I work on electronics all the time and I just fixed a Fisher tube stereo receiver that is as old as I am. Do you think anything similar being build now will be working 50 years from now? its not even intended to be worked on - the consumer electronics and even some of the non consumer electronics are not repairable nor are they designed to last past the warranty in many cases. The key is the attitude of the companies. When I find issues I often call the company and report that I believe I found a recurring issue. a few years ago the attitude was "oh my yes please send it back with whatever documentation you have we want to get better and learn". Now they act like - "whatever are you bothering us for? throw it away and buy a new one!" The product quality will reflect the attitude and culture of the company which created it and yes.. Bill and Dave, we are sorry come back and fix this train wreck. And yes some things are better - closed case calibration and better specs other things are not better.
an agilent 34401 DMM is much better than anything from years ago - the china clone of the 34401 is disposable junk.. that is not better.
It's not a "plan" to make products durable. It's that a clock motor and some microswitches are tremendously simple, reliable mechanical devices. But they are not very smart. And when the dishwashers that used them were built, smart was not important because energy, water, and most materials were plentiful and dirt cheap. That has changed.
Problem is, people still want their dishwashers, and they want to pay less, relative to their earnings, than they paid in 1960. Much less, if you do the math.
This all comes at a cost, and that cost is complexity. And reliability, all other things being equal, is inversely related to some exponential of complexity.
Yes, I like to pull out my 1950's Leica mechanical camera and pop off a few frames now and then... IF the lube has not gooed up, and the shutter timing has not degraded, and the light is bright, and I don't mind figuring out the exposure myself.
As many others have noted, the good old days were not that good.
== Cheap stuff. "Who cares" stuff.
The stuff scams are made of. Too cheap to be worth the hassle of a complaint, replacement, repair.
I agree that there are a great many excellent quality products; but I also believe that there is an increasing and excessive number of products that are faulty or unsuitable for purpose when delivered.
I work with an Electronics Manufacturing Services company and counterfeit components from China have become a _huge_ problem. The partial solution was to stop buying components from China because the alternatives of X-raying every component, or worse still, rework of bad boards, would have wiped out the small profit margins in that sector and would quickly have bankrupted them. Even with that approach,some counterfeit components still get to them occasionally.
As a consumer I have also now become very intolerant of shoddy product. If it isn't a reasonable quality and functioning properly, it goes back to the retailer and I get a refund. I _try_ to buy decent quality, but often all that's available is low-cost rubbish.
Punt, Pass and Kick, fundamentals of quality rules are like given laws of physics and do not change dramatically. But working at various companies it is interesting quality is a cyclic event. We decide to lay-off a bunch of resources, including quality, then when the customer is upset, warranty returns escalate, or scrap is out of control then we jump back on the quality band-wagon. Working in the consulting field is a gold mind, because you just need to find a faltering company and teach them what they once knew, but package it as innovation.
It is true that so many things, particularly electronic, are much better now.
It is also true that things in the past were far less complex. Since reliability is inversely related to complexity it makes sense that simpler things could be reliable even with old technology components. A radio with only 5 active elements (tubes) can be fairly reliable, especially if you replace the tubes when they die. I have a 1941 Plymouth automobile. The schematic for the car fits on a half a letter sized piece of paper. There are no electronic modules to fail. It does not have all the features of a modern car (radio, cruise control, intermittent wipers, ABS, AC, turn signals, back up light, automatic transmission, power windows, power brakes, power locks, emissions controls, etc.) So these things can't fail. Debugging a very simple device is easy. Even though the parts in this car are 70 years old, I have always been able to debug and fix any problem even when things fail on the road. Try doing that with a modern car that might have dozens of microprocessors. Modern cars always need to be towed to a place that has the proprietary tools needed to debug them.
Well, I DID used to fix MY electronics. Of course, I grew up on a dairy farm in rural SC, born to parents who came through the tail end of the Depression. Throwing useful things away was absolutely unheard of. I fixed two VCRs, a couple of TVs, and even my college roommate's Walkman :-) So, I don't buy that people throw away every single thing that breaks, or that they should.
On the other hand, I HAVE, I admit, found myself a couple of times (just not ALL the time) doing these:
* Throwing something away that was not worth my time to fix. But that's out of context - when I did that, I usually did not care much for the item, AND the item was very difficult to repair (due to assembly method or parts non-availability). And the cheaper it is, the easier it is to do this...
* Being relieved that something DID break, so I COULD throw it away and get something nicer (due to the state of the art advancing).
To address the sort-of-pejorative "nostalgia kick": yes, some of us are nostalgic. What we are nostalgic FOR, though, is not the good ol' days for their own sake. What we DO lament is the passing of things that were repairable, some amount of care taken with the user interface (hardware or software or whatever), and just something that was, well, NICE to have. I mean, using the word "trinket"...I would rather have a few very nice, useful things than a truckload of trinkets.
This thread reminds me of an earlier thread in which I commented on my two 24" widescreen LCD monitors that were purchased at the same time, lasted almost 3 years, and died within weeks of each other in the same manner -- a power supply failure. Most likely a ruptured electrolytic capacitor, but I didn't bother to open them up to confirm if that was the cause, because it just wasn't worth my time -- I had no intention of repairing them anyway.
The monitors were cheap when I bought them, I got a lot of use out of them, and I was ready for something better -- LED backlighting, faster LCD response time, HDMI input, etc.
Sometimes we are actually sort of ok with gadgets that don't have a longer service life, because we want something newer and better (better, at least in terms of features and performance), but we are reluctant to replace a gadget that still works. When it fails, it can be almost a welcome event -- now we have a good excuse to go out and get that newer model we would rather have anyway.
Extreme consumerism? Perhaps. Those two dead monitors are still hanging around, waiting for me to take them to the recycling center, which I definitely WILL do. Environmentally conscious extreme consumerism :)
Again, I think we can't mix different product categories and draw conclusions.
For the cheap, disposable, portable trinkets, and cell phones fit that description, they would be comparable to portable cassette decks, maybe Walkmans, or maybe even those cheap 45 RPM record players from even longer ago. No one expected, even then, to get them repaired, and people got bored with those trinkets in no time. Just like today with cell phones and iPods.
For TV sets, in the past, it wasn't unusual to need repairs after a couple of years of service. Now, that would be practically unheard of. Same for audio systems. They can last a very long time. The good ones certainly do. I have a solid state amp from 1981 that works great still. New ones are even built better.
VCRs. Are you kidding? Especially the early production ones were hardly long lasting. Too many mechanical components, fragile tape, etc. One proud owner of an early VCR that I knew brought it "in for service" after one year, and the thing never worked right after that. I owned three VCRs, because each one broke, and was happy to see that product category vanish. Portable cassette decks were no better.
Conversely, no one today would think to take their PVR "in for service" ever, and the PVR is certainly expected to last many years without that "service."
Guys, I'm just not getting this nostalgia kick.