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The Permanence of Things, The Impermanence of People

September 6, 2015  •  By Larry Jordan

[Originally published on Sept. 6, 2015 by Larry Jordan.]

Our world is a changing place. This was illustrated in an unusual way last night as my wife and I were talking at dinner. She was wearing a ring that was created for her great-grandmother around 1885. Sitting on the dinner table was a teapot that, we estimate, came from around 1850.

We have always enjoyed antiques and our home is filled with many – several more than 100 years old. Every time I look at, say, one of our old Singer treadle sewing machines, I think of what life was like all those decades ago and how different life is today.

Things had permanence back then. You would buy a dining room table knowing that this piece of furniture would be a part of your family for generations. In those days, the things we made would last a long, long time. It was the people surrounding them that changed.

TECHNOLOGY CHANGED THE RULES

Technology has upended that definition of “permanence.” Today, some of the most expensive things we buy have a very short life. From automobiles to mobile devices, kitchen appliances to software, nothing is permanent. People are the constant now, what we surround ourselves with vanishes at an alarming rate.

In years past, we called this our “consumer culture;” where we purchase something, use it once, then throw it away. While there is no doubt that behavior still persists, I see something different. I see a culture where nothing has long-term value because it rapidly becomes obsolete. Technology has forced us into a life of continual upgrades, enhancements and replacements.

It isn’t just an issue of last year’s model not “looking” current, but that last year’s model is no longer supported. Can’t be repaired. Is incompatible with this year’s model. Or they changed the connectors.

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot this summer as I’ve tried to figure out what my company and I can do that would help you in your business. What services, information, training or techniques can we provide that you would find useful?

PURCHASE PARALYSIS

As I’ve written before (“An Untenable Situation“) the gear with which we surround ourselves is changing so quickly that it becomes hard to know what to buy. Whether to buy now or later. Which products will likely yield the best results over time.

I’d be lying if I said I knew the answer. Every day I get emails from readers all over the world asking what they should buy. Media folks need the latest gear, but are afraid that whatever they buy will be “wrong.”

As I was writing this article, the term “Purchase Paralysis” suddenly occurred to me. Technology changes so quickly that we can’t decide whether to buy now or wait. And, if we buy now, are we buying something that will be gone in a year. We are paralyzed, realizing that whatever decision we make will be wrong.

I would love to spend much more time doing in-depth product reviews and testing. But, there’s no money in it, unless you are paid to write the review; in which case, it is no longer a review but a commercial. (A “Pay-to-Play” review is something I loathe and do not condone.)

THE GOOD DIE YOUNG

Many times, manufacturers are no better informed than we are. They hope that the products they’ve worked so hard on will become hits, but they don’t know. They hedge their bets rolling out a variety of slightly different products, hoping that at least one of them catches the eye of the market; then remove the slow sellers as quickly as possible to avoid tossing good money after bad.

I’m writing this article with a nine-month-old computer sitting on a 90-year-old desk. My desk I fully expect to give to my kids. My computer? Not likely.

The things we purchased used to last forever. Today, they don’t. In bygone years, we could judge for ourselves whether something was good quality by looking at it, touching it and watching it work. Today, we can’t. Products are too complex, change too quickly, disappear.

It’s a strange feeling: People now seem “immortal,” while the things we buy die too young.

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