Living in a technologically advancing society funded by capitalism means regularly being presented with new technological solutions to old problems. Sometimes these solutions are awesome. I would never replace my laptop with a typewriter. I can write with either, but laptops make writing so much easier and faster, once one has overcome the substantial learning curve. But often, newer solutions are not better.
Back in the 1980's, many journalists carried a TRS-80 Model 100, a portable computer ideally suited for word processing. It was about the size of a modern laptop, though thicker, and sported a full-sized mechanical keyboard. The Model 100 had an LCD (not LED) display and ran on four AA alkaline batteries. A single set of batteries lasted for about 20 hours. Why don't we have computers like this any more?
Actually, we do. They're called AlphaSmarts. In addition to running for days on a single set of AA batteries, they're also light and cheap. A used AlphaSmart can be picked up on Ebay for $30. And guess what. No computer malware to worry about. Apparently, the only thing significantly wrong with AlphaSmarts is that hardly anyone uses them. I'm seriously considering buying a used one, just to see if I like it.
But, that's not the point of this article. The point is that most of us, myself included, unthinkingly throw away perfectly good solutions to problems just because something newer comes along. Not better, just newer. We often switch to a new technology, even when it is not as good as the old technology. This wastes our time and money and is often detrimental to the environment. Remember how cheap VCR's became? Try finding a new DVR for $30 and no monthly fees.
I'll give you a few more examples. My grandparents brushed their teeth with baking soda. It made their teeth really clean, and it was so cheap it was practically free. Today, baking soda is still cheap, yet the toothpaste most of us buy is $3 to $6 per tube. Some of the toothpaste we buy for these exorbitant prices sells itself by advertising that it has baking soda in it. So, why aren't we just brushing our teeth with baking soda?
Another example is thermometers. We no longer use mercury or alcohol thermometers to take our temperatures. I understand that many of us are now terrified of mercury. In my opinion that terror is unjustified, but that's a judgment call. So, what about alcohol thermometers? Why did we throw away a perfectly good solution that was cheap and ran forever without batteries for one that we have to throw away every couple of years when the batteries die, because it's cheaper to buy a new thermometer than a new battery to put in it?
Speaking of measuring temperature, we have been for some time replacing mechanical thermostats in our homes with electronic ones. Why? The mechanical thermostat in my home has been there for more than 30 years. It works just as well today as the day it was installed. If I were to replace it with an electronic thermostat, I would likely have to spend a couple of hours doing so. I would have to pay $25 to $50 for the new thermostat. And, I would have to replace it in another 8-10 years when it stops working. Why would I switch? Okay, the new thermostat is programmable. I'll grant you that. But I am perfectly capable of walking over to the thermostat and turning down the temperature setting when I leave home and turning it back up when I get back. That's not an issue for me.
How about electric car windows? Seriously? My arm works just fine. Yet I can't find a car with window cranks anymore. And when my car's window motors burn out in 7 years, 10 if I'm lucky, I'll be looking at a $400 repair bill per window. I'm trying not to rant here. I'm trying to calmly point out that this just does not make sense from a consumer's prospective. It makes perfect sense from a manufacturer's perspective, because he makes more money. But from a consumer's perspective, he is getting a solution that is much more expensive than the old solution that worked just fine. We often unthinkingly throw away perfectly good solutions and replace them with the newest fad being sold to us by corporations desperate to increase their sales and profit margins.
I could name other new technologies that are not as good as old technologies in substantial ways--touch screens in cars, TV's that spy on us, car computers that have replaced the old car ignition systems, electric alarm clocks. The list goes on.
Let's finish up with two computer-related examples, since they are more in line with the focus of this website. I've already written about software-for-rent, "the cloud", and thinner laptops not being better laptops, so I won't repeat that here. Another new solution results in the disappearing headphone jack on cellphones (with computers possibly to follow). Headphone jacks are being replaced by something no one asked for, that doesn't sound as good, and that has to be charged frequently. And let's not forget that the batteries in these more expensive bluetooth earbuds will eventually go bad, at which point they will have to be replaced (the earbuds, not the batteries). I have a mental picture of bluetooth earbud manufacturers gleefully rubbing their palms together at the prospect of some consumers replacing their $160 earbuds every year. In addition, people are starting to complain now about bluetooth earbuds falling out of their ears when they exercise--or do just about anything other than stand perfectly still.
Microsoft Windows is such an easy target that I hesitate to bring it up. I could be wrong, but judging by the numbers of Windows users still clinging to Windows 7 (something close to 31% of Windows users), I think it's safe to assume that many people agree with me that Windows 7 is substantially better than Windows 10. So, why have some Windows users left Windows 7 and moved to Windows 10? It's simple. Microsoft told them to. In some cases, Microsoft forced them to switch by installing Windows 10 without their permission. Without giving examples, I'll just say that Microsoft is not the only company selling customers newer software when their old software works just fine and has already been paid for.
I realize this article sounds a lot like a rant, but it really isn't. I've just tried to present some clear examples of consumers switching to new technologies (or new software versions) even when it hasn't been in their best interests. The reason I have spent so much time hammering on this point is that many consumers don't want to admit to themselves that they are paying for things they don't really want or only think they want, because they don't know any better. Having done that sufficiently, I think, I can now get succinctly to the point of this article.
I believe that we buy new technology (or products in general) that we don't really want for a couple of reasons. First, we've fallen for the advertising on a new product instead of really understanding what it is and what its downsides are. This happens simply because we either don't have the time or don't want to spend the time to educate ourselves. I created cheapskatesguide.org to help with that. But, really, it's up to each of us to take the time to really understand the products we buy. No shortcut exists for this.
Another reason we've allowed ourselves to be pushed into some new technologies by manufacturers is that we think we have no choice. This is similar to voting for the lesser of two evil politicians. What we don't seem to realize is that if we all refuse to be pushed, we will get what we want. Do you really think that, for example, Apple would replace an old laptop keyboard that its customers like with a new one they don't like if every customer who didn't like it refused to buy the new laptop? Absolutely not! That would be financial suicide. The only reason Apple sells a laptop with a keyboard that so many people don't like is that they buy the laptop anyway. In fact, in my opinion, that is the only reason Apple is still in business.
The bottom line is that the solution to the problem of manufacturers selling us products we don't want to buy is for us to simply stop buying them! Yes, I realize a collective effort is required and that is unlikely to happen on a large scale. However, the more people wake up and stop buying products they don't like (or voting for politicians they don't want in office) the more concessions to our wants manufacturers (and politicians) will be forced to make. And, that is a good thing. So, as Nancy Reagan used to preach, "Just say no."
A third reason I think many of us buy things we don't want is prestige. Many people buy things just to show off or in the hope that owning a particular thing will make other people like them more. This one I can't help with. Perhaps, if one can't sort out the solution to this problem on one's own, he might consider hiring a good psychologist.
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