Saturday, October 04, 2008

Keeping Cold Things Cold

Everybody seems to agree that the economy is pretty bad shape these days, but they don't all agree why. The Democrats love to blame the the current Republican administration for its concerted efforts to deregulate everything, whether it should be regulated or not. And the Republicans love to blame Bill Clinton.

I don't know anything about economics, but I think the economy started to slide downhill as soon as we shifted away from a production-based economy toward a consumer-based economy. I remember thinking years ago that the economy doesn't have a chance as long as it's based on people spending their money rather than saving it.

But maybe I was just projecting my own beliefs onto the general population. I assumed that just because I don't like to waste my money on things I don't really need, everyone else doesn't like it either. I was apparently wrong about that, since shopping has become a hobby for so many people. As a matter of fact, simply pretending to shop (also known as window shopping) even qualifies as a hobby for many people.

One of the reason I don't like to shop is that it's a waste of my time. No matter what I'm doing, it's usually more interesting than acquiring more material possessions. I don't need to buy new clothes every few months and I don't need to get rid of my old car and buy a new one. I don't even need to get rid of my hopelessly outdated CRT-based televisions and replace them with LCD flat screen models. One of my TVs is 12 years old and the other one is 24 years old, but for better or worse, they both work fine, so I can't think of any reason to get rid of them. The only possible reason would be that newer TVs would enhance my television viewing experience, but I already know that they won't. Whenever you buy something new, it's interesting for about a week -- a month if you're lucky -- and then it just becomes something else you own.

However, after having said all that, I feel it's only fair to let you know that I just bought a new refrigerator today. As you may recall, my old refrigerator started acting erratically a couple of months ago. It still kept the food cold, but the freezer no longer froze anything and the ice maker stopped working.

I ignored the problem for a while, hoping it would go away. (I know how silly that sounds, but it's the same strategy our government has been using with the economy until very recently.) The problem, of course, did not go away, so a few days ago I called up an appliance repair place to see if they could fix it. The guy came out to my house, took apart the refrigerator, and informed me that it was leaking Freon. He also told me that to fix it would almost cost what a new refrigerator would cost. So I bought a new refrigerator, and it's supposed to be delivered sometime within the next week.

When I was talking with the salesman, he asked me how long I had my old refrigerator. I told him I'd had it for 19 years. He seemed pretty impressed, so I told him I'd heard that newer refrigerators aren't built to last that long, and he confirmed that this is true. I asked him how long a refrigerator made today would last and he told me about eight to ten years. When I asked him why, he said something about how they're now built with smaller, more energy-efficient compressors, which wear out more quickly. And then he said that at the rate refrigerator technology is changing, most people wouldn't want the same refrigerator for 20 years, just like they wouldn't want the same car for 20 years.

That sounded sort of ridiculous to me, but maybe it isn't. Maybe what I require from a refrigerator is much less than what others require. I just need it to keep frozen things frozen and to keep cold things cold. Refrigerators have been doing that for longer than I've been alive.

And as it turns out, there isn't much difference between my old refrigerator and the one I just bought. The biggest difference is that the old one is 19 years old and that it's leaking Freon. Other than that, they look about the same, they're about the same size, they have the same features, and they have the same capacity.

Actually, there's another difference, but I don't consider it a change for the better. My old refrigerator has three bins that you can put fresh vegetables in. The new one also has three bins, but two of them are pretty small. (All the other refrigerators I looked at had only two bins, and they were also pretty small.) But all the new refrigerators have door-mounted shelves that are wide enough to hold one-gallon containers. I don't buy anything in one-gallon containers, so that's sort of a waste of space, especially since the more space the door-mounted shelves take up, the less space is available for the rest of the refrigerator.

But refrigerators, like everything else, just reflect the trends in our lives, and I guess one of the current trends is not to eat a lot of fresh vegetables. The other trend is apparently to buy gallon jugs of milk and soft drinks. So today's refrigerators are not meant for people like me, but I'm sure I'll find a way to adapt. It may not be easy at first, but I've adapted to a lot of other things, so I think I'll probably be able to adapt to the new refrigerator. And if I can't, in eight or ten years when I need to buy a new one, maybe the pendulum will be swinging in the other direction and people will be eating fresh foods again.