The Wrong Stuff

So the dishwasher broke. Again. It wasn’t the first or even the second time it had broken down but this time it hadn’t even been a year – the last time took two weeks for the part and over $300 to fix. It seemed time for a new one.

The new one is from Asia somewhere, possibly South Korea (though, who knows, the South Koreans may well be outsourcing to China now). And it will probably work for a year. That’s how the nice man at Sears explained it and he made perfect sense. You buy a washer/dryer, he pointed out, and the manufacturer gives you a ten-year warranty. A dishwasher? That comes with a one-year guarantee – which means that is how long the manufacturer actually expects the dratted thing to work. I was much struck by the obvious obviousness of this as it had no occurred to me before.

(In humour it’s called simple, unexpected truth. “Why do you think you lost the election, Senator?” “Too few votes.” A response so basic it surprises, and makes one laugh. Or perhaps cry.)

Hence, the truth about this brand new stainless steel dishwasher is that even though it ended up costing a whisper below a thousand dollars it was built, manufactured, to last 365 days. I’d heard of planned obsolescence but surely this is ridiculous.

Meanwhile, we are exhorted to reduce, reuse, recycle and just say no to carbon. Problem is, the one thing that life in the 21st century is not about is conserving, keeping things, reducing waste. It’s about that dishwasher, built to last a year and ending up in a landfill.

As a woman I met recently said, in our parents’ day appliances were, granted, bulky and less than beautiful but they lasted. Once you bought that new stove or washing machine or dishwasher you could relax. If it broke down (which it rarely did) you called the repairman who’d call, have the part on him and that was that. Another decade would go by without any trouble.

Today we have smug self-satisfied little stickers on our appliances and dozens of pretty buttons that let us delay start and auto this or powersave that, that’s if the damn thing actually remembers how to work.

A few years later it ends up in a landfill having forgotten how to do the job it was designed for and not worth fixing. It never was too big to fail; rather it was too small to bother. But hey, it did its tour of duty – after all, t was only expected to work for a year.

So we discard, buy the latest version and toss yet another well-made, solid piece of engineering in favour of a pretty plastic device that looks new for six months then falls apart. Is it any wonder protestors are occupying Wall Street and Robson Street and Bloor Street; people are cranky and wondering why they can’t get the jobs their parents had, the middle class lives they could aspire to or their hope for the future.

What d’you expect, when you can’t even get the dishwasher they had? In the grand scheme of things a broken dishwasher is beyond irrelevant, especially when people are losing their jobs and homes and there are people in the world without a roof over their head or enough food to eat. But it seems emblematic of the mess that we’ve made of so much. Well, I use the term “we” metaphorically since I don’t recall anyone asking me about outsourcing or globalization or corporations being people and most of the time the people I vote for don’t get in.

That dishwasher seems like a sad little paradigm for the hypocrisy of the whole thing. So go Wall Street/Bloor Street demonstrators. At least let the man know we’re tired of this nonsense.

And while you’re at it – could you ask about my dishwasher?