The Machine Stops

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

When my not-so-old rear-projection TV started misbehaving, I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it, and I eventually ended up taking it to the local household hazardous waste dump — where I threw the externally pristine electronic marvel into a dumpster full of tar roofing bits. It was shockingly unpleasant.

Theodore Dalrymple had a similar experience when he replaced his working refrigerator with a superior model:

Last week, for example, we bought a large new refrigerator. Why? Our old one still worked perfectly well. It was small, but we didn’t need anything larger; it was perfectly adequate to our needs, from the preservation of food point of view. We bought a large new fridge because we had to bend down to get anything out of the old one, and we decided that we didn’t want to do that any more. We wanted an eye-level refrigerator; and in order to have one, we had to buy something much larger than we needed. We rationalised our purchase by telling ourselves that we were growing older, that soon we might not be able to bend, it was better to be prepared in advance for the difficulties of old age than face them as an emergency, etc., but really our purchase, quite unnecessary, was merely whimsical, at best to overcome a very minor inconvenience.

What did we do with our fridge? These days you cannot give away what would have made Louis XIV green with envy. You could, for example, go down the road shouting ‘Free fridge! Free fridge!’ and find no takers. Indeed, you might end up in an asylum. So we took it to the municipal wasteground of such things, where people dispose of what they no longer want.

Although our town is small, there was enough there to equip scores of households. The attendant told us that they did try to give these things away, after having tested them for safety, but it was not easy: there were more discarded goods than people to need them. I am no environmentalist, but still I could not help but feel that there was something amiss in all this.

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