My Oral-B electric toothbrush died last week. I was innocently preparing to indulge in my nightly ritual of oral hygiene when I clicked the 'on' button, began brushing and the little motor inside just...stopped. Naturally, I shook it, slapped it against my palm, looked at it inquiringly, placed it back in the charger briefly, slapped it again, and finally concluded that it simply didn't work anymore. And I was mildly pissed. I take reasonably good care of my stuff because I generally can't afford to replace my stuff. So here I stood with a mouthful of toothpaste, contemplating my new-looking yet dead toothbrush. And I started thinking about where I'd find a new battery for it and how much it would cost. Of course, there is no new battery available for it. I think I knew that, but denial is a powerful thing, so I Googled it anyway.
Fast-forward to yesterday when I received my brand-spankin'-new Oral-B Sonic electric toothbrush. (NOTE: I'd continued using the dead brush in the interim, which is kinda like going up an escalator that's turned off: It does the job but it feels...wrong.) The instructions that came with the new brush told me how long I had to charge it before I could use it (12 hours), and it told me something else. It told me how to dispose of the battery when "the usable life of the toothbrush was over". And I thought, "So now products are announcing their impending doom?" When did that start?
About a month ago, I replaced a Shark hand-held mini-vacuum cleaner that I paid $69.99 for. (As advertised, it was a beast, although I never had any spilled ball-bearings lying around that needed sucking.) Again, I was going to simply replace the battery and discovered that a replacement was indeed available...for $30. Really? The new Dirt Devil mini-vacuum I ended up getting instead was $20. I remember years ago when my first Sony Discman stopped working, I took it to a electronics store to get it repaired and discovered that it was cheaper to replace it than to fix it. Even then, in my youthful ignorance, I sensed that something was terribly wrong.
At what point did replacing gadgets, as opposed to fixing them, become the norm? How many plastic trees were felled so I could use up my 'things' and simply add them to a landfill? Are the Energizer Bunny's days numbered because fewer and fewer things have batteries that can be easily replaced? Is my shoebox-full of AAA, AA and D batteries going to be obsolete before I get to use them? (Fortunately, my remote controls and authentic Darth Vader Light Saber still require the use of my trusty Duracells.) A close friend of mine recently shared a bit of post-modern consumer wisdom with me: She buys the cheapest thing she can find because it's cheaper to replace and breaks the same as the expensive stuff. Sigh.
It just seems like a cryin' shame that so much of what we use today – DVD players, vacuum cleaners, cell phones – has become entirely disposable. I'm old enough to remember when the only thing I threw away was the packaging, not the product.