Gadget churn

I’ve just spent 2 days spending all my free time researching speakers to replace my current 5.1 set-up. Unfortunately, due to the damp problems of the poor quality houses built by Dandara, my speakers have suffered damage to the grills and warping of the wood. What was a significant expenditure was made all the more urgent while I was listening to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odysseyat the weekend, and in particular, the awful crackling sound from the left rear surround speaker. Oh well, bite the bullet. The speakers are Kenwood and have been taken from a Kenwood separates system which I had already sold. The speakers have been excellent quality and very reliable and it struck me that I have had these speakers for 10 years now. For their expense, I wouldn’t expect anything less!

Nowadays, it seems to surprise me if purchases last more than a couple of years. Even though I was reminded that my HP laptop is over 2 years old and still going strong. The amplifier driving my speakers is 8 years old. However, if I get 12 or 24 months of use out of a gadget I a remain genuinely pleased – even surprised. Is it because technology moves so fast that gadgets are rendered obsolete within a few months of their production? Mobile phones have become almost disposable, with people renewing their contracts every 12 months in order to get the latest model. It’s almost a modern ritual of the connected consumer. Phones with even shorter life cycles only contribute to this trend, the Apple iPhone having a particularly aggressive disposable trend thanks to “new” features being announced on the next model. (Even though such features are hardly ground breaking on existing models by other manufacturers.)

Component failure is also an aspect that may contribute to my surprise of products that outlast my notion of their expected lifetime. Electronics get smaller and more disposable, so companies continue to drive component costs down. This has to have an effect on the quality of the components that come together to build a complex device. We have a standing joke that disposable hi-fis may be bought from Argos that last for 12 months and 1 day, because that is what is required to avoid a return under the manufacturer’s warranty. Alba and Bush are both culprits. Manufacturers want to build them cheap, fast and easily disposable so the next model can be used as an upgrade.

For a while now, I have had a policy of keeping to quality names in my purchases. In my Audio/Visual gear, I try to keep to Panasonic. It’s probably a high mid-range set of products that have proved to be pretty reliable. For laptops and servers, I recommend HP, otherwise I build them myself.  I am a firm believer in “you get what you pay for”. You buy low, your product lifetime is likely to be short and your user experience poor. The disadvantage of this approach comes when you buy expensive items and they just go out of fashion or become obsolete due only to the churn of the technology. This disposable society and constant updating of gadgets contributes to a lot of unrecyclable, poisonous contaminants in landfill. Gone are the days when you can perform your own repairs, upgrades or reverse engineering. Now is the day of the black box that you throw away soon, so you can get the next model.

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