Made to Break

Posted June 30, 2006 by Evan Tishuk

Like Bear, I'm finally getting a new cell phone. Not because I need one, but because my phone company is forcing me to upgrade. My old scratched up Nokia has been dependable and, if not for a tired battery, I'd be content to keep it duct taped together until something critical really brakes. Don't get me wrong, I'll be glad to have a nice new shiny phone with a long-lasting battery, but at the same time I know it's not going to be a quantum leap in service and technology. I'm lukewarm, and definitely NOT excited about all the new features I'll have to learn how to use.

I feel the same way about cars, clothes, homes and just about anything else. That is, I appreciate things that are built to last more than ones with mere style and temporary cachet (having both is rare and wonderful, and another story altogether).

I've often wondered why more people don't share this appreciation for things that have a little character... that age well... that work, perhaps with quirks.

Then I ran across this Grist article detailing Made to Break:

Slade [also] explores the Depression-era development of marketing campaigns that encouraged rapid automobile replacement and resulted in products designed not to last -- a concept called "death dating." By the end of World War II, Americans' self-image and esteem were entwined with the possession of the shiny and new as never before. Then, in the 1950s and '60s, the media began touting a plethora of products whose novelty outweighed their necessity, to a growing -- and increasingly affluent -- audience. To this day, says Slade, "We evaluate ourselves and those around us by what they display. It's a very hard cycle to break."

I shall read this book. My misanthropy will likely increase. And I'll probably want to keep driving my beat-up car for another 100,000 miles. Why do I feel like that's being a bad American?


nobrainer ~ June 30, 2006

That's great, but I think the rapid auto replacement began in the early 20's. The market demand for fresh vehicles is what led to the ultimate removal of the Model T from the marketplace. Used cars were selling for about the same price as brand new Model T's, but they were newer more stylish designs.

Plus, the "death-dating" thing is a trend abandoned by the auto industry 30+ years ago. The average automobile on the road today is several years older than several decades ago.

Otherwise we are a bunch of people over amused by shiny new things. Oh well.

olivier blanchard ~ June 30, 2006

I like the smell of old books, the fit of old coats, the look of old sunglasses, the weight of old pens, and the feel of old steering wheels.

My grandfather's sailboat would look pretty dope tied to my dock, too.

Old is pretty damn cool.

Unless you're a sock.

Bobby ~ June 30, 2006

Since I know nothing about cars, I'd much rather have a newer car that I know when I put the key in it will start. My first car in 1999 was a 1980 Chevy Citation. It had a nostalgic look about it, but I always dreaded making right hand turns because it would tend to stall. I was delighted when my parents bought me a 2000 Hyundai Accent the following year. The Accent gave me 6 worry-free years of driving to and from work, college and everywhere else. I recently upgraded to a Honda Element because the Accent was on its last leg. I figured I'd trade it in before anything happened and so I wouldn't have to put money into something I wanted to get rid of anyway. My plan for the Element is to keep it until at least 2015. My fear is once I pay it off in 5 years, it will be about the same time I'm ready to upgrade again.

Evan Tishuk ~ June 30, 2006

Bobby you should kick yourself for not keeping that Citation. Look at this thing!! They even had a sportivo model. And of course, "with the Chevy Citation you can get away from it all and still take it all with you."

nobrainer ~ June 30, 2006

The made to break thing definitely has its place (high tech products are a fine example), it is nice to go be able to go back in some areas.

You can see that in my recent post about guys going back and using old double bladed safety razors. I just emailed home betting that my dad has saved one or two from himself or his dad.

I do enjoy my grandparents old cast iron skillets, and I'm hoping to add some more pieces to the collection. Heavy's good. Heavy's reliable. If they don't work I can hit someone with them.

I also have my dad's 30+ year old bike. It works fine, but boy do I wish I had something newer that weighed 20 or 30 pounds less.

Bobby ~ June 30, 2006

My Citation was a Brownish-Gold color. If you watch "There's Something About Mary," there's a scene in the beginning when a guy is in a tree singing. At that time, an exact model of my Citation drives by in the background, stops for no reason, then drives away. I couldn't believe it when I saw it. Remember, the beginning of the movie takes place in the past when Ben Stiler was in high school.
Looking back, I should have kept the car. I only got $300 for the trade in. At the time though, I was so pissed with the car that I didn't even want to see it. It was traded in with a doughnut spare...which I always thought was funny. The radio was a turn knob that went vertical as opposed to horizontal. It was awful. The car was in good looking shape though...if Pimp My Ride was on back then...the Citation would have been all over it.

Bobby ~ June 30, 2006

The picture of this Citation is almost exactly like the one I had.

Adam Gautsch ~ June 30, 2006

There is a fine line between well worn and crap. Evan, your phone has made it to the crap phase.

Evan Tishuk ~ June 30, 2006

I'm not saying that everything disposable is bad, just that people seem to have a bloated appreciation for "new." And too many equate "new" with "better" and then attach some sort of status to that.

I almost get offended when a company like Apple doesn't make a replaceable battery for their iPod. I try to take care of my things. If I had an iPod, I'd try not to drop it or leave it baking in the sun. I'd almost have a little competition with myself to see how long I could keep the thing in working order. If 10 years past and it was still spitting out music, I'd be delighted. This of course can't happen because Apple decided that iPods will disintegrate after 2 years or so. And that's one reason why I bought the Creative Zen Micro instead (and a titanium protective case for it as well). I'll make a post in 5-10 years about how well she's doing.

On that same topic, assume MP3 is still the defacto standard for audio compression in ten years. Now pretend you're sitting in a coffee shop somewhere listening to this functional but decade old and outdated mp3 player. How do you feel? Like a jamook, right? You know someone's walking by thinking, "look at Uncle Rico over there with his old walkman thing. That should probably be in a Smithsonian archive." Why is that? If it was a classic car or vintage shirt or old ball cap it would go unnoticed.

p.s. Yes Bear, my phone crossed the line into "crap" when the battery started to only last for a day or so (early April 2006). It's been in the cell phone nursing home for a while. I don't mind putting her to rest now. She had a good life. A productive life. I will miss her. It's the euthanization of perfectly good phones that annoys me.

Bobby ~ June 30, 2006

I doubt you will be able to talk about your Creative Zen Micro in 5 years with your luck. Your car (which in 5 years will probably be the same) may get broken into again and stolen by Alejandro's younger brother Migel.

Jim C ~ July 01, 2006

The Citation looks distinctly similar to the Dodge Magnum. Everythings in cycles. You should have kept it and raised it up on Dubs and ride around downtown Greenville in circles.

What ever happened to really loud stereos. Kids these days. Maybe if I keep my 92 Blazer it will be the hottness in about 10 years.

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