Friday, March 13, 2009

Frustrations With Consumer Capitalism

It always annoys me when I can conceive of a product that I would gladly pay for, but I can't seem to find anyone who makes it.

For example, when my old cell phone died, I wanted to replace it with a similar "bar" (as opposed to flip) model, but with a few more up-to-date features like Bluetooth and support for mp3 ringtones (i.e., only two years out of date instead of six). But such a device did not appear to exist, at least not among the couple dozen of phone models offered by my provider.

Similarly, after I left my favorite winter hat at the opera, I embarked on a months-long, and ongoing, quest to find a replacement in a similar vein. This out-of-stock item is the closest I've found, though the one I lost was this completely non-stretchy wool felt that I really liked.

I've temporarily suspended my search for a basket and metal chainguard that will work on my blue bike.

The latest of these frustrations derives from the idea that I should get a table-top radio so I can listen to Mets games this summer. I had some idea in mind about the kind of radio I'd want, and what I read about this model sounded good at first. Some more investigation left me disappointed, though: the reception is apparently no good, the components are cheap and poorly assembled, and the advertised impressive sound quality is evidently reliant on the kinds of trickery used to make Bose products sound deceptively good.

The Tivoli Model One definitely seems like it's supposed to appeal to people who like the idea of a simple, elegant device that does a limited number of things well. But then instead of actually being such a product, it instead conveys those values through its visual aesthetic, and then relies on cognitive dissonance to convince consumers that they're satisfied with it.

Anyway, I've probably spent too much time on this topic (though not nearly as much time as I've wasted looking for felt caps on the internet), but I do think it's an interesting way that capitalism fails consumers on a pretty regular basis. The markets for many types of products are flooded with virtually indistinguishable offerings that change capriciously in response to fads and trends without ever responding to the needs and desires of sizable minorities of consumers. The result being that large numbers of people are constantly underwhelmed by many of the products in their lives for reasons that should have been easily corrected.

1 comment:

DU said...

Boy, I can't tell you how much time I've wasted attempting to google The Perfect Item from any number of categories.

In the cases of hats and radios, which are pretty simple products, you might be able to cobble something together yourself. The radio might be beyond your meager skills (no offense) even if you just take the internals of one radio and put them into another case but finding some non-stretchy felt and fastening the ends together with thread doesn't seem too difficult. Possible starting point