Anti-engineering


I often miss our family tape-recorder of the 80s, for lack of such durable products in recent times. It was a Panasonic, and, what was more important, “Made in Japan” marked. No wonder it survived the innumerable crash and drop tests that my brother and I subjected it to during our respective tenures of growing up. The device still played along – even when its speakers dangled out of its sockets, on the thin wires – and was able to marvelously record the audio tracks of  the rehearsals of our school events.
Such sturdiness has certainly had its death rattle; that is, if it has not perished altogether.
Even so, my romance with Japanese products continues – although most of them are not made in Japan any more. My camera ( both film and digital) are Japanese (Nikon), so is the TV (Sony), the motor-bike (Honda) , the heart (i,e. the engine) of our car (Suzuki), my (5.5 yr old) laptop (Toshiba), mp3 player (Sony). I have certain admiration for the Japanese and their precision engineering. Theirs is a kind of capitalism with heart, so different from the American mass, mindless, pure consumerism , which is forced upon us more often, these days. Where “planned obsolence” is practised ( maybe implicitly). I recently watched a story of the formation of the first cartel in the world which aimed to REDUCE the life of light-bulbs, so that the bulbs fail faster and  the producers sell and consequently profit more in a fixed span of time. (It’s no surprise that the Japanese were not a part of this cartel)
I call it anti-engineering, where engineers are called in to do the opposite of what they are supposed to do – in order to make more “business sense”. The story went on to say that the planned obsolence principle was not limited to light-bulbs – it had become an all-pervading doctrine by now. No wonder that whenever, in recent times I chose to buy non-Japanese products (for cost reasons of course), the product lost usefulness fast. The best example is the Rs 1500 ($ 30) Canon “Pixma” printer I bought just more than a year back. ( I was amazed that one could buy a reasonable quality colour printer and that too from a popular brand-house). In less than a year it stopped working; I’d left it unused for a couple of months and (like anything else in our house) cockroaches colonised it. I didn’t lose heart as it was still within the warranty period; but to my horror I was told ( after an inspection) that cockroach crap (and damage thereof) was not covered in warranty, and that I’d need to spend atleast Rs 1000 ($20) to get a new board for the printer. I refused and now have the latest piece of e-waste for company.  Some day I need to make myself open the cover and search for anything remotely salvage-able. Groan.

I wonder if  such absolute consumerism is going to be sustainable in the long term ( in the short term t does by generating more employment), especially with the limited resources that we have now.

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