What’s the premium for “just works?”

Sometimes old folks will say things like “they don’t make things like they used to,” in a crusty, matter of fact tone. They aren’t wrong. Many objects we use today aren’t made the same way they used to be. Is this good or bad? Yes. We live in a world where many things are disposable. This is also made possible by our trash and waste system. We aren’t legally individually responsible for the waste generated by our consumption. The organizations that produce these goods aren’t, either. This has created conditions where we consume and throw out garbage willy nilly.

The origins of phrase planned obsolescence go back at least as far as 1932 with Bernard London’s pamphlet Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence.[10] The essence of London’s plan would have the government impose a legal obsolescence on consumer articles, to stimulate and perpetuate consumption. However, the phrase was first popularized in 1954 by Brooks Stevens, an American industrial designer. Stevens was due to give a talk at an advertising conference in Minneapolis in 1954. Without giving it much thought, he used the term as the title of his talk. From that point on, “planned obsolescence” became Stevens’ catchphrase. By his definition, planned obsolescence was “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” — Wikipedia

When I buy things consciously, I generally do it in one of two ways — The first is to buy whatever I think is the best of the object in question. Best doesn’t always mean the most expensive. The other way is to go with the cheapest option that is good enough. When I’m buying unconsciously, all methods go out the window, and the reptilian brain does the deciding. This is where frivolous purchases come from.

With this in mind, things that “just work” are worth a premium. When something breaks beyond repair, the conscious cycle must begin again. Best case, you’re repurchasing the same object. Worst case, it is not replaceable or is replaced by something inferior and/or more expensive. Additionally, the cost of shopping around may or may not be factored in. What is the price of your shopping time? I’ve particularly noticed this with gym memberships. Many people debate between $10 a month for the gym or $50, but won’t necessarily scrutinize a similar delta when choosing between a single chicken sandwich or a filet mignon when both the sandwich and filet will quickly be deposited into the toilet. In contrast, a gym membership, if used, quickly and easily reaps many more benefits than $40 — the delta between the two.

When you buy something, don’t just think about the price relative to alternatives. Think about the price of your time, effort, and energy when you’ll have to rebuy the thing. Think about what you are really buying. This is why I paid a premium for my blender by Blendtec. We have a Ninja blender already at home, but it doesn’t blend with the default reservoir — it just makes things chunky. It only blends with a tiny reservoir. This is a pain in the butt because part of the beauty of blending is taking a high volume of food at the start and shrinking it down into something drinkable. The result of the Ninja not working well is that I don’t eat as many vegetables.

Is the Blendtec twice as good? Does it have double the speed or blending capacity? Frankly, I don’t know and don’t give a shit. What I do know is that I had one before, and it “just worked.” It did exactly what I needed it to do, reliably and consistently. The result was that I ate significantly more vegetables than I had been eating. For me, the real impact of the Blendtec is a significantly improved diet. This has myriad other positive externalities, like reduced inflammation and sickness, better sleep, less time at the doctor, etc. This is worth much more than any price difference between the Ninja and Blendtec.

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