August 17, 2017

This Disposable Life

Nothing lasts forever. This, I know to be true—at least, intellectually.

But I am increasingly surprised and disenchanted at how disposable things are.

Or, rather—how disposable things have become.

I don't even mean interpersonal relationships—those forgotten encounters and micro-interactions that pile up over time, cluttering my purse with business cards and my rolodex with "connections" I can't seem to recall.

I mean actual things.

Sure, our plastic grocery bags have been replaced by "reusable" ones. Batteries can be recharged (though, if you ask me, the non-rechargeable ones are a huge, noxious waste that should be outlawed).

There's a lobby against disposable diapers, arguing in favor of the cloth ones that you've got to launder the poop out of. And there are even those who want to pluck the plastic straws right out of my very mouth.

But why is it that some of our most major purchases in modern times are only built to last a year or two?

I used to refer to my first car, a silver Honda Fit, as "my little tin can" because of how easily it crumpled. I would've turned the lease in early if anybody would've wanted to buy it back, but it had so much damage that I suspect they just disposed of it when I finally gave it back at the end of my three-year lease term.

The Honda dealership happily put me in a new car, a 2013 Honda Civic, for no additional money down and basically the same monthly lease payments.

In less than a year, I was ready to get rid of that one, too. Although it was much sturdier than the car it replaced, it bore the brunt of being rear-ended and pushed into a car in front of me. The body shop repaired it—cosmetically—but of course it never ran the same again.

I kept that one pretty much through the end of my three-year lease term, and the dealership once again had no issues waiving the cost of any of the "excessive damage" it had sustained, as long as I signed up for a new lease on a 2016 Honda Civic for no money down and just a few bucks more per month.

Less than 300 miles into driving that new car, and it was pummeled while parked in front of my building in a hit-and-run. If it had been any older, it would've been totaled—but since it was so new, the body shop just basically rebuilt the entire back end.

It looked like new again when they completed the repairs, but it was already battle-worn. I couldn't wait for the next three years to go by so I could replace it with something else.

But when does the cycle stop? Of course Honda wants to constantly keep me in a new car so I'm forever indebted to them for monthly lease payments instead of eventually paying one of those automobiles off.

They make more money off me that way—but also, I get to always drive a new car.

Inevitably, towards the end of my lease period, something on the car starts to go. With the Fit, it was the master brake cylinder. With my first Civic, it was the filters and the brake pads.

I've yet to see what's going to fall apart on the car I'm driving now, but I've still got two years left with it.

But regardless of any of the collisions I've had—and regardless of who was at fault—today's cars feel as disposable as a pair of summer flip-flops.

At what point did spending thousands of dollars stop getting you something that would last? Was there a tipping point when vehicles shifted from being fine china to paper plates?

It seems pretty certain that the next car I drive is going to be an older model, since brand-new cars no longer carry CD players and instead require periodic software updates.

So how far back do I have to go to get a car that I can buy and make a commitment to without being let down so soon after making its acquaintance?

It's always been that way with cell phones, of course. You could find an antique rotary phone now and it would still work as long as you plugged it into the jack. But back in the 1990s when cell phones were pretty new, the technology was advancing so quickly that you'd have to replace it just to have a device that could handle the available cell networks and the bandwidth available.

And that hasn't actually stopped yet with mobile devices. You've still got to swap them out every year or two—or you've got to suffer with an agonizingly slow processing system, drained battery, and insufficient memory for all the applications required to run the darn thing.

A couple of years ago, I got one of the cheapest Samsung smartphones available and it cost me over $300. This year, I replaced it again with the cheapest Samsung I could find, and what this time cost me only $150 works ten times better than its predecessor.

I can't believe how well this new, cheap phone works.

Looking back, I don't know why I stuck with that old phone so long. I think it's because I thought it should last longer. I didn't realize how transient my time with it was supposed to be.

Over the course of my life, I've stuck with a lot of things—and relationships, and jobs—that I should've gotten rid of sooner. I don't consider myself averse to change, but it just seems like things shouldn't have to change so frequently.

I prefer jobs—and boyfriends—that last longer than three months.

At some point, I'd like to drive a classic car that's not road-weary yet.

But I'm kind of really looking forward to what kind of amazing things my next cheap phone will be able to do.

Related Posts:
Life for Rent
Life on the Curb
Hand-Me-Down Girl
Vast City of Forgotten Encounters

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