Sunday, January 11, 2009

Improvements that aren't

One of the hallmarks of our post-industrial/information based society is the need for "new and improved." The vast majority of manufacturers seem to believe that any product worth buying has to be "improved" periodically or it won't sell. A Google search on "new and improved" returned 7,530,000 entries with references to everything from software to cars and even libraries. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul's experience in Acts 17:21 where the philosophers spent their time in nothing else, but but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.

In my early youth, I began shaving with an electric razor. I soon changed over to razor with blades. Through the years I have found that every so often the companies stop making the type of razor blades that fit in my particular razor and so I have to buy a new one. Of course, each new development is guaranteed to be the closest shave of your life and some beautiful girl will just be irresistibly drawn to you because of your close shave. The latest iteration of this phenomena is the Gillette Fusion with five, yes you read that right, five blades. There is even a model with battery power. The blades cost a small fortune to replace. There is just one problem. The blade head is now too big to shave my face. In addition, my experience was that the blade wear out and become dull inordinately fast. After suffering several bothersome nicks, I finally decided to go back to the previous model. Guess what? They don't sell the blades any more.

In desperation, I grabbed a very inexpensive disposable razor, a whole bag of these razors sell for less that the replacement blades for the Fusion. What a treat! The cheap razor worked much better than the expensive one and lasted more than twice as long. This got me thinking. How many things, big and small, are not improvements at all, but merely a way to force us to pay for something new. Why do we always assume that the new item is better? What else out there is new but not improved?

We have one really good example of new and improved not being either new or improved with a light rail system in Phoenix. First of all, we had an electric trolley system in Phoenix around the beginning of the 1900s, so the idea is far from new. Secondly, the new system is not an improvement because first, it doesn't go anywhere people need to go and second it only covers a small portion of central Phoenix. For example, one of the busiest airports in the world is Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, you might think it would be a good idea, if you were going to build a light rail system costing millions and millions, to have it go to the airport. Wrong. In order to get to the airport from the light rail you would have to take a shuttle bus.

In the East Valley, there is a large community college, one of the largest in the United States. Mesa Community College has over 26,000 students, most of which attend its main campus. Now, maybe you would think that the light rail would go by MCC? You would be wrong. The end of the rail system is about two miles away from the Campus. Just far enough, that no one would think of walking. You might also think, well, I could drive to the terminal and take the light rail downtown to Phoenix, saving on parking and travel. Well, the light rail takes longer than the freeways in car and there is no where to park at the East Terminal. So you can't park and ride.
This goes on and on.

We have a huge financial crisis in our country right now, maybe it is time someone started thinking about building transportation and making our own products that actually work. It might be easier to compete with China and the rest of the world if Americans built things that worked and were a real improvement. By the way, the Fusion Razor was made in Poland. The cheap razors, I am now using, are also Gillette and made in Mexico. They come in a package of 52 razors, which appears to me to be more than a two years supply.

1 comment:

  1. What a "sharp" insight into the "new and improved" world we live in. The light rail is just a small sample of government waste. And I won't go near those Fusion razors. Gillette Atras have stayed around for a long time, despite their "improvements" on the design.