Consumerism and the ‘right now!’ era

Cheap and fast trump quality in modern times

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Steve Snyder, volunteer staff

In business, one is always confined by the triple constraints. Fast, cheap, or good: choose two.

As a society, for the most part, we have moved away from the “good” and more towards the “fast” and “cheap.”

Take, for instance, this story, shared with me by one of my co-workers and written with his permission.

It starts with him in his early teens, going with his parents once every two weeks to their downtown bank branch. He told me of the awe and grandeur of the banks, the wickets armed with a teller in a suit and tie. His parents would be delighted to deposit their cheque, get some cash back, and head to The Bay – at the time a premium department store.

They would wander around with their newfound fortune (a fortune, at least, in the eyes of a 13-year-old), and find their treasure: another piece to their 23-piece pure copper cookware set. After purchasing the pot or skillet or what have you, they would have dinner “on the town”—his words, not mine—at the Wagon Wheel.

Now in his 50s, he sees these events much differently than he did as a child. He recalls the elation in his parents as they purchased the next piece of the cookware set, and he remembers the joy on their faces once every two weeks knowing that they were buying something high grade.

Since those days, his father has passed on and his mother, in her early 90s, no longer cooks for herself.
He recounts moving his mother from their old family home to her care home, and he dwells on the pots and pans, still hanging from the kitchen racks.

Contrast that with how people operate now; most people don’t even go into their bank branch to deposit their cheques. Beyond that, people decide to buy common items like pots and pans without a thought for how long they will last, or what’s worse, where they will go when they break. The burden on landfills due to these substandard goods being bought and discarded is remarkable.

To those of you who say that they don’t make things like they used to, let me be the first to tell you that they do; you just have to pay for them. For example, Rolex still makes the same great watches, but they also start around five grand.

How many people in today’s day and age save for over 40 weeks to buy a cookware set? I’m guessing very few, but back in the day this was commonplace. And I’m sure if you looked hard enough, you could spend that much on cookware. People don’t care for well-made goods anymore; they want it now and they want it cheap.

I think about this story and reflect on my own stories, both as a child and as a father. Will my son think fondly on his father taking him to IKEA to spend his hard-earned pay on an entire living room set that will be gone before he turns 10? Or perhaps he will cherish the memory of his father by enjoying the fruits of his labour, like I do when I wear my father’s old watch.