but to little avail. As of one year ago, 27 states have actually adopted some form of “Right to Repair” legislation. Unfortunately, Utah is not one of them.

If you are one of the fortunate few to have an original, functioning 1950s-manufactured stove in your “retro” kitchen, consider yourself lucky because once you replace it, your new stove becomes disposable.

Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or jen@jen-fischer.com.

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