Ye Olde Junk Shop

Hold on to older stuff if you can. The products without invasive technology will see a rise in value at some point.

old refrigerators 411

Ye Olde Junk Shop

by Severian

I’m one of those guys who loves the scratch-and-dent outlet.

I’m sure the older folks all know what I’m talking about, but for the benefit of younger readers, suppose a couch rolls off the assembly line at Lazy Boy. By the time it arrives at the showroom, it’s got a rip in it. This rip might barely be visible to the naked eye. It might be somewhere nobody will ever see it once it’s in your house. Nonetheless, if they put it out on the floor, and a customer buys it, then notices the rip, both the showroom and the factory will be eating the cost of shipping the customer a new one. Much better, then, to resell it to the scratch-and-dent store, where less finnicky shoppers like yours truly can pick them up at slightly above wholesale.

Pretty much all the stuff in my Hidden Supervillain Lair is like that. I have much nicer, much higher-end stuff than you would figure, largely because I get it on the cheap like that. My couch, for instance — the one with the all-but-invisible rip on one of the back corners — is one of those giant modular jobbies that looks like it came from a space station in a sci fi movie. It’s niiiice, and it cost me less than what a new regular-joe, put it together yourself from a kit couch would’ve. So I wait until whatever stuff I have is about to break past the point where it’s cost-effective to repair it, then I go scratch-and-dent shopping for an upgrade.

Of course, “upgrade” is a relative term. Sometimes this philosophy bites me in the ass. As with appliances, for instance. My new fridge has every gizmo and whatzit and whizbang the most coked-out Japanese engineer could ever think of, despite all of them being completely useless. In this case, I actually would’ve paid a premium not to have that shit; I even shopped around the big box stores for a new fridge at full retail, but that’s the point — they all are like that now. You simply can’t find a fridge that doesn’t have bluetooth connectivity for some unfathomable reason…

…and here’s where the more conspiratorially-minded jump in with the assertion that that’s just how They planned it, bwahahaha!, but I really don’t think so. For one thing, that assumes levels of competence and foresight that are conspicuously lacking in every other thing They do. But mostly it’s because historical change is subject to something like Gell-Mann amnesia, to the point where it’s often hard, at a remove of even just a decade or two, to separate cause and effect.

I’ll give you an example: From our perspective, the drive-thru seems head-slappingly obvious. When everybody’s got a car, it’s just logical to make everything drive-thru. And yet, when White Castle, and more famously McDonald’s, opened their first chain stores, people thought they were nuts. After all, a large part of travel’s appeal is sampling exotic local cuisine, and the old weird America was chock full of regional variety. Why on earth would anyone pay to get the exact same burger in Boise they could get in Boston?

What the McDonald’s guys saw, though, was the journey itself. Yeah, if I’m ever in Boston, I want to try scrod or whatever, because that’s the famous local dish. Same way, if I’m in Boise, I want to try whatever their local dish is. But all that stuff in between? I really don’t want to take a flyer on the local greasy spoon in Bum Ridge, Nebraska. I’m just passing through. Give me something I can eat on the fly, where I know exactly what I’m getting. And it’ll be the exact same something at every point along the line.

Again, this is obvious to us, but was revolutionary at the time…. and when the history books are written 200 years from now, “the invention of the automobile” and “drive-thru culture” will end up in the same paragraph, because from the perspective of 200 years hence, those things were contemporaneous — even though the latter seemed like a radical new innovation at the time, which was decades after people became comfortable with the idea of horseless carriages.

So, too, with my bluetooth-for-some-ungodly-reason fridge. Slapping wifi into every single consumer appliance isn’t some long-term conspiracy. It’s a function of The Internet of Things, a design philosophy (if that’s the word) of data-for-data’s-sake. I understand there are real, deep thoughts behind all this, but in its vulgar expression, TIoT means cramming every imaginable googaw into every conceivable thing, just because, functionality…

…well, I was going to write “functionality be damned,” but even that’s giving the vulgarization of TIoT — the fake and gay version of it, if you will — too much credit. Functionality never entered the thought process at all. My fridge doesn’t have bluetooth because someone somewhere in the design process thought it would add something to the end-user experience. It has bluetooth because someone in the design process thought it would be cool to have a fridge with bluetooth, that’s all. Yeah, the marketing boys came up with a slick campaign to explain why fridges with bluetooth are the latest and greatest, but that’s the what marketing boys are for. It’s just there because it’s there.

The fact that all this stuff will soon be used to control you is just emergent behavior, the way the McDonald’s guys figured out that widespread physical mobility via the car created a market niche for assembly-line food.

That said, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to foresee a time when appliances that aren’t online will be selling at a huge premium. When your microwave is required to scan your Twitter feed for badthink before it’ll heat up your Hot Pockets, the guy with the 5x hand-me-down SpaceMaker from 1987 is king. When your fridge locks you out because it found Rotten Chestnuts in your search history, an old-fashioned icebox is worth its weight in gold. And so on.

If I were in any way mechanical, I’d bust my ass to learn the nearly lost art of small appliance repair. You don’t need an EE degree to fix an old school toaster. 99 times out of 100, it’s just that the cord is getting frayed where it inserts into the body; a few inches of electrical tape, of the kind you used to be able to find in everyone’s junk drawer, will do the trick. Learn how to splice wires, some basic soldering, that kind of thing. Right now, you can cruise by any neighborhood garage sale and find a whole bunch of stuff to practice on, for next to nothing. Give it a few years, though — when the Green Nude Eel and all the rest really starts kicking in — and people will be beating a path to your door, because their solar-powered grill decided that their latest Facebook post was insufficiently adulatory of Glorious Leader and now they’re starving.

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