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Ken Bowell has been using computers since 1979. He started out with Apple systems, followed by various Macs before moving into Windows in 1993. His first home computer was an IBM PCJr.
When did unreliable products become “okay” with us?

Our technological lives have become infected. It came on so slowly, we just really never noticed. It’s getting worse, too, as the virus continues to take hold.

What is this sickness? This nasty bug is better known as unreliable products. It infects software, small appliances and other electronic gear that simply fails to function properly.

In many cases, we put up with this unreliable gear because the problem has become so common. It seems the first thing we do with any software or hardware product is download a patch (or a whole suite of patches) just to make it work correctly. 

When did this begin? Did it start when computers became mainstream? Did it start with the “big box” store and the quest for low prices? Is it possible this problem has much deeper and earlier roots?

Personally, I blame it on the toaster, X-Ray Specs and Sea Monkeys. When was the last time you used a toaster that actually toasted properly? Did those x-ray specs actually allow you to get a personal look at little Suzie Smith down the street when you were 12? How many of you placed an order for Sea Monkeys, only to find out they were brine shrimp?

It was all down hill from the first time someone burnt their toast, bagel or toaster pastry. Forget that darkness control; It’s just for show. All those mail order items from the back pages of comic books set every young person up for disappointment very early on. It’s no wonder that it seems like manufacturers don’t seem to care anymore.

When was the last time you simply kept a lemon of a product rather than go through the bother of returning it? How many products only lasted a year or two before going off to gadget heaven?

Look at devices like the I-Pod. Apple actually sees these things as disposable. The user can’t replace the battery. The hard drives have a finite lifespan. All these things make them throwaway products despite many costing $300 or more.

Computers aren’t meant to last 5-7 years anymore. Now, if you aren’t getting a new system every 2-3 years, you’re risk falling behind the technology train. 

Operating systems, software and most hardware comes full of bugs that require you to download patches and fixes before you can use it. Many devices require the user to assemble it.

Broadband Internet isn’t free of providing less than you paid for. Have you ever reached the maximum speed of your connection? For that matter, when was the last time you were close to it? For a lot of people, they’re lucky to get half of that “up to” speed.

Products used to come with everything you needed to make it work. Now, even necessary cables are an add-on. Devices that store data come with the minimum amount of memory to make the device function. 

Repairs are another issue. It’s become so expensive to repair devices; you’re better off tossing them. Even ink jet printers have become essentially disposable. Many printers cost less than replacement ink cartridges. All the environmental awareness of the 1990’s has disappeared via disposable cell phones and other electronic gadgets. We’ll soon see a glut of orphaned computers that won’t run anything higher than the defunct Windows 98.

Take the introduction of Pre-N and Draft-N WiFi gear. They came out with no adopted standard, so early adopters took a huge risk that their gear wouldn’t work with the final standard.

The question is, are we willing to actually pay to get quality? Are we willing to wait for a product to be fully tested and reliable? Are we willing to sacrifice a bit of convenience to get a product that works like it’s supposed to? The ultimate answer is: probably not. Unfortunately, we demand newer, faster, sleeker and more powerful devices. The products keep coming and we set aside the old to get the new. In addition, we want it cheaper than ever before. It’s no wonder things don’t last. Sad to say, the road doesn’t look any less bumpy as competition forces more products on us that simply aren’t ready for primetime.

Ken Bowell is currently a video editor for ESPN. Since 1997, he has performed various production tasks for shows like Sportscenter, Baseball Tonight, NFL Live and ESPNews. He has been working in television for nearly 15 years at both the local and network level.

Previous Article Archive

January 2007 - Beep! Beep! Beep! Are you backing up? - Are you prepared for a data disaster? Get some back up tips in this article.

February 2007 - Exactly How Small Is Too Small? - From tiny buttons and screens to multi-function controls, are devices getting a bit TOO small?

March 2007 - Blackberry: The Fruit of All Evil? - Are Blackberry owners adicted to their devices? Does the term "Crackberry" really fit?

April 2007 - The Evils of Abusing the "Reply All" Button - Do I really need to read every response to the original e-mail message?

May 2007 - You Can Take it With You: The Do’s and Don’ts of Portable Data Security - Are you asking for someone to walk away with your gear?

June 2007 - Spring Cleaning: Computer Style - Ghost in the Machine? It's probably just dust bunnies. Here are some tips for cleaning out you computer case.

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