When I was a young boy, I was raised on a consumer mindset that if you purchased something — a watch, a machine, a car, a bicycle, something mechanical, etc. — you could expect that, if you treated it right, that product would at least last the rest of your lifetime.  Now, as an older man, I have come to realize that new, expensive, things purchased today have an intentional obsolescence built into them that forces you to re-purchase those things several times in your lifetime, creating a Möbius Strip of non-durable goods that endlessly cheapens your purchasing power.

The delightful Janna wears hearing aids.  Did you know the average cost of digital hearing aids today is around $3,000.00USD per ear?  That’s over $6,000.00USD for a pair of hearing aids!

Medicaid and Medicare and many insurance programs do not pay for hearing aids at all — you’re lucky if you get some sort of small subsidy from your employer to help pay for the hearing aids — and so many Deaf people go without getting proper hearing help.  Even if you get partial reimbursement from your employer, you can only qualify for that reimbursement every four years or so — unless you are a child.

That means Deaf adults with good insurance have to make their hearing aids last at least four years with 18-hour a day wear for almost 1,500 days in a row — and pay a lot of money for that displeasure.

Few hearing aids last longer than four years.  Around 3.5 years the aids start to fail and whimper.  I asked a hearing aid specialist why these super-expensive digital hearing aids only last four years or so, and he told me, “That’s the name of the game.  Four years and out.  You don’t want them to last forever.  You want them to last until the next insurance reimbursement cycle.”

So there you have it.  Planned — deviously calculated, really — obsolescence of digital hearing aids to force the consumer into purchasing all new aids every four years, like it or not.

Here’s another recent, still-stinging, example of the incredible end of a product life.  We love our Sonicare toothbrush system.  Sure, it’s expensive.  The high end system can cost around $200.00USD.  It’s worth every penny because your teeth are so clean the Dentist really has nothing to clean when you visit every six months.

Let me reframe that “every penny” comment by clarifying that our first Sonicare system lastest us seven years.  After the supersonic part of the toothbrush died, we raced out and purchased a replacement system and that toothbrush lasted exactly 13 months.  We were disappointed and shocked!  We raced out and purchased another, similar, top-of-the-line Sonicare system.

Yep, it too, non-mysteriously died a planned death in the 13th month.  Realizing we were getting purposely bitten by design, we just purchased a new, much cheaper, Sonicare toothbrush:  The the lowball-bare bones edition is still $99.00USD.  If it dies in 13 months, we’ll accept it and buy another because, you see, once you become a Sonicare user, you must always remain a Sonicare user because nothing else cleans your teeth as fine.  We’re now embedded in what we hope will only now be a yearly purchase of a very expensive toothbrush because we need that daily deep cleansing to keep our teeth sharp.

I also recently had to purchase a new air humidifier.  Three years of constant use for 90 days each year appears to be the product’s expected life of service.  I remember when electric brass fans built in 1913 would still be spinning and cool a room in 2012.  Oh, how our products have been made to intentionally downgrade into the junk heap.

Year ago, we replaced all our incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent lights.  Bulbs that cost $20 and were supposed to last five years ended up only lasting two.  I find that broken promise of usability both inconsiderate and purposefully untruthful.  I guess that’s the way of the world now:  Promise perfection and deliver just enough not to get a class action suit filed against you or breaking the guarantee of warrantability.

Don’t get me started on the 100-year lightbulb.

2 Comments

  1. I’m so fascinated by that light bulb.

    I’m right there with you on non durable products. It’s so bothersome. I still have an electric razor from 7 years ago and I fear the day it dies — ugh, its replacement will never be as good!

    1. I remember razors and single-edge blades of my teenage years would last forever. Then the Bic disposable razor was invented and all the other razors became non-durable, too. Today, razor companies give away the razors and charge a ton of money for the blades. It used to be the other way around. An 8-pack of disposable Gillette Pro Fusion razor blades can run you $40 in some stores!

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