Posted: February 1, 2008 in Consumerism, Technophilia

My decades old vacuum, a Kirby, has several minor faults that I thought about getting fixed. (Alas, the repair shop I identified is now out of business. Indeed, for many things, the cost of repair far exceeds the cost of replacement.) It still works fine, and the motor and casing are extremely well built. But a few of the plastic parts have broken, I’m out of replacement belts for the roller, and I had yet to replace the (non-HEPA) bag despite over a decade of ownership and use.

So while I was out shopping recently, I decided to see what a new vacuum goes for. New vacuum designs are hardly even recognizable to me as vacuums. They look like some sort of alien plastic contraption with far too much marking of their features directly on the devices. (The prospect of a $400-$500 Dyson vacuum with allergenic filters was just too much for me, though for others I suppose they’re indispensable.) So like toothbrushes, pens and pencils, automobiles, and TVs, they join the ranks of the overdesigned.

Admittedly, some new designs features add worthwhile utility or safety, but it begs the question “What did we ever do before them?” The ergonomics of various grip designs (especially for toothbrushes and writing utensils) certainly makes things more utile for those with arthritis and disabilities. However, is there a point beyond which a redesign or technology upgrade becomes a little … well … ridiculous? I’m thinking specifically about the plethora of soft-grip pens and displays for nighttime driving.

infrared display

How did we ever survive without them?

I ended up buying a new Bissell vacuum. The cost was within my price point, though perhaps beyond the cost of a repair. After using it a couple times, I’ve noticed that the wheels are driven in forward motion, which requires that I only pull the vacuum toward me. I’m certain that pushing the vacuum forward is now too much to expect from such a device, thought the older model I eventually trashed was no problem for me. The dust that escaped the old model is also no match for the new vacuum, which filters and collects everything far more handily.

But what if I were a homesteader in the 19th century with barely even a wire broom to sweep my dirt floors. What on earth would I have done to survive?

  1. presentpeace says:

    For the most part, you’re right to ask the “What did we do before?” question. But I must say, having been a vacuum salesperson years ago when those HEPA filter and self-propulsion technologies began to dominate the market, lots of frail little old ladies with and without emphysema who lived alone and could no longer push their heavy and awkward Kirbys and people who have dust allergies and severe upper respiratory diseases (which are on the rise for children and even adults as we continue to screw up the environment) had fewer emergency room visits after home cleanings once they used products with those features.

    What I wonder is, with all the things we do to the air outside our homes and the cumulative effect of all the poisons we take into our respiratory and digestive systems at home and away, how even the healthiest of us can question whether or not it’s a good thing to have cleaner air to breathe as a preventative measure.

    I guess I don’t have to ponder for long. I know the answer. We industrialized nations are less about prevention and more about consumption and expansion at all costs. Human nature dictates that we don’t honor what we take for granted, namely our health and the health of the planet. We continue to destroy that which sustains us with technologies of profit and convenience (cars and factories) until we must realize, often too late, that we must develop counter-technologies for our very poisoned world (HEPA filters and pharmaceutical remedies) to restore some kind of healthful balance. That’s where we are today.

  2. greywhitie says:

    for some reason, this sounds very familiar, brutus. i always buy my vacuum cleaners at sears, usually get the cheapest one. last one cost around $99. if all else fails, go talk to a witch.

  3. For eight years I lived without a vacuum cleaner. Sweeping and mopping seemed sufficient. If we were spending that kind of money, it went for something vital or toward the kids’ education. The big ticket item here consisted of music lessons. We judged learning to play an instrument critical, because my husband and I hadn’t ever read a note and only rarely tapped a key.

    One remarkable day, however, my husband decided it was time. We went to Sears. Despite years of vacuuming following my mother’s roster of chores, I honestly couldn’t get over the fact for, oh, maybe two weeks. The machine sucked up dirt! Mirabile dictu!

  4. asia house ladybug says:

    the teletubbies have this little robot-human vauum cleaner that cleans up after them.

  5. asia house ladybug says:

    “We judged learning to play an instrument critical.”

    yes, music lessons are wonderful. even if the kids don’t end up playing professionally, the experience of being a musician will stay with them for life.

    i believe brutus plays the french horn. or is it the english horn? what do they call the chinese horn? do unicorns have horns?

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