There’s a tiny stove light we leave on at night that does something truly remarkable. It’s lasted 23 years, ever since we bought the stove just after our son was born.
Every night that lightbulb keeps shining and never needs replacement, so one of these must be true:
A) The bulb is a miracle and we should donate it to the Church Of Infinite Light
B) The bulb is the world’s first perpetual motion machine
C) The bulb is a design flaw.
In the same 23 years we’ve been through four microwaves, five vacuums, three fridges, two dishwashers, three cars and 600 toasters, yet this little bulb keeps glowing.
I don’t even know what brand it is because I’m scared to unscrew it and kill the magic.
Besides, the company that made it probably went under long ago for making something that never needs replacement. I can hear the meeting back in 2007 when the factory owner huddled with his manager:
Manager: Congrats boss! We’re hearing from people who’ve used our bulb for over a decade. What a product!
Owner: That’s what worries me: We’ll never sell another one! I need you to meet with our engineers about fixing the problem.
Manager: But how can we fix it? It’s the best bulb in the world!
Owner: Fix it so it breaks!
Our tiny bulb is a reminder of today’s replacement culture where everything always gets replaced, remodelled, updated or upgraded.
Our phones slow to a crawl as the batteries die, usually just when our two-year plan ends. So we’re tempted to update with bigger memories that run more apps that need more power and kill our batteries faster.
There’s often no alternative anyway. In today’s all-electronic age toasters, espresso-makers, phones and even fridges are cheaper to replace than repair — if anyone repairs them at all.
When our TV recorder had a small glitch two years ago, I brought it in to fix, but the Videotron clerk eyed me like I’d wandered in from the 20th century.
“Repair?” he sputtered. “If our technicians even touch that, it will cost you minimum $100. Instead, I’ll sell you a new updated recorder for $14.99 a month — and deduct that amount each month as a permanent promotion.”
So every month for over two years they’ve charged me $14.99, then deducted $14.99, in the weird bookkeeping of the modern world.
The only principle is: out with the out-dated and in with the latest. Repairs today are mostly reserved for big items like cars and houses, and how long will that last?
In a decade your carpenter will tell you: “Your roof needs replacing and your pipes and wiring are shot. It’s cheaper to just put in a new house — we can have one delivered tomorrow.”
Eventually, the word “repair” will become an archaic, forgotten term. You’ll look it up in the dictionary and find: “Repair (v): Old English verb, out of usage, replaced by the word ‘replace’.”
By then, fixing things will be an illegal profession seen as tampering with the buy-and-replace cycle that makes the world go round.
“ALERT: Illegal Maytag repairman seen on Isabella and Victoria. Terminate and destroy, before he destroys the economy.”
Besides, no one knows how to repair today’s gadgets anyway. The companies that make them are too busy churning out endless new models and can’t be bothered to produce parts for each one, let alone figure out how to fix them.
They just want to sell you new gadgets, as do the distant factory workers who produce them: armies of Vietnamese, Bangladeshi and other low-paid workers producing millions of gadgets a day, and praying we buy them.
Otherwise, their factories will close, they’ll lose their jobs and it will all be our fault for not replacing our three-year-old phones. If everything lasted as long as my lightbulb, it would be lights out for the global economy.
Part of this is just capitalism out to make a buck, but much of it is also us getting bored with the same car, clothes, toaster oven or giant TV.
In fact, today’s TVs last longer than ever but who wants them when tomorrow’s are always bigger and better with “8K, HDR, 88-inch OLED” screens and astounding colour we absolutely must have to watch the weather.
My 10-year-old 40-incher is a black and white TV in comparison, and I crave a new one — though my old one once seemed miraculous to me.
On a planet quickly using up its resources, can this go on indefinitely? Someday, we will all have to learn to live with our “boring” stuff, while companies live with fewer sales.
By then they’ll be hitting us with special “charging surcharges” of $200 a month for phone batteries that never die.
But for now my little stove light is an accidental beacon for the future. And I’m rooting for it.
I suspect it will still be burning when we have to replace the stove.