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When things fall apart

Cheap toys are like balloons: pop easily and aren't up to the job

Things aren’t built like they once were. I’m not speaking as an elderly person but I still think that there’s been a diminution in quality for many products that we buy today. Specifically, I’m thinking of kids toys, hardware for all the things you need around the house, clothing and appliances.

I think it’s true to say that some things have become relatively more expensive over the years, and housing is the big one in this category. Anyone who lives in a large city in a first- or even second-world country probably knows this from bitter experience at trying to pay rents or enter the property market as a homebuyer themselves. I live in Sydney, Australia, which has just been found to be one of the most expensive cities in the world and many of the people I know agreed wholeheartedly when they read this.

Cost of housing eats up a huge proportion of most people’s wages and it’s scary to think how high the prices might go and how on earth the first home buyers of 10 or 20 years time will ever be able to buy anything as wages haven’t gone up by the same percentage. But once you’ve got the house it’s a lot cheaper to fill it all up nowadays, I think.

On the other hand, plenty of things are cheap — far cheaper relatively then they once were and are far more affordable. TVs, household appliances, gadgets, watches, clothing and plenty of other things just seem to damn cheap. It makes me wonder how there’s any market in selling second-hand things as new stuff is just so cheap. I’d love to know if a site like eBay has been affected and that the value of second-hand items has gone down over the years as the prices of new stuff has gone down also. I’m sometimes amazed at the prices people want for second-hand stuff on eBay. Haven’t they checked out the price of the new thing?

The one thing that bothers me about all this is that I think quality has gone down for many things. As someone with small children I spend a lot of time dealing with toys and I’m constantly surprised at how quickly they break or stop working. One of the first things my children have learnt about life is that stuff breaks easily. And not working anymore and they don’t really understand why and it’s hard to explain it. A new train engine that cost a lot and is metal and looked study stopped the same day it was out of the packet.

As we renovated our house, my husband and I were surprised how cheap some things were at the huge megamart hardware stores that are everywhere, but once we got things home they’d break or fall apart or not fit together properly or bend or just not be strong enough for the job.

We’ve gone through a number of things like microwave, kettle, toaster, rice cooker and vacuum cleaner in recent years. They’re cheap to buy except that they don’t work for very long and the companies don’t want to know about fixing them and if you ring for spare parts you don’t get much help either.

The cost of stuff has come down, but at what cost to the quality?



3 thoughts on “When things fall apart

  1. Capitalism is the master of copy. When something works in the market, market forces drive different versions of the original. For example in the 1970s, the Thunderbird toys were sturdy cast metal replicas from the TV series of the same name. They still exist today in spite of being bashed around for 40 + years. Take a toy made today and the plastic crap doesn’t last an afternoon zooming through upper reaches of my kid’s backyard. This principle can be applied to a multitude of toys, clothes, tools, electrical equipment ad infinitum. Capitalism has a neat trick of replicating what works to produce the simulacrum, which mean similarity or replica. It also connotes inferiority – this is the part nobody tells you until it falls apart after a couple of days. Many of Bunnings’ tools are a case-in-point. French theorist Jean Baudrillard argues that a simulacra is not only a copy of the real, but it becomes a truth in its own right – a truth that hurts when you get your credit card statement every month! In a way, capitalism is producing zillions of simuIacrum of varying quality, dexterity and worth. The epicentre of this simulacrum crap is China but it use to be Japan and one day it will be some other country who pay their workers a few dollars a day to replicate and sell all this cheap stuff to us. But my God, the price of a simulacra screwdriver has fallen so much it almost doesn’t matter if you throw it away after a bit of a workout.

    Posted by Teachit | 16 February 2012, 9:07 pm
  2. This is a topic I think about a lot. There is just so much cheap crap out there and when it comes to toys it’s so easy to placate the littlies with a one-buck toy car or two-buck plastic sword. Whenever I succumb to the lure of cheap toys to get me out of the supermarket I’m left feeling guilty. Not just about the fact that I’ve said yes to buying something we didn’t need but because I know that it’s only a matter of days, if not minutes before another piece of plastic is on it’s way to landfill.

    Posted by Robyn | 20 February 2012, 2:35 pm
  3. I think they just do it on purpose so that you have to buy it again. What’s in for them if you keep your microwave for ten years? They’d rather make it OK/cheap and have you get a better one in a year or two.
    I just wish baby stuff wasn’t so expensive…they grow up so fast !

    Posted by Sixtine and The Little Things | 22 February 2012, 12:09 pm

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