Fix or Replace?
I was sitting at my desk on Sunday afternoon, diligently typing away at a blog post, when I heard an audible hiss and then felt my seat slowly descending. The gas lift piston in my office chair had broken after just 18 months of use. Now I don’t consider myself to be overweight (I’m 5′ 11″ and weigh 178 lbs) so, I put this event down to mechanical failure rather than an excessive load. Either way I was left with a chair that was too low down and not fit for purpose. I’m a big advocate of ensuring that your workspace is user friendly and conforms to health and safety standards. If you don’t have an appropriate chair you can seriously damage your health. So, I decided to look for a replacement chair online and soon discovered that there’s a wealth of choice. Prices range between £25 and £300. But the thing is, I like my current chair. It’s nothing fancy but it’s comfortable. Furthermore, it’s a good size for my office which isn’t especially large. So, I decided to see if fixing the chair was a viable option instead.
A little research showed that gas lift pistons are fairly generic, and I soon found a replacement that had the right dimensions. So, I bought it via Amazon Prime and it arrived this morning. Now I’m not big on DIY and I usually get professionals in to do any jobs around the house. However, I put this chair together when I bought it is 2016, and therefore new that the gas lift piston could be swapped out. So, to cut a long story short I made the change this afternoon when the replacement part arrived. I had to use a bench vice and a Birmingham Screwdriver to get the broken gas lift piston out of the seat fitting, but beyond this there were no major problems. Needless to say, the chair has now been fixed for the princely sum of £10.95 which is very reasonable. I can also add that I’m currently typing this post with a smug, self-satisfied look on my face, as I usually just replace most items whenever they break, fail or wear out. Which then provides a convenient stepping stone into a broader point about “replacement culture”.
Pretty much all consumer products are designed to be replaced these days, rather than repaired. A new printer costs less than a pack of ink cartridges. Socks from Primark are so cheap they can be effectively thrown away after use, if you are feeling profligate. If your washing machine or fridge fails these days, not many people have warranty cover. More often than not, rather than have an engineer diagnose the fault and order parts, it’s quicker and more convenient to simply buy a new one and have it delivered. The last three decades has seen a fall in prices of “white goods” which has lead to a change in consumer attitudes. A new fridge, vacuum or iron where expensive purchases in the seventies and built to last. Furthermore, labour saving gadgets were maintained to extend their lifespan. I can remember my Father machining spare parts for household items such as the washing machine, during my youth. Colour televisions were so costly, there was a booming rental industry. However, manufacturing has slowly become automated and as a result costs have fallen. A TV is now a disposable item, rather than your prize home possession.
The fast pace of technological change has lead to not only a fall in prices but the growth of upgrade culture. We are encouraged to replace perfectly viable and functional items with newer ones, simply because they offer alleged improved functionality. In many respects a lot of consumer items are now subject to the same whims and foibles of the fashion industry. Certain products are equated with wealth, opulence and success so consumers are “compelled” to ensure that they have the latest and “best”, to assuage their existential angst. Frankly are relationship with purchasing goods is now as broken as our relationship with food. However, as small and insignificant as it may be, I am pleased with my decision to fix my chair today. It proves a point that we don’t always have to simply buy more stuff. On a serious note our current consumer habits are unsustainable, and something will have to give sooner or later. I suspect in the years to come we might well see a return to getting things fixed. So perhaps it’s wise to get into the habit now.