Jim Bishop: Reader, beware – You, too, may soon be obsolete

I arrived home from work the other evening to hear a rather depressing voicemail message:

“This is _______ from ________. I’m afraid the problem with your riding lawn mower isn’t a broken belt. The clutch is gone, and your mower is so old that we can no longer even special order that replacement part. Let us know what you’d like to do.”

I hung up, feeling a bit like being told that either I or a family member has a life-threatening illness. It’s just an inanimate piece of machinery that has served me well and did a beautiful job of cutting our lawn for many years and, kept properly maintained, well, it ran like a Deere. But no longer.

So is anything wrong with this picture? Probably the right person could be secured who could locate the needed part(s), even if rebuilt, do the necessary repairs and get me back to Manicure City. But would it be worth it over the long haul?

I do have a small walk-behind rotary mower to use as backup but will take twice as long to mow our three-quarter acre lot. That’s fine as long as I’m able to walk on my hind legs.

Is this a bit how the dinosaurs felt as they were sinking in the LaBrea Tar Pits? This is the pits . . .

The struggle for me began with seeing vinyl records, which I started buying in the mid-1950’s and have amassed a sizable collection, being relegated to a dusty discount bin as cassette recordings came to the fore.

How many of us now have shelves of cassettes gathering dust even though the sound quality is generally excellent, they take up little space and are easily fast-forwarded and reversed in finding favorite selections? But . . . try finding a sound system today that includes a cassette player or a late-model vehicle that has a cassette player built into its audio system.

For years, I shot home video with a super 8 mm camera which, of course, became outdated. Eventually, I paid big bucks to transfer all those 50-foot reels to VHS format.

Now, apparently, VHS players are passé, even though the image quality is excellent, especially since our upgrade to a flat-screen digital television. Now, here we are with a videocassette player that works great an array of personal videos, programs recorded off TV that we want to keep and a quantity of commercial movies. But, sorry, VHS is fading fast, and now even DVD players are on the endangered species list.

I also strongly to the fact that practically any electronic appliance costs more to repair than to pitch when it breaks down and buy a new item.

Another thing that bugs me: most shirts and t-shirts sold today no longer have a breast pocket, and I always carry a pen and tuck my cell phone there too.

Then, there’s my Canon Rebel 35 mm. camera that I still use for personal photography and takes awesome images despite the doofus pressing the shutter. It’s increasingly difficult to find the particular brand and type of color film of preference, and one of these days the photo lab will tell me that they now longer process film.

“Why?” I ask aloud, almost with a sense of futility and acquiescence.

Whose is behind this sinister plot of planned obsolescence? It ain’t me, babe. If I had my druthers, we’d still have that bright yellow, rotary dial telephone on the kitchen counter that worked perfectly and never gave us problems – except for that short time span when our daughters insisted we get call-waiting.

I’m afraid where I see this train of thought heading . . . straight for the terminal. Come to think of it, not many people take the train anymore because it’s too slow in transporting people to their destinations, but think of the scenery, the chance to relax and catch one’s breath and other benefactions missed. Is that no longer important?

Slowly but deliberately, those things that have served me well or met with personal tastes are increasingly, inevitably declared “obsolete.”

I fear that I am too.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.

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