A few years ago we were visiting a market with about four other friends when we decided to institute a $5 challenge. We all scoured the market for items costing $5 or less, the winner being the individual who had secured the ‘coolest’ item. To be fair it was quite a subjective contest, but nonetheless I was a bit surprised that I didn’t win with my ‘Toastermatic’. With a toastermatic you are spared the chore of lowering your bread down into the toaster, with the toastermatic gently doing this task for you when it feels the weight of the bread and then equally gently raising the toast when browned. I have not seen any modern day equivalent toasters on the market and assume that this is because of the general shift from mechanical to electronic based appliances. One of my motivations for buying the toastermatic was the hope of having a toaster that is older than the one my parents in law have – theirs is coming up for it’s 50th birthday in the next few years. Recently thier toaster did have a hiccup however, requiring my talented electrician brother in law to open it up to see what was happening. He was amazed to find that the toaster operates on pure mechanics. The problem was easily solved with the replacement of a wire and the purchase of a glass bead to serve as an insulator with the declaration that there is no reason why many future loaves of bread won’t pass through the toaster. I’m not sure whether someone with a defunct modern toaster is going to be able to open it up and fix the problem as easily. The task possibly requires a degree in computer engineering, so more likely it would be destined to the landfill and a replacement bought.
I have no evidence to back up this statement, but it appears to me that manufacturers design in a seven year obselecence to a wide variety of appliances. Friends of ours recently had a heater, dryer, vacum cleaner and jug all die in the space of a month, all having been purchased at the same time. The move from mechanical to electronic based appliances corresponds with a decrease in purchase price for the consumer and I’ve certainly heard the stories about what a significant purchase new appliances were back in the day. However this reduced cost has an environmental impact with it often being more cost effective to discard items and replace them with a newer model. Based on my seven year theory, my parents in law would have gone through seven modern toasters to their one mechanical toaster. A great short video that does a much better job of asking us to consider the cost of a product during it’s entire lifespan, and not just when it enters and leaves our lives, can be found at www.thestoryofstuff.com I guess the spin off in having manufacturers design items for longevity is a more expensive initial purchase price and the rub is would I shell out $150 for a new mechanical toaster that would last the rest of my days or am I more likely to buy a $20 model that I can update to a more fashionable colour in seven years?