Out With The Fairly New, In With The Newest

C.L. Harmon

So, I have my arm mid-way inside my dryer as though I am in some odd lover’s embrace trying to figure out why she, my better half, isn’t drying. After a quick tutorial from a YouTube video and a prayer, I am hoping they are the answer to fixing her without the learned skill to do so. As I fumble around the trap door hidden under the multiple pieces I had already removed, I began to think about why I am on the bathroom floor needing to work on a dryer that is not that old and has not been abused in any way. And then I began thinking about the other items I own that I have worked on in the past couple of years that are really not that old either. That pushed my thoughts even further into the realm of, “why am I having to fix these things and why are they broken?”

After all, these items are not that old. These are not items ancient with years of wear and tear on them. It was at this point, my brain began the curious trek into the past where I believe it all began. Spurred on by a video I had recently viewed of a refrigerator from the 1950s, my thoughts wandered into a different time, a more innocent and less profit-oriented time. It was an impressive appliance, this refrigerator with fine attributes that anyone would find alluring and attractive. Simple and yet an engineering marvel with beauty, finesse and functionality that would have certainly been a head-turner in her day. Without a doubt the whole package. And then I began searching my childhood memories for a time when a technician was sent out to repair our family fridge. There wasn’t one. Nor was there a memory of my father with his hands in the personal space of it introducing it to his tools. It just always seemed to work. It was always cold and the drawers always opened…something my modern one has issues with. Maybe smooth drawer functionality is lost to history?

On rare occasion, there was a TV repairman who would visit our home and he would work a bit of magic to bring back a beautiful picture. But he never brought a new set with him because what we had was still a working marvel that only needed a few minor adjustments or a simple part. He always left with his tools in tow leaving behind a working TV set and a happy family.

Back into the present with my repairs continuing and a floor full of tools in my way and shop vac blocking the doorway, my mind once more moved back to the distant past where I believe quality in manufacturing began its journey (or descent) into the present. I imagined, that sometime after that 1950s refrigerator was built and in a drab boardroom there was a proposal that sounded something like this, “ya know, we sold 5,000 units last year. If we make them a little less durable and add a bit more to the esthetics, in five years we could be selling 10,000 units per year. People are much more willing to consider new when their current unit begins to malfunction. And the new esthetics, well that will be the edge we need to push consumers into the new models.” And in that proposal, the modern age was born. Slowly at first. Just a gizmo here or an internal gadget there that wouldn’t last 20 years any longer but ten, or maybe even eight. Just a few small issues that get consumers thinking that a new product might not be a bad idea with the current one beginning to show signs of wear. Before anyone knew it, small issues grew into larger issues. And with these, the phrase, “they just don’t make things like they used to,” was born. Soon after, that phrase would become part of common vernacular.

What I can’t seem to understand is how no one in that boardroom could understand or maybe not care that if they do it, so will others. And that ultimately means when they purchase needed and wanted items from other manufacturers as consumers, they too will not be getting the best that manufacturer can produce.  How could they have not foreseen or possibly not cared that other businesses would most assuredly follow in their footsteps. And yet, they chose to do it anyway. And this 70 odd year journey from high quality to to low grade now has me on this tool-cluttered floor with my arm intimately engaged in the inner workings of this not so dated machine. A machine that should have continued drying several more years before I had to make an acquaintance with its private parts. And yet, here I am…involved in a messy mechanical relationship that I truly wish I was not involved. One of many unwanted relationships I find myself in these days. I am sort of a “one appliance” type of guy. I like long lasting relationships where we grow old together, create a bond and take care of each other’s needs. So much for the good old days, I guess. Out with the fairly new and in with the newest.

This may be the way of the world today, but it most definitely does not make it a better world than what we once had. The truth is and will always be that quality makes money. It always has. Innovation may bring in customers, but it will not keep them if those innovations lack quality. Only pride in workmanship will guarantee returning customers. If you as a company feel it necessary to manufacture junk, then I wish you well with all of YOUR new purchase relationships that come from those who have learned to produce the same low quality products you do. Just remember though, these new products require that special touch that only you and your tools can provide to keep it running smoothly. Not sure it mentions that in owners manual, but it most certainly should. but Happy Repairs!

C.L. Harmon