What Went Wrong With… Problem, Reaction, Solution Consumer Products?

An image of a vinyl record, a CD, an iPod, and back to vinyl to illustrate a cycle of consumerism for

Problem, reaction, solution; you hear this term a lot these days, especially in conspiracy theories. A form of the Hagelian Dialactic (thesis, reaction, antithesis) seems to me however, to be taking place in the most unlikely yet obvious sector; in consumer products. If you look at various products sold to the public, this “problem, reaction, solution” concept applies to many of them. As consumers, aside from the horrid idea of planned obsolescence, this nonsensical cycle is the most infuriating concept around. It seems to me, that the powers that be collude with multinational companies, conglomerates, and media cartels to discommend or even demonise a product in order get rid of something that is obviously still fit for purpose. Something that works well but falls out of favour with the public is then replaced with something, that while on the face of it seems like an improvement, in truth is much worse. The companies and media then wait for the inferiority to be noted and then sell us a replacement in order to fix a problem that they created, a problem that never existed in the first place. We may as well have kept the original frigging thing.

As an example, let’s look at the humble yet horrid plastic bag. Now if you’re old enough, you’ll remember that everything from single items of fruit all the way to multiple items in a “weekly shop” were transported by shoppers in paper bags. Paper bags were perfectly fine unless an object placed in them was very sharp or very heavy. And oh yes, they were biodegradable. But hold on there, the rainforests are being depleted at an alarming rate and animals are becoming extinct, so here’s some plastic carrier bags, they’re much better! Flash forward a few decades and those bastard bags are floating about in the sea and washing up on shore, and once again, animals are being hurt and even becoming extinct. And oh yes, if an object placed in them is very sharp or very heavy, they tear and rip or the handles snap off. Basically, those magic plastic bags that we were all told were better than paper are now littering the earth and now it’s somehow the consumers’s fault. The consumer was fine with their paper bags, like I said, the only problem you had is if you over-filled them but this also applies to plastic bags. But if you chucked paper out into the street, it didn’t overly litter the planet as the elements eventually turned it into mush and I don’t ever remember one killing a seagull or a dolphin.

The same applies to bottles and again, if you’re old enough, you’ll remember glass bottles. Every soda pop came in a glass bottle which never tarnished the taste of the drink it held. What was even better is that each and every glass bottle had inherent value as you could get some money when you handed them back to the store in order for them to be sterilised and refilled. Basically people were recycling and they didn’t even know it. Then all of a sudden, the news told us that people everywhere were glassing each other after pub brawls. Broken glass was apparently very hard to clean up and was dangerous to all shoeless folk out there (I think this was the reason although getting glassed was hardly a frigging epidemic). So out came another saviour; the plastic bottle. Suddenly everything once sold in glass was all of a sudden available in plastic and because it was cheaper, the consumer left those pesky glass bottles on the shelves and they slowly went away, woohoo!

Then, once again, dreaded plastic bottles began to find their way into the sea, into landfills, into everyone’s consciousness and into everybody’s clack. Oh no, plastic bottles are harming the earth! But instead of going back to glass, the morons in charge are now telling the public to bring their plastic bottle into stores so they can fill them with drink. The same applies to plastic cups. Because of the so-called “Latte Cup Levy” we are now encouraged to bring our own cup into coffee shops for them to be filled. Since recycling companies can’t separate the plastic inner-tube thingy from the card outer thingumabob in order to recycle, it’s now up to the public to foot the bill for inadequate, allegedly-disposable coffee cups, not the moronic companies who created these pissing things. The public never manufactured the cups but now it’s our responsibility via a tax to sort the issue out. Are the companies creating this un-recyclable shite not responsible?

Although certain plastics when heated leach their BPA chemicals into the contents (which everybody seems to have forgotten or stopped caring about) people are now fine with reusing inferior plastic containers, doing the same thing they did with glass bottles but now with a substandard material. All this secret insertion of poisons into our diet seems very suspect, especially when you take into account the addition of artificial sweeteners in our soft drinks… trying to give the nation cancer perhaps? But I digress.

Back to the topic of bottles, I’d like to know which bright spark got rid of glass bottles in the first place, they were not only good for your health but they also encouraged people to reuse them. The powers that be got rid, replaced them all with inferior plastic versions, and now they tell us that these bollock-bottles should be reused, you know, like glass bottles already were.

This is just the tip of the plastic iceberg, there’s also the microbeads bullshit, you know, the daft particles that some idiot thought was a good idea to make soapy crap look like it was exfoliating or pretty? I don’t recall consumers begging the cosmetic industry for tiny frigging plastic beads to be put in their shampoos or whatever else but they added them anyway and now apparently it’s our problem that they exist. Please oh please get rid of something we never fucking wanted in the first place!

Plastic isn’t always the villain however. Sometimes plastic is the good guy. In the case of music, plastic vinyl was the preferred method of buying your favourite singles and albums back in the day. Then polycarbonate plastic and aluminium CDs came along and they claimed to be scratch-resistant and the audio was just as good as vinyl. But forget clunky discs, people wanted to carry more music with them or create compilation playlists. So ignoring the frigging Walkman and Discman (which made this possible to an extent) suddenly came digital files to save the day. Along with the compressing of audio, music was then slowly cheapened to either free streaming or the current flat-fee per album we have today. But streaming and purchasing digital music pales in comparison when it comes to quality. Unless you rip a CD using a lossless codec, music just doesn’t have the clarity it used to. So, along with music getting shittier and shittier both in terms of content and medium, we’re then told that, guess what, vinyl records sound better! So now, all the people who slowly got rid of their record collection in favour of either ripping, illegally downloading, or re-buying digitally, are going back to good ol’ vinyl. The amount of times I’ve had to buy Purple Rain feels like the industry is taking the piss. Isn’t it brilliant how consumerism keeps chugging along at the price of our frigging sanity?

The conspiracy theorist in me is reminded of Ealing’s The Man In The White Suit, that if something you own never deteriorates, you’ll never need to buy a replacement and so large companies won’t make as much cash. So whatever the reason they cooked-up to get rid of perfectly fine products, at the end of the day, it’s all to increase profit. If something breaks you’ll buy another one, so it’s in the best interest of the big companies that everything breaks (planned obsolescence) but when something won’t break or is disposable or is too cheap, we’re told that there’s a better alternative. Then we find out they were lying, basically it was all to line the pockets of rich corporate types.

I guarantee that the next product the media begins to demonise or belittle is perfectly adequate for purpose. Remember that whatever they start dissing next month or next year, in twenty-odd years they’ll be selling the same shite back to you at an inflated price. Who knows what their target will be next but whatever it is, I recommend you hold onto the fucking thing.


11 replies »

  1. You just can’t man, you just can’t

    Sorry, what I meant to say is, after reading the article, I think it truly depends on what the product is and what the intention of the solution is per individual needs and wants.

    And about the music (I like this topic you touched on), it’s true vinyl brings the best out of the music, but it’s not accessible to the general masses, henceforth Spotify comes along.

    • I think you’re missing the point. The vinyl issue was the weakest argument in this article, the majority of it was regarding replacing something superior with something inferior and conning the consumer under the guise of “money-saving”.

      When it comes to food packaging, what should be the main concern to the consumer? 1. Taste 2. Health. Glass jars and glass bottles do not affect the taste, they do not leak into the contents, and they do not erode as easily. Therefore the slightly higher cost outweighs what plastic brings (cheap, easy disposability) which helps the manufacturer rather than the consumer. Therefore from the publc’s point of view, plastic versions of containers are much worse than their glass counterparts, but if all people care about is money rather than health, then they pick the inferior over the superior.

      Although streaming and mp3 had a reasoning in their creation, they weren’t better quality than CD and vinyl either. The main point here is that most changes to products are done for profit, not to benefit the consumer i.e. GMO food, 3D cinema and TV, prescription drugs etc. Who benefits but large companies? Not us.

  2. I disagree with the vinyl record claim. Whilst better than mp3, new vinyls are worse than CDs are the are pressed from the digital source as CDs.

    • You’re right, certain vinyls and CDs are indistinguishable from each other, some CDs show a better range of bass whereas certain vinyls have better clarity in the mid-range, it all depends on the mastering process. Regardless, if you rip a CD or record a vinyl and encode it as Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, FLAC etc. it’s much better than commercially available digital tracks.

      I remember a whole section of people who, when mp3s came out, ripped their CD collection and then sold their CDs on eBay/Music Magpie (other sites are available) then better codecs came along. The point is that almost every digital version of an album that’s been released is inferior to both CD and vinyl, again done for profit rather than helping the consumer.

  3. I got another one for you: I read somewhere once that we should go back to old style alarm clocks because the LCD/LED display keeps people from getting a good nights rest.

    • The one I heard recently was concerning car keys. Because thieves can copy or clone your car fob/remote, people are now being told to use old-style steering wheel locks to prevent their car from being stolen… so basically keys were and are still better than remote fobs.

  4. Good stuff. Corporates create the “problems” they can then profit from putting right.
    Microsoft (to name just one) with IP licenses, making technology out of date, so people of course have to upgrade.
    It would be good to know which corporates are lobbying governments for each case – or are funding pressure groups to do the lobbying on their behalf.
    Company A has a service/product, but there’s not much need for it.
    Charity/pressure group B has a cause but no government is listening.
    Company A pay pressure group B funds to “help” them.
    Pressure group B lobby MPs and government.
    Policy made, who comes along to help the policy work?
    Company A…

    The man in the white suit is available to download for free from the internet archive.
    Thanks 🙂

    • Apple are the worst, their products are well made and last for a long time but their software stops supporting older devices so after several years you’re left with an attractive yet useless brick. If companies cared so much about the environment, they’d support their hardware for its lifespan. How much tech ends up in landfill because of pointless “upgrades”?

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