Monday, June 19, 2006

The SonicCare Elite, revenge, and the price of consumption

This morning I was reading Sandra Tsing Loh's Atlantic essay on women, money and class. It's mostly entertaining, though I think she lost her way at the end. The bit that caught me eye was brief:
... there’s a new mistress of the shabby pavilions, a new Queen of Cheap! She is New York writer Judith Levine, and I so enjoyed her new book, Not Buying It, that I’ll be “gifting” my copy on this Christmas, in turn, to each member of my penurious family.

Nauseated not just by her own maxed credit cards but by her weakness in a hyperconsumerized world, Levine decided to try to survive, for one year, on just “essentials”—a strategy that saved her $8,000 (out of a gross income of $45,000). Yes, there was a diabetic cat requiring expensive veterinary care, and no, Levine’s vanity (which I respected her for fessing up to) would not allow her to give up her $55 haircuts. But beyond that, the strictures were urban-spartan. She and her partner, Paul, were to buy no clothes or shoes. There would be no restaurants, movies, gifts. They could buy groceries, but not fancy ones. Toilet paper, yes; Q-tips, no (this impressed me—I consider Q-tips essential).

Levine’s yearlong Visa-free journey reveals a hitherto-invisible realm. Without the whirl of buying, vast quantities of time open up—and not just from a lack of purchased entertainment; consuming itself takes time. (In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz illustrates how we can fritter our days away even on trying to choose the best price for something on the Internet).
Yeah, the price of ownership is high these days. What really irks me is the hidden inflation of Things that Break. (The way we measure inflation ignores the reality that our new stuff doesn't last -- so even it it's cheap to buy once we need to buy it two or three times. Ask me about the $25 back yard sprinker ...). Even when one might arguably come out ahead (AMEX buyers assurance), the time hit is awesome.

So I put down the magazine and picked up my $150 super-duper gum-protecting Sonicare Elite 7500 Power Toothbrush -- and the switch didn't work. It's been flaky for a week or so. The camel's back snapped and the damn thing hit the garbage. Of course, in the digital age, some revenge is a negative Amazon review:
... I bought this for more than $150 at my dentist. It worked well for about a year, though it does get pretty disgusting beneath the top half without fairly intensive cleaning.

After about a year of use, however, the switch broke. It wouldn't turn off or on reliably. Now I'm SURE Philips would have happily replaced it under warranty. The problem is, I can't be bothered with a toothbrush that adds that much complexity to my life. An iPod breaking is bad enough, a $100 plus toootbrush breaking is the proverbial straw.

It also didn't magically prevent the age and gene related recession of my gums -- if it had I'd suffer the time drain. As it is, it's back to the old toothbrush. I'll spend the time I save on better gum care.
I can't afford to buy sh*t. Since there's often nothing else for sale, I just say "no" more and more.

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