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Re: Mass Produced Quality in the 21st Century

september 21, 2020

a reply to dctrud's post

I definitely can vouch for the quality older stuff, I have plenty of retro hardware and stuff that are significantly older than I am and are still going strong. However, there's definitely some survivorship bias[1] there because I have plenty of old shit I've found that almost literally crumbles in my hands. There's still ~lots~ *some* good stuff that's recent that works great for me though. I'm going to deviate from the "cheap" theme here, but everything in my list is still (arguably) mass-produced.

[1]: Gemini Wikipedia: Survivorship bias

quality items

nikon d7200

They say that standalone cameras are dying, but there's still really good stuff available on the consumer (middle price) ranges of cameras. While cameras aren't as mass-produced as other items, they still are mass produced, especially for these cheaper non-professional models. The outside is plastic, and it certainly doesn't look as pretty[2] as the nice metal body of older cameras[3] but inside that body it's really sturdy. My poor camera has taken so much abuse and it's still in perfect working condition, I only had to replace the screen one time because of a deep scratch (the display still worked fine, there's some *very* thick glass protecting it, it was just annoying).

[2]: (842.7kib) My Nikon D7200, ca. 2016

[3]: (958.3kib) My Canon AE-1 Program, ca. 1981

sony icf-c218 alarm clock

I'm pretty sure I got this at walmart for like $15 in 2010 or 2011, and it works great still. It must have some sort of cmos battery or supercapacitor in it becuase I've never had to reset the time on it other than when moving and it's unplugged for days. The only issue with it is that it's always five minutes ahead. Always. It's not like it constantly drifts because it will slowly drift to be 5 minutes ahead, then stop and won't drift any more. It's very strange, but the clock works great other than that.

nintendo ds lite & gba

It feels fairly cheap, but I've had mine for a very long time (since I was like 9 or 10) and still use it regularly, and it's still going strong, even the battery. My GBA is working great too even with me opening it up and fucking with it, which most electronics don't seem to take kindly to my clumsy ass doing. As a bonus, even though they don't technically count the entire Game Boy line feels very durable and generally last other than a few hardware issues (screen rot, rubber domes dry rotting, etc). The switch is nice too, the joy cons feel really cheap, but the main body is nice metal and feels sturdy.

the ti-84 plus & the hp-48g

Say what you want about TI's monopolization of the calculator market, but these things last forever, no matter what you do to them. Maybe it's the fact that it's basically the same exact hardware since the 1990s[4][5] (for the same price too[6]), but it really feels like it will last. The keyboard is pretty mushy, especially compared to the HP-48 series, but other than that it's great. The HP-48 doesn't technically count (product life: 1990–2003), but it's really high quality. Easily one of the best calculators ever made.

[4]: Gemini Wikipedia: TI-84 Plus → Technical Specifications

[5]: Gemini Wikipedia: TI-82 → Technical Specifications

[6]: XKCD 768

fans of all sorts

At risk of repeating dctrud, fans seem to be really durable no matter how plastic-y they are. The main thing you should do is every year, take the cage and blades off and literally hose them off with a garden hose. I had a fan die because the blades got all dusty and unbalanced and it burned out the motor, but with regular cleaning they last forever. The cleaning makes them push air like new too. It makes sense that they should last, it's literally a motor, a power switch, and some gears if it's oscillating, but I wouldn't put it past manufacturers to find a way to make them break if it shaves off a few pennies.

things that got worse (anecdotally)

any appliances

I have a fridge that's from the '70s (early, *early* '80s at best) that's still chugging along, working fine. Yet, every person I know that's gotten a new fridge has had it die (usually the compressor, the most expensive part (coincidentally)) within 5 years. The same goes with most, seemingly all, appliances. It's almost a luxury for me to be living in such shitty places that all the appliances are so old, because I never have to worry about them.

the average computer or game consoles

While I mentioned a bunch of stuff that works great above, sadly nintendo is the exception rather than the rule. Excessive DRM after the passing of the DMCA in 1998 and planned obsolescence ran rampant, particularly in the mid 2000s. There was a post on reddit recently[7] about how a Sony Walkman/Ericcson phone (ca. 2001–2010) didn't accept dates after 2014. Unless they were storing time in days since 2004 in a 12 bit integer that is the exemplar of what was going on at the time, and that's ignoring the actual quality of the hardware itself. And, while Nintendo's hardware quality is (for their handhelds at least) is fairly nice, they went full in on the anti-consumer craze with excessive DRM and locking users out of their own devices for "security."

General-purpose computers have gotten worse too. My dad worked for a two-letter computer company, and he told me about how they would test *every* board they manufactured for quality before shipping it. Now, computers are cheap enough for manufacturers to adopt the "replace don't repair" model[8], which means that most manufacturers have completely given up on giving their products any sort of longevity, and also encourages them to make it impossible to repair (see: apple, samsung, etc.), which also benefits them.

[7]: Future is unsupported

[8]: XKCD 2033


I think if you managed to run an accurate study on the quality of mass-produced products, you'd probably find that really cheap things (think stuff you'd find at walmart) have been around the same quality since the late '70s[9], general consumer products (game consoles, computers, appliances, etc) have gone down in quality, and relatively specialized products (cameras, handheld calculators, etc) have been roughly static or had a minor drop in quality. I'd say since the Monsanto House of the Future[10] the general quality and durability of products has gone down due to lower-quality plastics overtaking metal as the primary material used (high-quality plastics, as are becoming more common in some products now, are actually very good and may rival metal in many ways). I'd say that the Industrial Revolution and its consequences haven't necessarily been a complete disaster in terms of destroying product quality, especially since all of the products analyzed here would be economically impossible to produce without mass-production techniques, and mass-production doesn't mean a product is low-quality, it's just a matter of how cheaply the product was designed, which can transcend all methods of manufacturing.

[9]: Gemini Wikipedia: Special economic zones of China → History

[10]: Gemini Wikipedia: Monsanto House of the Future

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