As I was looking into the dark gray abyss of a switched off plasma screen today, a thought occured to me. For hundreds of years the seller really did make all the rules in the exchange of money for goods or services. We did what we had to as consumers because that was the way it was. Don’t like your bank’s interest rate? Too bad, so sad. Electronics cost alot? Well that’s just what they cost. The seller had a product, and really the only differentiator between his and someone else’s was how long it lasted. You paid more for a longer life one, but that’s just the way it worked. You always knew that more money=lasts longer and better quality. Of course you had to rely on the seller’s integrity to know that you were getting a good product; one just couldn’t know lots about everything you may have to buy.
The information age has changed all that. Need a new widget? Google it! See what the best one is. See what the best price is on the best one. See what other consumers think about it. See what kind of service vendor A gives vs. vendor B. Woohoo… all that knowledge in 10 minutes! As consumer’s our education level is exponentially higher in every purchase than it was 20 years ago. Not only has our education level increased, but so have our expectations. The great differentiator is now “how much bang do I get for my buck?”. We all know the rules have changed, and not only that, but the rulemaker has changed. No longer does the vendor say how it’s gonna be and we as consumer sheep just go along with it. Now WE make the rules up, and we decide who gets our business. The products are all made pretty much the same. There is very little difference in quality between a Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic or Hitachi DVD player nowadays. There is also not much difference in price.
But at what cost does this newfound power come? It occurs to me that besides education the other thing the information age has given us is the twitch factor. What is the Twitch Factor? It is the decline of our attention span and our need to flit from idea to idea; instant gratification is no longer something cool, but a demanded normalcy of modern life in the western world. We twitch all the time…when we’re gaming, when we’re driving, when we’re flicking thru 300 channels of shit on the TV, when we choose and design our living space. We twitch all the time, and between that and our newfound power over the vendor we haven’t noticed that they are still setting the rules!
Think about it. My last TV was a 1200 dollar, 250 pound monster console television from about 1980 with a 30 inch screen. It lasted until 2003 and would have lasted another 5 years if I wanted it to. I replaced it with a 50″ 180 pound 2500 dollar wide screen high definition CRT projection TV that will last me maybe 10 years if I’m lucky. Of course, I’ll replace it with a flat panel of some kind within 5, and the vendor knows this. He KNOWS I will twitch again in 5 years and replace my beautiful-massive-panoramic-high-resolution-that-cost-as-much-as-a-house-50-years-ago television with a Beautiful-thin-panoramic-high-resolution-that-cost-as-much-as-a-house-30-years-ago television. So he built it to HIS specs, not mine. He built it to start to look bad in a few years. He built in obsolescence. He changed the rules on broadcast itself. And then he changed those rules again. I am now a corporate shill for the television manufacturers and the broadcasters, and my twitch factor will only increase. And the vendor knows this too.
Remember your first VCR? You paid 800 dollars for it and it lasted you like 15 years. Buy a DVD player today, it will cost you 100 dollars and wear out in 4 years. Not that it matters, because with BluRay and other new media formats in the pipe it will be obsolete in 2. And you can’t record with it. Of course, you could buy a DVD Recorder for 300 bux that is pretty cool. The Recorder will also need replacing in a few years. Back to the basic DVD player. Suppose this is your first DVD player. You’re gonna take it home, go rent Return of the King and be UTTERLY FUCKING AMAZED at how good DVD looks. But now your fucked and our good ol’ vendor knows this.
…what the hell are those black bars on the top and bottom of the TV. What? Oh I need a widescreen TV? Ok. Well since it’s gonna be widescreen I may as well get it HiDef ready too…
…well DVD sure looks and sounds awesome on my new TV, but everyone says it’s better in 5.1 surround. I best get one of those….
…WHAT? Movies are in 6.1 and 7.1 now? And on this new format that looks even better? Now I need a new DVD player, new speakers for sure and probably a new reciever, and what’s that you say? Broadcast is no longer limited to 720p lines of resolution so I need a HIGHER definition TV? Well Hot Damn! Sign me UP! Let me just google it first to see which one is the best…
So there you go. This is just one industry, one example. I could give others too. The rules have changed alright. Now instead of the Vendor making all the rules for buying stuff, the vendor makes all the rules for buying stuff and you think you’re the one making the rules. Well Twitch away people. It makes the world go on. The only concern is the waste all this short term obsolescence creates. But I’m not an environmentalist, per se, so I’m not gonna bother about writing about that.