A Facet of Late-State Capitalist Failure: Operational Breakage

Your humble blogger has mixed feeling about using personal shaggy dog stories to illustrate potential widespread issues. Today, we’ll discuss symptoms of operational failures across various entities. I’m holding back the worst, where I spent nine hours and 35 minutes (which I taped) trying to get a big brand financial institution to do something which it had maintained could be accomplished online in 15 minutes, for a later post.

One reason for presenting these examples is they don’t quite fit into the crapification model (although readers may beg to differ). So one reason for bringing up this topic with readers is not only getting more examples of this syndrome, but also comping upCrapification is typically the result of trying to extract more profit from a product or service at the expense of quality, safety and/or durability. Examples are legion, including:

– The Boeing 737 Max fiasco

– Underinvestment in maintenance producing large-scale harm via dangerous accidents or service failure, such as fires caused by antique PG&E equipment, the massive power outage last year in Texas (and recent warnings that bad snowstorms/cold temps this winter could produce a repeat), the Pittsburg bridge collapse

– Planned obsolescence, the bane of tech users, and more and more are being sucked into having hardware and software dictate product life than is necessary or desirable for users. Peak word processing was WordPerfect circa 1994. The NeXT’s Improv (a Lotus product) ran rings around Excel. And don’t get me started on IoT. What happens when the provider of XYZ system goes out of business and your locks or heating system gets bricked? What about the inclusion of way more chip-enabled features than are necessary in everything from washing machines to cars, leading to more costly service calls and faster product death due to key components often not available after ten years? One example is the phaseout of the 3G network affecting some car models from 2010 to even as recent as 2021 models. Admittedly, the affected systems are not critical to driving the car, but their not being updated would presumably hurt resale value. Most automakers are offering upgrades but some are curiously indifferent. From CNBC:


According to Lexus, all models produced by the Toyota-owned luxury brand between 2010 and 2017 will be affected by the 3G shutdown, along with GX models from 2018. The shutdown for those cars’ connected services will come on October 31, 2022, at which point features like automatic collision notification and enhanced roadside assistance will stop working permanently.

So far, Toyota and Lexus haven’t announced any plans to offer software or hardware upgrades.

By contrast, I can still get parts for a 2003 Buick.

– Deliberately reducing product quality to force consumers into much faster replacements. How about Craftsman tools? Clothes, even high end ones now made with thinner fabrics and shoddier tailoring? Even simple devices like sponge mops now have online reviews that complain of them breaking during assembly or the first few uses, sponges falling apart, and replacement sponges not being installable due to screws not working with sponges sold as replacements.

By contrast, the sort of failings I am encountering now have the feel of institutional “I don’t give a fuck.” It’s not as if they are setting out to save time (which of course = more profit) by being indifferent. It’s just that too many organizations (or key units) don’t care about the message they send about their service quality by putting customers through unnecessary grief. If you are on the receiving end, the experience is like Sisyphus trying to push his rock to the top of the hill, or being a rat who has been trained that one push of lever produces a piece of corn finding that repeatedly pushing the lever does nothing, and there’s no other way to get the corn.

Some examples:

New York State. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has to provide a written consent before a New York corporation can be dissolved. The printed consent form describes the next steps: Send the consent form to the Secretary of State with a completed form TR-960 and a check for $60 to a Secretary of State address.

But there is no Form TR-960. And when you go to the Secretary of State website, and put in “consent to dissolution of a corporation” you get over 400 matches, and the first ten don’t have the needed form. This forces a call to the Secretary of State to get a live human to help navigate the site to locate the form.

It is also harder than it ought to be to find the corporation lookup on the New York Secretary of State site, leading one to wonder if the terrible search function and misleading instructions are actually a covert full employment program for customer service staffers.

Numerous health care providers. It is a condition of existence for any medical provider who has not opted out of the insurance regime to be able to document their charges and show diagnosis and procedure codes for each (or if getting labs or imaging from free-standing providers, just the procedure codes).

For a host of complicated reasons (like getting prices at least as good as the insurer’s best negotiated rates) I pay for most medical services and get reimbursed. I make clear I need the same sort of info they routinely provide to insurers as a condition of paying at the time of service, which they ought to be doing everything to encourage.

Mind you, this isn’t life or death. It’s just money. But our health care system is optimized for billing, not patient care. Nevertheless, the results are bimodal: either the provider prints a receipt right on the spot with the needed information, or it is a major tooth-pulling exercise to get them to deliver it. Too often, they instead deliver a “patient statement” which lacks procedure codes and adequate information about the billing individual/institution (license or provide # or EIN).

In one case, I had to march in person to the office of the MD and get his assistant to call the imaging empire to send the needed records. Even that didn’t work, but she did give me the name and phone number of the person who was supposedly handling it. It was my call to her (which was my fifth attempt to get the forms I needed) that worked.

Birmingham Water Works. The sewer and water bill for the house is still in the name of my father, who died in 2006. This might be tolerable except his and my mother’s bank was acquired and so the account number for the autopay will change and I need to update that.

If you call the number printed on the bill to change the payment method, the person who tiredly answers the phone says they haven’t provided that service since 2018 and they’ve repeatedly requested that Birmingham Water Works update its statements. If you call the number the “no longer doing it” person provides, they want my dead father’s SSN. Fortunately some of his records are still around so I can probably find it…but for payment water service? To a physical address?

Search engines. As the lawyers say, res ipsa loquitur.

Overpromising on shipments. Mind you, I buy very little and so do not order much online. But I’ve been on the receiving end of a surprisingly high number of delivery failures, such as a Midtown Manhattan vendor trying 2x to send a small package to a colleague in Washington Heights….and having the vendor insist it had arrived, when both times it was actually “out for delivery” for >two weeks. A small Fedex delivery was first falsely reported as having gotten here when it hadn’t, and it was finally delivered, ten days after the initial bogus report, and left at the curb, which is a very steep and long walk downhill from the unused front door, where it sat astonishingly untouched for three days. I have four other examples in the last seven months I will spare you.

I understand that delivery staffers are overworked and abused. That’s why I make efforts to use them sparingly. But here the fault (save for dumping the parcel which had been left for days on the truck at the curb) was not primarily that of the driver but of the company for misrepresenting the status of the shipment, when in this world of everything bar coded and scanned, that should not be possible.

Mind you I have more examples, but they would take more ‘splaining to convey.

One could treat this sort of thing as Covid related. All across the board, operations hollowed out their service staff and also had many if not all working from home, which makes it harder to assure quality (no call center supervisor able to keep her ear on a lot of conversations and sense who might be getting off the rails often enough to need more help). And they also just cut support levels, found they could get away with it, and decided to stick with the new normal because they could. But if you look at my examples above, only the delivery service one is arguably Covid-related, the rest are long-standing.

Now it could well be that these low level but seemingly widespread failures are symptomatic of a revolt, or perhaps mere withdrawal of engagement, by mid level workers. Why tell the bosses what needs to be fixed when they don’t want to hear it? Why try to make an organization better if it makes clear that it doesn’t care that much about keeping you or serving customers well? Or more fundamentally, why regard customers’ time as important if management doesn’t value your time?

Perhaps I am off base in regarding this sort of service erosion as an institutional pathology, and welcome confirmation or disagreement.

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  1. Tinky

    No, Yves, you’re not at all off base, and I would be very surprised if any readers were to disagree.

    The widespread degradation of customer service is almost impossible to ignore. More and more companies refuse to provide phone contacts, and make it increasingly difficult to escalate issues through email.

    But one issue that I find to be increasingly common, and worrying, is how companies are requiring customers to have smartphones for “security” purposes. This is particularly problematic with regard to banks, as those of us who prefer to use “dumb” phones are essentially being forced to pay a significant amount of money for an unwanted device in order to confirm transfers and/or online purchases, etc.

    1. Arizona Slim

      So glad I’m a member of a credit union that couldn’t care less whether I have a smartphone or a stupid phone.

      1. Bart Hansen

        Do you do online bill pay? If so you should set up two factor authentication. That usually requires a smart phone to receive texts with an access code.

        Unfortunately, receiving texts is not a secure way to authenticate due to the ability of hackers to engage in SIM swapping. A better way is with smart keys that plug into a USB port, or some other kind of authentication using s/w. However, if your credit union is like mine, they only support text messages.

        1. Arizona Slim

          I sure do have online bill pay. And guess what I never, ever, uh-uh, not EVER do with my phone?

          If you guessed online bill pay, you’re right! That’s a job that only do with a computer.

          1. Chris

            Yep, I agree. In fact, I don’t carry any financial info on my smart phone. My email transactions are all from my desktop.

          2. Bart Hansen

            It’s not that you might do the online bill pay on your phone (not a good idea); rather it’s how you ID yourself on your desktop or tablet.

            Instead of using only a user ID and pswd, you might look into 2FA.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Do not mislead readers by promoting 2FA. It is not secure. I would never rely on it.

              In addition, 2FA really doesn’t provide identity authentication. Instead, it authenticates devices under the assumption that the owner of a particular device will be the only individual using it, which can certainly be incorrect. In this way, 2FA is an ‘identity approximation’ system that seeks to grant access to individuals based on known devices, but hackers have become adept at subverting this system.

              The most obvious method for a hacker to crack a two-factor authentication system would be to steal a physical token or cell phone, which can be done completely virtually. SIM cloning can reroute authentication SMS messages from a target’s cell phone to a hacker’s device, as happened to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in 2019.


              A super long password. like >30 characters, is much safer. It’s effectively not crackable due to the computation power required.

          1. lordkoos

            It’s a choice with most of the companies I deal with online, and I always refuse it, as the fewer people who have my phone #, the better as far as I’m concerned.

    2. Felix_47

      Good point. I live overseas and I have to pay a US carrier cellphone fees so I have a place the banks can send text messages with the secret number. So for a few bank transactions per month I have to pay a phone bill. Outrageous……but in the past the notion of having a US bank account when one lived oversease was preposterous so part of the problem is that we have incredible convenience as the world shrinks.

    3. MT_Wild

      It’s not just companies. The IRS uses it for tax filing as well. My not does have a smart phone, and could not verify her e-file. This triggered a fraud alert, which required various written communications to sort out. Long story short, she has still not received her 2020 return. Widowed senior, living on Social Security, and the local office says they can’t help with the return.

      It finally occured to me to contact the local Senator’s office, and after helping her with the release forms, they are looking into it.

      1. Jack

        And now the IRS wants to use facial recognition software! One would have to have their face scanned and checked against a private database in order to access anything having to do with their return(s).

        1. Just an Analog Girl

          So if my taxes are prepared by an accountant and I never contact the IRS, would I still be required to provided a facial picture? This terrifies me to no end!

          1. Paul Harvey 0swald

            Not as I understand it. The facial recognition comes in to play if you want help from the IRS directly.

        2. TimH

          Yes… and ID.me are regulated by CCPA in California, so it would be interesting to ask to a data dump after becoming a (possibly forced) user of their services.

          “You have the right to request that ID.me disclose certain information about how we have handled your personal information in the prior 12 months…”

    4. GeoCrackr

      I don’t understand the example – mobile phones have been able to receive SMS messages (the way the 2FA confirmations you’re referring to are sent) since the 90s, long before “smart” phones made the scene. Do you mean you’re using a land-line instead of a mobile service? That’s the only scenario I’m aware of where SMS messages would be a problem.

      1. Tinky

        No, I can receive SMS messages, but that is, at times, insufficient. With increasing frequency, companies are requiring the use of “apps” which cannot be used on basic cellphones.

        1. Skunk

          My phone does allow apps, but I don’t want to load them. Some employers have insisted I put apps on my phone to do their work. I have refused. Eventually I discovered that you can sometimes be issued verification tokens that generate a random passcode. The code is good for one month, and then you need to press the button to generate a new one. If you’re dealing with an employer, you might ask for a token instead of loading the app.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I don’t text and reject SMS. My phone wipes them after I look at them ONCE.

        I want nothing important on my cell. I do not store contact info. All it does is retain the last 10 or so called, missed, and dialed numbers.

    5. Dick Swenson

      I would change Tinky’s phrase “increasingly difficult” to “impossible.” I don’t use Twitter, Facebook, etc. so I can’t contact many problem sources except by snail mail and even that is impossible sometimes. It seems that DO IT MY WAY OR FOGEDDA ABOUT IT is the new corporate attitude.

      1. Irrational

        I find I use my Facebook account to deal with customer service of companies that otherwise make themselves unavailable as pointed out by Tinky above.
        It does get a response usually.

  2. LAS

    Oh, this began well before covid-19. When I was in market research, around 2000 I happened to compliment the CEO of a client company on their very durable and reliable home appliances, saying how long-lived and robust the appliance purchased circa 1970 owned by one of my parents had been. The CEO paused and then said, “That’s the problem.”

    Sequel: my parent has passed away and I’ve inherited the appliance … and it still runs!!! Meanwhile the client company builds its new appliances with less durability. One might say that today there are no durable goods being made anymore and this is intentional.

    1. arch stanton

      I replaced a 1986 3 ton air conditioner last year, that had never been maintained, because the drain pan rusted away. It cooled fine. The A/C guy that replaced it said if I got 7 years out of the new one, I should consider myself lucky.

      1. Zamfir

        It’s very hard to figure out if appliances really got less durable, because of the inherent survivorship bias. After all, the short-lived aircos from the 80s are not around anymore.

        This problem is even stronger for professional maintenance people. By the nature of their job, they see young equipment mostly if it develops early faults. Even when they are fully aware of this distortion, it’s hard to dismiss the intuition you build up from daily exposure to short-lived young equipment and durable old stuff.

        Some studies tackle this by statistical assumptions – you sample the current stock or last year’s list of detected faults, then fit them some Weibull shaped fault process or something similar. This kind of study works reasonabky well for industrial equipment, people use it for home appliances as well bu I don’t know if the assumption really carry over. For home appliances (including aircos), the conclusion is usually that their expected lifetime has stayed fairly flat for the last decades, but the error bars are high.

      2. Alex Cox

        Are you by chance related to Bill Carson? Two members of the commentariat with gravestones in Sad Hill Cemetery? I must revisit The Good, the Bad and the Leone…

      3. Skunk

        Especially if it has software on it. As Yves mentioned, the IoT software is a kind of planned obsolescence. Once the software is no longer supported, you may not be able to use your appliance.

    2. coboarts

      Besides *relocalizing* *production*, holding companies accountable to product life standards (yes, many things to work out…) for what they produce and requiring that they are the point of return for end of life products will eliminate a whole lot of what we complain about every day: resource depletion, pollution, transport fuel use, trash and crapification.

      1. Keith McClary

        “holding companies accountable to product life standards”

        They will just fold the companies when the liability becomes large. Same as mining and O&G companies do with their environmental cleanup liabilities.

  3. Mikel

    “One example is the phaseout of the 3G network affecting some car models from 2010 to even as recent as 2021 models. Admittedly, the affected systems are not critical to driving the car, but their not being updated would presumably hurt resale value…”

    Road worthy cars with basic heat and air, that meet required regulations, and have little to zero (the best option) planned obsolescence that is called “software upgrades”….will be a prize in the future. A GEM!!!

    1. Carolinian

      The prob is that to meet those “required regulations” cars now have to have computer chips to manage complicated pollution controls and high mileage engine enhancements. And in terms of safety you are vastly better off in a modern car than in a ’57 Chevy. Just ask Ralph Nader.

      Plus when it comes to planned obsolescence Detroit’s golden age was the ultimate example. Back in the fifties people expected to buy a new car every three years because mechanically they would wear out much faster than the ones we have following the Japanese quality revolution.

      And finally those 3g services like Onstar were established when everyone wasn’t carrying around their own cell phone. You no longer need the car to phone the dealer or a tow service since you can do it yourself. Indeed “telematics” is an IoT feature that cars might be better off without.

      Re the above list, however, sadly true.

      1. Kris Alman

        Speaking of cars…

        Last year at this time, my husband and I were looking for a less polluting car. EV or plug-in hybrid whittled down to Tesla v RAV 4 Prime, a plug-in hybrid. The latter simply wasn’t available unless you paid upwards of $2-5K over sticker price. So we got a Tesla.

        The dependence on electronics is unbelievable. But what is universally said among Tesla owners is their recent software update sucks. It’s as if user experience didn’t matter. So many changes that drastically altered the basics of driving. My sister is ready to sell her new car.

        Never mind the potential of hacking.

    2. JohnnySacks

      Why people so eagerly purchase things they don’t need with money they don’t have is a complete mystery and disappointment to me.

      Transportation appliances being a prime example. OK, I have Corolla/Civic as a fallback, notwithstanding their base models being full of useless and complicated appointments. The unavailable manual transmission in favor of basically a belt drive go-kart automatic transmission being one particular gripe. But I pity the farmer who needs a bare bones workhorse pickup with an interior they can clean with a garden hose walking into a GMC dealer looking at those $70k creature comfort monstrosities.

      1. Carolinian

        Those CVT transmissions have given a lot of trouble and could be cited as crapification. However they too are purportedly to meet fleet mileage requirements and in any case are not an electronic doodad.

        My late model Hyundai was the last one to have six speed automatic–in fact the reason I chose it.

        1. lordkoos

          From what I hear, the newer multi-speed transmissions do not last as long as the older automatics do.

        2. Louis Fyne

          Old-fashioned 4/5-speeds generally were indestructible barring extreme maintenance negligence.

          CVTs are incredibly finicky about regular maintenance.

          If one leases-owns their car for 3-4 years, they see no difference. For the half of America who drive 9+ year old cars, CVTs can be repair time bombs if the owners (and the prior owners ) are/were not diligent with maintenance.

          any $$$ saved from better MPG will be eaten up when the CVT grenades.

        3. Copeland

          Aren’t there literally thousands upon thousands of Toyota Prius* serving as taxi cabs –equipped with CVT trannies– with 100,000 or 200,000 miles on them?

          *I owned a Prius, wouldn’t do it again, but the CVT was not an issue.

  4. Gregory Etchason

    “The 4th Turning” by Strauss and Howe relates a period of “increasing misjudgements and mistakes by those with authority”. This ultimately leads to a resolution with “new” winners and new losers.

  5. Etrigan

    We have taken to haunting the Buy It For Life forums on Reddit for information about products in any category that don’t crap out.
    State government from portals to paperwork during the pandemic have been horrific. A typo (on their end) nearly cost me all of my pandemic services in a genuine Brazil scenario. I had to contact my state senators office, and then navigate a hellscape of offices in person not weeks after being vaccinated. Then I was told I needed a more official copy of my birth certificate— to confirm the typo THeY propagated into the system “fixing” it by making it official was incorrect. It took me three months to receive it.
    The closures and delays were Covid but the operational disaster was just waiting for a pin to drop. Any ancient would recognize the signs of city-state cratering.

    1. Darius

      But it for Life is new to me. What a great idea. Any other sources of information on opting out of mass crapification would be appreciated.

    2. Amfortas the hippie

      been just like that for Poor People Stuff for a long while, now(medicaid, foodstamps, etc)
      growing up in Texas, i heard everywhere how easy it was to “get on welfare”…including Disability.(this is the Welfare Queen Mythos)
      but then i wound up actually needing those services(that i had paid the “premiums” on with every paycheck).
      Texas’ “2-1-1” everything phone line is a merrygoround of frustration and disappointment and wasted time.
      dysfunction is built in…and my suspicion is that the dysfunction is intended to discourage folks who are eligible from persisting, and giving up on the quest.
      sounds like this feature has crept up the ladder.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Nothing new there. The Workhouses of the United Kingdom in the 19th century were deliberately designed to be so cruel to the people that had to go there, that it was reckoned you would only go there if you had no other choice-


        1. JohnA

          And many of the workhouses in London have since been converted into ‘luxury’ apartment blocks with associated price tag.

  6. cocomaan

    One great example is how awful Amazon has become when it comes to finding basic items. Reviews display 5 stars but when diving into the nitty gritty, you find that there’s a lot of people saying that the item is crap. Somehow, Amazon’s reviews have become entirely gamed.

    Here’s a blog post about it:

    That said, if you go to a manufacturer’s website to look at how their products are reviewed, the reviews are almost always entirely made up as well.

    Reviews, the cornerstone of online ordering, seem to be dead. Trust is getting to be a rarer commodity than anything else.

    1. CP

      I’m reminded of the saying “as soon as a measurement becomes a metric it ceases to be useful” or something along those lines.

    2. Eduardo

      I bought some fruit bars (think fig bars or big fig newtons but multiple flavors) at Amazon as a gift for and shipped to my MIL. What arrived was a box with individually wrapped packets of sugar. OK. I didn’t want her to have to mess with sending them back or anything and I just ordered the same item again figuring it was a one off mistake.

      Nope. The second time she again got a box of individually wrapped sugar packets. Which, I figure cost quite a bit less than the item ordered.

      So, I wrote a review to warn others and get attention to the issue. Amazon rejected my review it because, they said, it was not a review of the product (since I had not received the product). But, I could leave a review of the seller. I did figure out how to do that and did so, but I can’t imagine that anyone trying to buy the fruit bars would see the review of the seller.

        1. Mel

          Back to that thread a week or so ago about rationality and the emotions, and how rationality must be used to rein in and discipline the emotions, and teach them what is real.
          Rationality has disorders of its own, and this is one of them.

      1. Copeland

        Well, I’m not a proud, whip cracking sadist, but I have bought a lot of stuff from Amazon. Out of hundreds of orders there has been one error, and it was similar to the above, the same error happened twice. Returning stuff is super easy, I’ve returned a lot and the process has always been straightforward, albeit with no humans -other than me, arguably- involved.

        I would prefer to shop someplace other than Amazon, but when they make it so darn easy…

        1. c_heale

          Well you are contributing to their ill treatment of workers. And maybe it shouldn’t be so easy to just consume. I won’t knowingly buy from Amazon.

  7. farmboy

    Starlink roll out has been a big hit in rural America. Locally, centurylink is delaying service calls for up to 6 months for voice service and leaving trunk lines with no extra insulation laying on the ground for miles. They want the consumer to respond by email when there is no service, had to go to the neighbors to report service outage-what an awful company.
    Starlink, on the other hand gives purchasers legit time lines for delivery some as far as 6 months out, now just weeks. I purchased a unit and monthly service last November, it shipped when they said it would, but was lost at a terminal in CA by Fedex. I waited for a month then filed a lost in shipment claim with both Fedex and Starlink with Starlink authorizing a replacement and a service refund within days after confirming with Fedex. New unit shipped in January, arrived in 10 days or so, but sat until last week, too foggy and snowy to install. Finally unpackaged the unit last week and found damage from shipping. Notified both Starlink and Fedex, Fedex software wouldn’t recognize my shipment or claim or anything. Starlink responded with notification of a return shipping label and a new unit and a service credit, all done by email internet site support. Impressive.
    I have 2, 40 yr old John Deere 4WD 300hp tractors. 2 years ago engine blew during spring work in one of them. Parts to overhaul were easy to find from OEM, cheaper than Deere by a couple thousand. Overhaul went smooth, tractor runs great, even chipped it to get a little more hp, cheap to do electronically. Last spring the other tractor’s main hydraulics failed, after some diagnosis it was determined it needed a new main and auxillary pump. Deere didn’t sell new pumps anymore and overhaul kits weren’t available due to the strike. I could buy the parts separately for lots more money so i started an internet search. What was most interesting is that after a week of looking and no one in the US having a new pump or an overhauled one, I did find one used pump. I finally found an OEM new one in Florida from a company that exports to Eastern Europe and a used one that had 200 hrs on it in Alberta Canada, I bought them both and will keep the spare. Amazing to me how fast all this became hard to find in a short amount of time and how having to keep searching paid off.

    1. Jason Boxman

      Interesting; I’ve seen Starlink signs along the road out there. We have AT&T and Spectrum.

    2. JohnnySacks

      The Eastern Europe hackers is where all our solutions will eventually come from. I’d pay them handily for ECU firmware to disable the crap warnings in my 13 year old car’s dashboard.
      Tire pressure system fail? I’ll check the tire pressure as required.
      ABS malfunction? Well, as long as the left pedal stops the car, like it’s done for the last 90 years, I’m good. SRS? Seat belts are there for a reason.

      Please Czechs! A proxy device that sends code clear resets to the ECU every minute while reporting all’s well to the RMV’s system would be priceless

  8. Louis Fyne

    while I am 100% pro-reducing hydrocarbon usage….electric cars are a Trojan Horse for rentier capitalism and crapification.

    Given the current state of right-to-repair laws, It is infinitely easier to make electric powertrains a closed, locked ecosystem than a traditional car, see Tesla and post-warranty repairs.

    Now if one currently only leases cars or keeps new cars less than 4 years, an electric future is no big deal.

    If one exclusively drives cars that are older than the national average (9ish years), then an electric car future means that they will be at the mercy of parts availability, and particularly battery replacement costs.

    Car makers could be proactive by designing electric cars to be “open” and easy to maintain, but they have zero incentive to do so. (Toyota hybrids are relatively easy, Teslas not really)

    1. Mike

      What you are saying is something I’ve thought a lot about over the past year or so. It seems a bare bones electric car would be much easier to maintain then a ICE car. I could imagine a future in which cars a “refurbished” new battery packs, motor rebuild, new bushings/control arms and off you go. Of course batteries are expense but they are modular in a sense with all the cells, replace as you need to. Unfortunately my sense of realism eventually hits me, to the tune of what you said above. Everything battery wise will be in a closed system protected by proprietary and hard to source sensors and software. So much potential will be wasted.

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        “…bare bones electric car would be much easier to maintain then a ICE car…”

        whatever my next vehicle is, i want to be able to opt out of as many bells and whistles as possible(removing the ding ding box(keys in, door open, lights on warning) has been the fisrt dern thing i’ve done when i’ve got a new(tome) vehicle).

        if there were an electric truck that would do what i need it to do(haul manure, etc)…but with a poor farmer price and without the extras…i’d happily consider it.
        but they’ll go balls to the wall with the gizmos and chip stuff .
        i’d rather drive a donkey than drive a vehicle that talks back to me, fails utterly because the chip that runs the rear wiper is out, or can be bricked from space.

        and…whenever there’s talk about EV, i think of my golf cart.
        2001 ez go, with a lift kit and knobby flatproof tires, tricked out with tools like a swiss army knife.
        so long as i maintain the battries and keep a charge, it’ll take me and my tools all over this little valley(1 1/2 mile radius, or so.)

        even with the mysterious black box they put in them(instead of the old fashioned coil), they’re pretty reliable and rather simple to work on.
        why can’t they do similarly with a little truck?
        (answer, because they don’t want to,lol)

        1. Louis Fyne

          Don’t get a first generation electric truck for farm work. no way. unless you sell a new truck after 3-5 years, the long-run maintenance costs will eat you alive.

          Better off getting a Toyota hybrid truck if you want an electrified optiom

  9. LowellHighlander

    Though I cannot recall the exact writing of his, I am certain that Professor John Kenneth Galbraith wrote about, and I believe explained, planned obsolescence as an inveterate feature of capitalism. (Can someone remember the exact source? It’s been decades since I’ve read it.)

    I say this not to chastise anyone for failing to remember this. Rather, I’m trying to point out why the teaching of Institutionalist Economics is so vital for understanding what’s happening in our economy – and why it’s been drummed out of the vast majority of economics programs at colleges and universities in the U.S. [One current practitioner is Dean Baker, so we would all do well to follow his writings.]

    1. The Historian

      Vance Packard wrote a popular book, “The Waste Makers” back in the late 50’s on planned obsolescence. I remember doing a book report on it for a high school English class in the 60’s. It was an eye opener for me.

      We can’t say we weren’t warned, but sadly Cassandras cannot overcome the power of propaganda.

      1. Steve H.

        Due to too many notes to be functional, I use the Dewey Decimal System to organize them. ‘Crapification’ has been a bit tricky. I use

        658.5/6 Product obsolescence.

        but this does not quite get crapification. Planned obsolescence takes planning. Crapification is something different. It often involves add-ons that fail. Janet took the car in Monday, and asked them to help fine-tune the autolock, which seemed to perform randomly, except when my hands were full, when I began to attribute malice to the robot. The technician couldn’t figure out how to access the features, with the manual in-hand. We just shut the auto-function off completely. Solved.

        The etymology of ‘crapification’ is obvious, but online definitions have been poor. Ngrams doesn’t help figure out who originally coined the term, just that it existed by 1996.

        There is a larger issue: that they ‘don’t care about the message they send’ is concerning for me. When the President said “Look, there is no federal solution; this gets solved at a state level”, he made explicit that They don’t care. They used to at least make a show of caring. That they don’t care that we know that they don’t care feels like an endgame, and I don’t know what I’m missing. Ex-Deus_ex_reditus or space aliens, all I get is accelerated global warming (I don’t believe Elysium is technically feasible yet).

        Perhaps the zeitgeist is like Sixth Generation Warfare, based on sins of omission rather than commission. With just a spritz of being a tax-on-time.

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          do you mean by “autolock” that the vehicle locks itself?
          my wife’s car does that…at random.
          so i keep the spare in my wallet.
          and when i take that vehicle, i leave the windows down(small town, not really worried about theft)
          i’ve tried to rummage around in the “user interface”, which i reckon a method of conveyance should never ever have…but could only find a menu for autolock that had choices of how fast to lock it all up.
          not to turn the “feature” off.
          for an hundred years or so usamurkins handled manually locking their cars pretty well, overall.
          yes, even i have suffered the indignity of locking my keys in the car…and yes, the indignity of having my car stolen(keys were in my boot)…but this sure looks like a solution searching for a problem.
          if i could remove that part of the computer brain, i would.
          i’ve had to drop what i was doing and run to town to save my wife from the dern computer far too many times.
          (and, i suppose, like how nobody can remember phone numbers any more, it seems wife hasn’t been trained by these lockouts to keep her keys in hand when exiting the vehicle,lol)

          1. Steve H.

            > and when i take that vehicle, i leave the windows down

            I tried that. Blursed thing threw a tantrum, screaming and blinking when I touched something through the window.

  10. Tom Pfotzer

    I am delighted to hear of the “buy it for life” theme getting some traction.

    It’s important to note that a company that makes a product that lasts forever has a big problem: few repeat sales. So, that company has to win market share away from the other companies who are selling planned obsolescence products.

    The last-forever company can also make its money by selling repair-components. If your repair components are available from other vendors, that becomes problematic. Those other component manufacturers might be more efficient/cheaper, so that limits the profitability.

    So the make for life subject is a problem for the manufacturer.

    Is there another way to build buy-for-life products that doesn’t ruin the manufacturer that selects that strategy?

    Open-sourced hardware offers some clues. Open-source hardware is like open-source software, only you’re collaboratively building a hardware design instead of a piece of software.

    Suppose someone makes a design for a toaster. The design includes the metal cutting and forming bits – those are CAD/CAM instructions that many general-purpose fabrication machines can use to create the parts. Then there’s a bill-of-materials for off-the-shelf components like screws, bolts, timers, heating elements, and so forth. These are things that can be ordered, in bulk, from third-party manufacturers.

    If a small company wanted to get into the toaster-for-life biz, they’d download the manufacturing files, order the components, set up an assembly facility, and start making toasters. They might sell those toasters on the internet, or at the “farm” market (actually, the “locally produced” shared-retail point. (Note the evolution of farm-market into “shared retail point”).

    Of course there are many issues with this approach, and those issues will get worked out. The cost of distributed,. general-purpose manufacturing, embodied by regional manufacturing facilities which operate a battery of CAD/CAM machines to cut, form/bend/weld components from basic shapes (sheet metal, block of steel or aluminum or plastic) and also those which “print” plastic components via 3D printing…the economics and versatility of those machines coupled with the low-cost and general availability of desktop, free, CAD software is evolving fast enough and is converging well enough to make small-quantity, distributed manufacturing economical and quite possible.

    It may not be that “volume dictates” anymore. It might be that the advantages of scale are being whittled away because of the disadvantages of scale and the relentless drive for rent-seeking that characterizes much of mass production today. Those disadvantages are the meat of this discussion-thread.

    We’re seeing the problems with quality, product longevity, customer service, and pushing the job of problem-resolution onto the customer

    I’ll throw in the elephant-problem here: the relentless factoring-out of labor from the production process.

    Labor can factor itself right back into the production equation. Make your own factory.

    1. Even keel

      I mean, this sounds awesome. I’d like to do this myself or support someone who can. Let’s get a small factory going and build some for life toasters. By having a flexible capital plant we will be able to switch product lines once each market is saturated.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Even Keel:

        Great moniker. That’s the attitude that’ll get us thru this mess.

        I hope you stay engaged on this subject. That notion of “having a flexible capital plant we will be able to switch product lines once each market is saturated”… suggests that you’re someone with the perspective/experience to make these sort of ideas work.

        I often have to repair appliances. Because I’m .. uh, maybe crazy…I’ll spend $300 worth of time to replace a $35 part to save a $600 appliance. I go to places like repairclinic.com to find parts.

        I occasionally see “this part isn’t made anymore, and there’s no replacement”.

        What if there was a website like “makeMeThisPart.com” wherein the prospective purchaser announces:

        a. I need this part. Here’s a photo, here’s the mfg part number it goes into, here’s what I’m willing to pay to get it, lemme know if you can make me one

        b. Little Kid, or 20-something in the basement with a 3D printer, or even an advanced mfg’g company … notices (or even searches for) that part is “out of stock”…evaluates the potential market, does the engineering, makes the CAD files, orders the mfg’g to make the part, puts it into the MakeMeThisPart.com inventory, by mfg’g part number or mfg’rs sub-assy number, which would show up in search engines.

        The potential customer, like me, for ex., who needs the part, searches on the part or model number the part goes into, and … somehow… finds that part listed on MakeMeThisPart.com. Customer buys it.

        So far, so good. Now, somebody comes along, takes this to the next level. Designs a forever toaster, drill, chain saw, washing machine, HVAC compressor and matched evaporator coil (the guts of your household air conditioner). IDs the sub-assys that are too complex for household mfg’g, orders some from worldwide supply chain.

        Opens up an assembly center adjacent to a warehouse (or a garage or barn, just somewhere to put some racks to store parts), and a few miles away from one of those we-can-build-anything-you-have-a-CAD-file for. Let’s give that “facility” a name: LocalFab. LocalFab stocks std metal parts, like sheet-metal, billets (solid chunks-o-metal) and structural shapes like angle-iron, round bar, I-beams, etc. Got the stock, got the machines, all the LocalFab needs is your CAD file, and yer money.

        Once a week, LocalAssyAndMarket (that’s you or me, working out of our barn/basement/garage) put in an order for some components/parts to be cut/bent/fabricated by LocalFab. LocalAssyAndMarket orders the parts, does the assembly, and markets the product on the Internet, or for oft-needed “consumer” items, retails it at the local SharedRetailPoint (aka today’s “farmers market”).

        Start with components, evolve into full assys like toasters, and before you know it, we have actual products, made by you N me, that meet our needs, keep us fed, and provide a market for our (increasingly) poorly-rewarded labor.

        Think about that, all you Even Keelers: you don’t have to accept what’s grudgingly spooned out to you by the 1%. You can gradually evolve yourselves into people that can – legitimately – provide for themselves.

        If you want to be truly exceptional, well, you can design a product that enables the householder / farmstead owner / small business to make a living as they repair the planet. Makes the Automatic Composter. The Basement SaladGreens Machine. The SolarHeatCollector that obviates the need to buy propane/nat gas to heat your house.

        Drumlin Woodchuckles, Amfortas and others with adjacent values and hopes…could you imagine or even design us a product… a system .. a mfg’g process that makes something we need and concurrently fixes the planet?

        What if all those Kids could make it for you, if only you’d articulate what’s needed?

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          this is awesome,lol.
          i’ve been attempting to get my boys(16&20) into/innerested iin my shop.
          youngest had a homework project for shop class…pretty much free choice.
          him and his “shop partner” took my advice, and we spent a day blacksmithing a rod of steel that i liberated from some ancient tangled farm implement into two knives.
          i made the handles, and pointed and waved my arms and described iron atom matrices and where the carbon atom goes when they heat and beat…but they did the work.
          A+, of course.
          eldest, currently doing clearing work(chainsaws and skidsteers) moving into the metal building part of the bidness..so i’ve been talking him up on practicing his welding with the million small jobs i have lined up(attaching hoe blades to a bit of 1/2″ pipe, etc)
          they’re both interested…and, in time, i’m certain i could steer them towards the sort of thing you’re talking about.
          especially as things out there continue to deteriorate.
          micromanufacturing for local markets.
          that’s what after empire will look like, in my most optimistic projections.
          i merely tinker with all that stuff…i’ma grower and thinker at root.
          but i’ve collected as much Means of Production as possible…and will continue to do so.

  11. mal fiore

    Now it could well be that these low level but seemingly widespread failures are symptomatic of a revolt, or perhaps mere withdrawal of engagement, by mid level workers. Why tell the bosses what needs to be fixed when they don’t want to hear it? Why try to make an organization better if it makes clear that it doesn’t care that much about keeping you or serving customers well? Or more fundamentally, why regard customers’ time as important if management doesn’t value your time?

    Another suggestion: the decades of corporate ‘optimizing’ and pivoting (or looting and shifting the responsibility to the next sucker after climbing the ladder) have caught up with enough of the organizations that are still intact, and even if there are means to resolve a problem on an individual basis, there is no longer enough cohesive organizational means to resolve problems at any level above that.

    Yesterday Links featured a piece about IBM’s Watson health division being sold off. I happened to work for IBM during the Watson/Cloud push – they acquired my startup and I was given a ridiculous salary and bonus to stay with them through the transfer of business. It was a terrible experience, and for years I thought that it was just due to IBM’s entire culture and previous legacy issues. However after some years past this now, I have realized that most of the problems that made IBM a nightmare as an employee are now visible in so many other large organizations, specifically:

    – problems can only be resolved on a 1:1 basis because the organization is broken up into feudal-type verticals
    – vertical managers only have power over their vertical and limited power to effect managers above them, who in turn control their own verticals
    – upper level managers are constantly jockeying for control or power, which leads to regular vertical reorganizations so nobody knows who is in charge to resolve a problem bigger than a person can deal with
    – this leads to either too-huge or too-small teams of people working on projects/customers as problems move up the chains when they become too big for 1:1 resolution and lower managers either quit or have to be removed/moved because they failed to resolve a problem below them

    Most of the problems that became critical during my time at IBM were customer issues (“We paid a lot of money for this thing that doesn’t work, and we want to talk to someone about resolving this”) that couldn’t be resolved on a 1:1 level (“Unfortunately as a technical person I can’t help you with a billing dispute, and we both know after two years this isn’t technically meeting your business requirements, so I can put you in touch with your sales rep to discuss your contract”) and as they moved up the chain they couldn’t be resolved either (“Unfortunately as a manager who wasn’t involved in the original contract negotiation I wouldn’t be able to help there, but I can put you in touch with the legal team…”).

    I now assume this is happening pretty much everywhere with an organization larger than ~120 people or so. The more layers of people there are between ‘where the work is done’ and ‘where the work is planned’ probably dictate how bad this will get at any organization of any kind.

    1. Jason Boxman

      Interesting — my experience with Mastercard is everyone there has the title of “Director”, which I found puzzling. And everyone had an urgent opinion.

      My experience trying to get service from AT&T was, interesting. As a prospective customer, I somehow failed them. But this seems to track with your example at IBM. I tried to get service from AT&T, and was forced to play the credit report game and verify questions. The questions had nothing to do with me, so I failed. (For fun, I had both my parents try as well; the questions were also not from their credit reports, and they failed.)

      I spoke to multiple people on the phone, but no one could verify my identity. Someone suggested I drive to an AT&T store, so I did, and there all that could be done is again someone called AT&T credit services and asked me questions that were pulled from someone else’s credit report. (I’ve done this frequently, and three times for AT&T during the ordeal, so these were definitely not questions from my credit report.) They refused my valid photo ID and passport as proof of identity.

      AT&T claims this is because of the fraud alert on my credit report, and no joke that I had to call the credit bureaus and speak with them. No one at AT&T knew what I was supposed to say or cared to offer any thoughts on the matter, just that I needed to talk to the credit bureau. My protestation that the credit bureaus won’t care why AT&T told me to call was met with confused silence. (In 7 years no other company failed to tolerate a 7 year credit alert on my credit file and let me verify myself somehow.)

      In the end, AT&T rejected me as a customer and I went elsewhere. It was the most needlessly frustrating, incompetent, and pointless corporate experience I’ve had recently. And it was clear that no one was empowered to do any more than what precisely was on his or her script. Everyone was entirely incurious about the situation, and had no interest other than handing me off to someone somewhere else in the company.

      As an AT&T shareholder, I emailed shareholder services via their investor relations. A year later, I have yet to hear back. I guess you need a controlling interest for anyone at AT&T to care about you as a shareholder, too.

      (AT&T was a bad buy about 25 years ago; I’m still down about 80% on that investment. LOL.)

      1. mal fiore

        Yes, there was title-inflation and an excess of urgent opinions at IBM as well. I think this ‘everyone has a problem and only some of them are fixable by me’ is a big factor in why problems don’t get addressed – it really does depend more on who you know and their abilities relative to your problem, rather than the organization itself.

    2. Kris Alman

      Had friends over for dinner this weekend. One of the friends is a VP of a small niche EHR company that is headed for acquisition. The issue of employee productivity in virtual settings came up. The conclusion I heard was that employees’ productivity is way down and that “protected class” hires are taking advantage of this. Thoughts?

  12. unhappyCakeEater

    i am reminded of a piece that spoke to my heart at the time: Hail the Maintainers https://aeon.co/essays/innovation-is-overvalued-maintenance-often-matters-more

    Freakonomics did a bit on it back when they were still interesting, but it stands fine on its own.
    regarding operational breakage vs. simple crapification, maintenance is too costly, both in dollars and thought. Why build durable things when new is profitable? why keep systems of service working when customers successfully navigating them requires humans with operational knowledge and skill (and thus higher wages, presumably)?

    better to employ the model email spammers use. Send a billion emails in the hopes that the 1% of recipients who fall for it carry the business. or sell a billion shitty products and abandon them to neglect afterward, immediately pivoting to producing the next shiny thing.

  13. Gregorio

    A few years ago we did a kitchen remodel on a custom home we had built 15 years before, the owners had bought a $12000 kitchen range when the house was new, and over those 15 years, the electronic control unit had to be replaced 5 times, the last time it was replaced, the service guy told them that there were no more of the units available and that if it failed again, there would be no way to repair it. It was an absolutely beautiful appliance, and it broke my heart when we hauled it away to the landfill. In our home we have a beautiful 1942 O’Keefe & Merritt stove that we just had a complete service on for the first time in it’s life, and I expect it to easily keep working for at least another 80 years.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      That part that couldn’t be sourced could easily have been hacked by a 15 year old with an Arduino and some relays.

      “Arduino” is a thumbnail-sized chip mounted on a baseball-card sized board. Costs $8.

      A relay is an an electrical device that can turn on and off large electrical loads via tiny little voltage input. The relays might cost between $5 and $20 each.

      That “tiny little input” is provided by the Arduino and a bit of software running on that chip. The software can, and regularly is, written and maintained by young kids 10 years and older.

      There exists a cadre of young people, rapidly-increasing in numbers and competency, that can make these parts. Even one-offs. This part you mentioned is a general-purpose little robot; not a hard problem for these young folk to tackle.

      This is what the “Makers” are doing…no doubt you’ve heard of them. The Makers are building these skills and capacities, and propagating that talent and interest across a big swath of young folk.

      Can you imagine the waste that would be prevented, and the opportunities that would be provided…if we’d just make use of the resources we have?

    2. expr

      some friends and I build a “vacation” house in NH around 1980
      we got someone’s about to be replaced, washing machine, gas dryer and gas stove. We had to pay a plumber to change the jets in the dryer to propane.
      All have been working well since (I think we replaced a solenoid valve on the washer a while ago.)
      Unfortunately, we had to replace the stove a couple of years ago because the insurance company wanted electric ignition rather than pilot lights.
      That is a problem with “forever” appliances. Eventually they make them illegal/

    3. Amfortas the hippie

      aye. my mom has her mom’s wedding present circa 1939 Chambers stove/oven.
      little gas nipples got changed from butane to propane sometime in the 80’s.
      little pilot light gas tubes got clogged in the late 90’s…so i took 3 cent bubble gum, chewed the sugar out of it, and plugged them.(latex…ya can plug a radiator on yer car with that stuff…or at least could back then)
      lit it with a match ever since.
      when mom moved up here, this thing(which weighs a ton) got half taken apart and cleaned real good.
      still works like a dream, at going on 82.
      got a decent cordless drill…but it hasn’t the smash to drill holes in a telephone pole for the 3/4″ gate hangers/hinges….so great grandad’s 1920’s brace and bit does the trick.

      i could go on and on with similar stories.
      this is why we hang on to old things.

  14. Samuel Conner

    I quit PayPal when it proved nearly impossible to correct a bank refusal of a small charge — this resulted in an auto-detachment of the bank account from my PayPal account, and there was no way to re-attach it to make payment (and credit card payment did not work, either — perhaps because of the merchant fees; don’t recall now. I didn’t have a debit-enabled account and wasn’t going to accept that risk to make this small payment). The online ‘help’ function led to a person reading from a script who refused to accept the ‘Catch-22’ character of what I was encountering as I attempted to navigate the PayPal site to correct the problem. I think I described it at least 3 separate times, in detail, and each time I was given the same useless answer.

    I eventually got huffy with the hapless script-reader and the ticket was escalated to a higher level person. But by then I was done with PayPal.

    Don’t recall the details now, but it was annoying enough to motivate me to close the account and promise myself to never deal with them again, world without end. I hope the higher-up learned something from the experience.

  15. Watt4Bob

    By contrast, the sort of failings I am encountering now have the feel of institutional “I don’t give a fuck.” It’s not as if they are setting out to save time (which of course = more profit) by being indifferent. It’s just that too many organizations (or key units) don’t care about the message they send about their service quality by putting customers through unnecessary grief.

    Ok, so this happened yesterday.

    I’m purchasing new phone service for our group, and have signed the agreement, which all along has included a 30 day opt-out.

    The first check is to be ~$14K to cover “set-up”.

    At the “Kick-Off” meeting yesterday, I learned our “New” phone vendor expects me to program our phones on their system.

    The back-end programming of their system is the core job entailed in the “Set-Up” we are paying $14K for, and has been done by vendor employees on every one of the 5 phone migration projects I have been responsible for over the last 25 years, and has for the most part gone off without much of a hitch, the new vendor sends out a few people to each of our locations to make sure all the phones get rebooted and connected to the new system, and after a couple hours of low-level chaos, everything is working as promised.

    Now I am told, the whole thing is to be programed by me, and the new vendor, one of the top three in the nation will have no boots on the ground on cut-over day, we’ll have to make sure all the phones get situated on the new system by ourselves with “Phone support”.

    I stopped the Kick-Off meeting and asked the Project Manager “I have a 30 day opt-out, right?”

    He answered “Yes”.

    I called an end to the discussion.

    I’ve told our Accounts Payable clerk not to cut the check for “Set-Up”, and asked our lawyer to call me.

    I have a message for this vendor;

    “Rehire the folks you used to pay to program your services, they did a good job that created the reputation you are now flushing down the toilet. You cannot rely on customers to do a good enough job programming a system that is new to them, and doing so guarantees chaos on day one.”

    I refuse to drag our organization through the mess that is inevitable If we are compelled to accept this proposition, and I refuse to accept sole responsibility for that mess.

    And don’t even begin to tell me “You signed the contract…” this sort of behavior is the stuff of capitalistic apocalypse.

    This is a step farther down the road to the bottom since our last migration, 4 years ago, which was due to our account rep at the previous vendor telling me that they would not consider re-upping our agreement, which I found out later to be a lie, as he was leaving the company, and hoped to take us along with him to his new employer.

    It turned out our previous vendor would have happily re-upped our services.

    We lost a fine relationship due to a scum-bag account rep’s crude maleficence.

    It seems now days that finding people/organizations with any sort of moral/ethical compass is purely accidental.

    1. JBird4049

      >>>It seems now days that finding people/organizations with any sort of moral/ethical compass is purely accidental.

      If you have such a moral compass, it is likely to be taken advantaged in a company’s efforts to use, abuse, and discard you; some of the customers are the same, which makes lying, obfuscation, and general a– covering a necessity be it at the personal or company level.

    2. Questa Nota

      IDGAF is the logical consequence of decades of abuse. Whether one starts with the Powell Memo, the PATCO strike or some other date, the result is the same.

      When people matter less, they often react. Can’t keep that hidden for too long so need to design the next shiny object or dehumanizing feature, because progress.

  16. Charlie Sheldon

    Not sure this falls into your Crapification wheelhouse but 20 years ago when I worked for a wesy coast port (public agency) all documents were stored in boxes in a secure building, a company that did this. Acres of stacked boxes, in climate controlled air, hard to sort through but secure. This agency then spent 3 or 5 million on a software system, Hummingbird it was called, which promised a way to digitize and store everything which could then be retrieved by “key words” and eventusally allow us to bag the costs of paper storage. This was a disaster, because in order for it to work you needed a great filing system, and the only people who could do that were the largely female staff assistants not the managers and they were never listened to. Hummingbird failed, or got bought out, and then we shifted to Sharepoint, an even bigger software system promising effortless document storage and retrieval. I worked on this for a few months and learned that a) only the staff assistants knew how to handle computers b) the managers and leaders had no clue how to do ANYTHING with computers and so refused to learn anything new. Now it is 12 years since I worked on the Sharepoint thing and it is still being used, and I bet like many other places everything is now in digital storage, not proper storage, and of course each digital system is upgraded every 18 months and then you need new servers and finally you have systems which cannot read older systems….the old paper box storage systems use PAPER which lasts 1000 years. We have switched everything to digital storage which can fail with a power failure, needs CONSTANT upgrading and change, and which nobody knows how to use anyway.

    It used to be you’d spend 100 dollars (a lot at that time) to buy a typewriter which lasted decades and only needed fresh ribbons now and then. Now you have to spend $ 1,000 to $ 4,000 for a computer to use as a typewriter and if it lasts more than four years you are damn lucky, because by then the systems are three generations old and your memory is insufficient. What an absolutely brilliant marketing scheme.

    1. Charlie Sheldon

      Oh and my wife tells me I am showing what a dinosaur I am with this note because nothing is digitized any more, everything is in the “cloud” which is powered by server farms consuming as much power as a small country, Actually this further proves my point, I think. Yet another new technology stepping on top of an existing one.

      What has been lost is that millions upon millions of people in this country, mostly older, basically know nothing about computers and apps and online systems, but will never admit it, and then when a government sets up a web page or online registration system thinking everyone can immediately order free covid testing (for example) what they miss is that at least half their target audience is clueless. This is further complicated by the web portals that have been developed which are impossible to understand and that force you to search for hours to find a phone number (if they have one at all).

    2. Michaelmas

      Now you have to spend $ 1,000 to $ 4,000 for a computer to use as a typewriter

      You really don’t. Refurbished laptops for $180-500 will do everything most people need. I travel and I’ve at least a half-dozen of them scattered around two continents, a couple of them w. 500-800 gigs of SSD. It’s a lot easier when you don’t have to worry if they get screwed up/lost going through airports and customs, or whatever.

      1. Watt4Bob

        We should be teaching high school kids basic computer repair instead of coding, ie, how refurb those cheap cast off computers so friends and family can always have something that works.

        It’s so foolish to give up on a machine because you don’t know how to clone your drive to a new SSD.

        It’s foolish to loose

        My siblings got tired of my lectures about how to avoid virus infections, spyware and all the sludge they were picking up because they insisted on the freedom to click on any shiny link, so they quit calling me for help and just buy new laptops when they f***-up the current one.

        As far as that goes, they are acting just like ‘Management”.

        The hardest people to explain computer hygiene to are corporate manager types.

    3. Amfortas the hippie

      erasing history is easier that way, as well.
      some esoteric software glitch, and poof.
      in olden times, one had to go forth and physically burn the courthouse, warehouse, or basement, or whatever, where the physical paper, deeds and such was stored.
      (this happened no fewer than 3 times in this county’s history)

      in fact, all records of my initial after-wreck surgeries at hermann hospital circa 1990 were lost when the basement(in houston!…a basement?) flooded…so no opportunity to prove the hip surgeon half-assed it.

      this happens, and even if whatever fire, flood or invasion of paper eating mice is accidental, it can be convenient.

    4. c_heale

      Most modern paper is acidic and won’t last even 100 years. Parchment will last over 1000 years.

  17. Susan the other

    I gave up long ago with computerized customer service and minimized my exposure to the hassle. (Like telling people I don’t have a computer and fibbing that my vision is so bad I have to do everything over the phone.) But recently I have been pleasantly surprised by how much easier it is now than it used to be to get a competent person responding. I actually think I’m no longer a sociopath. So I’m once again behaving like a polite person. I have learned one thing and that is everyone is trying to minimize their own exposure to hassle – including the people who are there to solve problems. If they keep ducking the issue, the only thing that works is persistence. And an occasional truly foul-mouthed outburst. Curious how that will usually work when nothing else has.

  18. Mikerw0

    I had to deal with a major asset manager post my father’s death. They even have a department to del with the issue. I quickly learned, after two years of filling in forms and numerous calls with them that it was really set up so you can’t get those assets back The challenge became that because he died in Russia, and the documentation comes from the State Department but is not a formal U.S. death certificate, I magically didn’t have the required paperwork.

    I even offered to have him exhumed and to send them a finger, but their well honed processes made sure I couldn’t revere the money.

    Note: the same was true with some orphaned mutual funds from my grandfather with a mid-sized asset manager. Their nonsense was getting paperwork in order — I even got the burial certificates — which was impossible as he immigrated from Russia as a child and much paperwork never existed.

  19. Trisha

    “Planned obsolescence” is now being applied not only to products and services, but to humans, at least in the U.S., and primarily to the poor and elderly. Witness the lack of free universal healthcare, PPE, testing, planning, and hospital services in the face of a totally predictable pandemic. Not speak of the devastating consequences of a variety of deadly pollutants generally disgorged in poorer communities.

  20. PKMKII

    One of the side effects that always seems to accompany these “streamlining” programs designed to increase efficiency of systems is that they reduce the ability of the customer service reps and people processing the forms/paperwork/requests/etc. to manipulate said systems. Which often does increase efficiency when things are working “as intended.” The problem is that the moment something goes awry, something needs to be dealt with in a way the programmers who designed the streamline didn’t account for, suddenly the people who used to have the access necessary to adjust for such situations find that the “improved” system doesn’t give them the ability to do that. So instead the problem is escalated, and then escalated some more, bouncing around random reps and technicians until it, perchance, lands on someone with both the institutional knowledge and the access to make the relatively simple fix. We have a system that prioritizes marginal efficiencies in the best-case scenario at the cost of massive inefficiencies in anything less than best-case.

  21. JL

    Capital has been as it is for a long time to though of course not to the same structural degree: https://boingboing.net/2016/07/15/for-90-years-lightbulbs-were.html. ‘Socket saturation’ in the 1920’s. As for LED’s, perhaps they can last 20+ yrs, but my really existing ones dim to a level of illuminance minimalism in just a handful. No doubt they are much lower electricity users than incandescent, but given the evidently higher material inputs in each LED unit I do wonder but do not know if the life cycle benefits pan out if their life cycle is as short as many of mine appear to be

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      idk…in my experience, the light bulb innovation has been one of the few …ahem…bright lights in recent memory.
      we are still using the very first non-incandescent light bulb we ever purchased, some 20 years ago(one of those coily compact florescents that resemble a pig’s tail)
      some of the more recently acquired LED’s have bit the dust after 8-10 years, but literally all of those are outside…and either blue or green…and exposed to the elements(8 out of 10 of our outside lights are colored, which helps the fireflies, i’m told…as well as not damaging my night vision when i go aroamin’)
      of course, none of these light bulbs is “smart”…and never will be, if i have any say.

      another thing: these new fangled bulbs don’t generate heat like the old fashioned ones did, so they are pretty much useless for baby chicks…and since the regular incandescents are no longer available out this way, we’re stuck with the high watt heat lamps, which must be mounted higher in the chick enclosure, and are more of a fire hazard….so in the chick room, i’ve taken to using the leds for light, and a milk room heater next to the enclosure…these latter have numerous safety features, but are only slightly less worrisome than the highwatt heat bulbs.
      chicks don’t seem to notice….but i must attempt to time the hatching for non-winter.

  22. TBellT

    Re: NY State

    Had similar problem in my old job (before Covid). There is annual set of documents a certain NY department commissions a contractor to publish, summarizing payments they made for services and payment rates for the following year. They really should have been available online given their importance and the sums involved, but they weren’t. You would have to make a Freedom of Information request so they could send it to you on CD.

    Our company wanted them in case any potential client project required the information. The year before I left I was asked to make the request and told “it can take a while”. There were 3 “requests for more time” over that time, and I still hadn’t received anything when I finally left the company. I suppose it could be desire to avoid scrutiny, bureaucratic provincialism or just outright incompetence, but I can’t tell you which of the three it was.

    It was also something that seemed particular to NY, because for other states we didn’t have anywhere near the trouble getting similar data.

  23. Boshko

    A few examples:

    iPhone 5: hardly a stone-age device, but I’m constantly made to feel like it is one. This sort of feels like the 5G launch being forced upon consumers, as in it works perfectly well, is better sized, offers inexpensive replacement parts etc etc. YET, I can’t tell you how many apps stop functioning because I refuse to update the OS to even better surveillance capitalist levels. There’s a lifespan, by design, on software and hardware that is much shorter than its actual physical health.

    2012 macbook: exact same story as above. certain surveillance capitalist software, e.g. Skype after its MS acquisition, are now obsolete on the outdated OS. Software and hardware continue to operate great, and again offer cheap replacement parts when needed (many repairs which I can do myself), but too much software is by design obsolete to force an upgrade on consumers.

    Boxer/brief waistbands: this is about as basic a consumer good as it gets, but the elastic waistbands on boxer/briefs has deteriorated over time to the point that the garment is useless. This is in the last 10 years I’d guess. I have older garments from 10+ years ago whose waistbands are perfectly intact, actually have tension, etc. And this is across all brands I have tried. At some point it seems the rubber/elastic was cheapened and all downstream producers got to get a little more margin, and sell 2x as many goods since they break down so fast.

    1. lordkoos

      We replaced our iphone 5s with two 6s models, they work well. We use laptops to surf the web, not phones, which is our way of dealing with the survelliance issues. I don’t enjoy having my online experience narrowed down to a six-inch field of attention.

      With windoze machines you can find repositories of old software like this site: http://www.oldversion.com/ which is a great resource.

      Some macintosh stuff is here: http://www.oldversion.com/mac/
      There are other sites that archive this stuff as well, you can do a serach for them.

  24. lordkoos

    Plumbing supplies — I’ve had to replace faucets in our house a few times in the last ten years, the new stuff doesn’t seem to last more than a few years before leaking, or you find that after several years replacement parts are no longer available. The house is 108 years old and the faucets for the basement sink are original equipment and still work great, as do the 1960s era faucets upstairs.

    The USA is reminding me of a so-called third-world country, which were often used as dumping grounds for cheap crap that doesn’t work. Wholesalers get a great deal on iffy merchandise and offload it to retailers. I remember while in Jamaica going to the store with a local friend to buy some ballpoint pens – she tried a several to make sure that she got some that worked – this was routine for her when shopping for any manufactured item. She lived in a small third floor apartment that had been a political patronage project, the plumbing fixtures were so cheap that they broke within the first year or two, so that whenever they needed water in the kitchen they had to carry it up three flights of stairs.

  25. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Interesting anecdote about ECUs.
    A friend used to be a TV repair man, transitioned into repairing tube amplifiers (which musicians adore) and graduated into ECUs, mainly for industrial machinery with a sideline in automobiles.
    He lives in an extremely posh area of England, and two years ago, a man with a bespoke Ferrari (of which only four had been made) contacted him. The ECU had packed up, and there were no replacements.
    Two years later, no progress was made, and the man has £1 million paperweight sitting in his garage.
    My friend observes that in 10-15 years, there is going to be a complete collapse of consumer vehicles, and recommended that I get a Ford Fiesta, as you will always be able to find a working ECU for them.
    One other anecdote, he also replaces rather rudimentary height actuators on Ferraris. Cost of replacement? £20,000!
    He also observed, if you’re spending £1m on a car, you can easily afford a £20k spare part.

  26. Swamp Yankee

    Can’t tell if this recent experience fits into operational failure or not. Also can’t tell if it is from recently failing operations or the entity in question, the Massachusetts Teachers Retirement System, MTRS, has been staffed for so long with hacks and apparatchik relations of various Machine pols that it had always sucked. Long story short, I need to move money from my MTRS account to my Vanguard account. Jumped through hoop after hoop in order to get my relevant info to them on November 22nd, 2021. Vanguard, for its part, said MTRS was unusually user hostile. MTRS said to allow 60 days for payment.

    Okay, fine. We get to about Jan. 20th, as the 22nd is a Saturday, and I call to ask if there is a problem or anything with my payment. The surly guy answering the phone says he sees no problem. Okay.

    Monday the 24th rolls around, no payment or indication thereof. I call. Can’t get someone. Finally am given the name of the person handling my case, whom I didn’t know existed, amd they acted as though I should. Call her. She says to call back 1st number, the problem is the community college I taught for never enrolled me in their online system 5 years ago. 1st number will help me.

    I call back. The server is down for the rest of the day and there is nothing they can do. I call back the next day, get enrolled for a job I no longer hold. I email the relevant woman overseeing my case…. and she ghosts me.

    Multiple emails and calls later, asking when will you give me my money, si vous plait, are answered 5 days afterwards. We will mail out the check in 5 more days, they say. So now there will be those 5 days, 5 additional days of transit time via USPS, plus processing by Vanguard. Bordering on a month late, when I tried my damndest to dot every I and T. I have serious bills to pay and am short 20,000 dollars because of this. I will get through it, but come on, man!

  27. Charlie Sheldon

    This is a great thread. So…..my wife bought a 1999 Toyota used in about 2001, and every time she looks as replacing it the 25,000 to 40,000 cost for a new car is staggering, not to mention all the computer stuff you have to get which is great until it fails, which it will in just a few years. I found a used 2017 Kia Sportage, it has some of the bling, but not that much. That Toyota keeps running and running, she has replaced the shocks and headliner and heating system and out in a newer radio andf the thing has 169,000 miles and probably will be good for 300,000. It’s a no brainer if you have something durable. Keep it, take care of it, and carry on.

    We bought one of those electric coil stoves when we lived in Ballard WA (which I never liked much) and it ran totally by a solid state circuit board, and that failed, we had the big warranty and learned fast it;s nothing but a pain in the ass, the only way you can win with it is being more persistent than they are. We replaced the board three times and it took three months each time. The way they set it upo, first they check everything else first, each a separate visit taking weeks, before finally admitting the obvious. The stove guy had a kid with him, to train, and he said it was impossible to find kids to do the work. He also said all this solid state shit is impossible. We moved four years ago to a simpler, smaller, town and it has a gas stove. No chips, just dials. We love it.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      aye. hotpoint stove/oven.
      no pilot…piezo electric sparky thing to light.
      the one on the oven goes out, and can’t light it manually.
      so i ordered 5 of them, prior to pandemic chaos….in a pickle jar in the part of the shop where the screws and nuts and bolts live.
      range top will light with a match, at least.
      and if it all goes to hell, i can build a fire in a lake…(as my legend goes…long story of my amazing feats)…and have a bunch of cast iron cookware…skillets, dutch ovens, etc…some of them heirlooms from as far back as great grandparents.

  28. tennesseewaltzer

    I live in middle Tennessee, and I have had to replace my refrigerator four times in twenty years–the compressors stop working after a few years. Apparently the cost of repairs, if they could even be undertaken, are such that a replacement–a simple appliance–makes financial sense. In 2021 I had to replace my washer and dryer–one stopped working and the other was close to its end, both around 10 years old–and a freezer–another compressor problem. I agree with the principle of keeping something that works.

  29. Skip Intro

    A little late to the thread, but when I hear the stories about an epidemic of shoplifting, I think not only of increasing desperation of the precariat, but of the IDAGAF of the retail employees who theoretically should deter/prevent shoplifting.

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