Thursday, April 3, 2014

Consumerism R Us

The reason we have such a high standard of living is because advertising has created an American frame of mind that makes people want more things, better things, and newer things.
-       Robert Sarnoff, President of National Broadcasting Company, 1956

Yesterday hub’s e-reader was officially declared obsolete. The company stopped manufacturing and supporting the device. Remember Betamax? Same company.

The e-reader was a gift from our two boys, purchased a few years ago when the e-reader was a new, cutting-edge, hi-tech device. Hub used it a lot – his work entails lots of travels and the e-reader, lighter and taking up less space than books, journeyed around the world, or at least throughout the US, Europe, and Asia.

The reader still works – for now. Tech support is no longer available, and not all books are offered for the old machine. Our local library does not support the reader format.

It is time to think about a replacement.

Which is what we Americans have been drilled to do. Replace things. We have grown accustomed to throwing out the old and buying new. Changing things, upgrading, swapping, and exchanging the old for a newer model.

Spending more money.

There is not a lot we own that still works after years of use.

We could get items such as appliances fixed. Except parts are often unavailable for older models. For those of us not skilled enough to fix our own stuff, costs of service visits, parts (if available), plus labor can cost almost as much as a replacement. And there is no guarantee the repaired machine will work.

Manufacturers and advertisers have spent gobs of money training us – like Pavlov’s dogs - that the latest gadget is a must-have. We salivate when hearing about the latest device, or an upgraded model of a currently owned one, and how it is going to change our life.

Most of us are well taught, although hub and I have somewhat resisted. We do not get excited about buying the latest fad items. People laughed at my outdated cell phone before forced to replace it when it finally died. We drive our cars until monthly repair costs exceed monthly car payments. I still use the Farberware pots and pans received when we married. Dishes, however, have been replaced a few times, not because I got tired of them (although I did), but because they broke or, in the case of the almost-indestructible Corelle used when my kids were young, disappeared over time.

We bought a new TV when moving four years ago, although I have to admit hub is seriously thinking about replacing it. He thinks it is too small for our family room.

My grown kids may laugh at our outdated, out-moded belongings, but somehow we manage to get along just fine.

So what is so great about teaching people, exhorting people, tempting people to want more things, better things, new things?

Our society invented planned obsolescence, the term coined for manufacturers’ purposeful plan to create products that do not last a long time. Consumers have to buy another product to replace the one broken, worn out, unfashionable, or whatever. Supporters initially touted the concept as a positive one because it required people to spend money, thus stimulating the economy. The fact that companies would make a ton of money was not mentioned.

And so was born the modern American supermarket, superstore, supersized society. More is considered better, with more choices of everything from laundry soap to cars. New and improved became the mantra to buy again. And again. And again…

But we – consumers - do not have bottomless pocketbooks. And all of us are not obsessed with the idea of keeping up with the Joneses.

Of course everything need not last forever. My kids usually outgrew clothes and shoes before the items disintegrated. Yet I wanted to be sure the item did not fall apart before necessitating replacement.

So where am I going with my rant? I have no idea.

I just hope hub’s new e-reader, not a cheap item, lasts many carefree years.

Father’s Day is approaching. Boys, are you listening reading!?... 


  1. My desktop computer has Windows XP which will no longer be supported by Microsoft. It's that old. I don't need a desk top computer anyway. The humungous TV set that was left in the FL house died this past winter. I don't need another TV, but my brother in law said he could take out the TV parts and use the really nice speakers on a sound system.

  2. Just today I was thinking about replacing my ancient pots and pans. We do tend to hold off on replacing things until they are falling apart. Our kids tease us about it also. But, we live debt free. The financial peace of mind is better than new stuff.

  3. I'm the same way. I use things until they wear out... unless it's the latest hiking gear and rain protection. It is nice to be debt free, although that's not going to be true for me much longer, as I'm putting a fair amount on my credit card for my current trip. But it will get paid off in time. I like having a zero balance. :-)