Spare Parts and Consumer Choice
How many of you people reading this are holding in their lofts or in their under stair cupboards, garden sheds, outdoor lockers; several crates-worth of accessories, fitments, plugs, sockets, adaptors, connectors, cards, chips, cables, and so on; all of which fit for the most part a single piece of hardware only; and none of which you feel you can part with ‘just in case’? Just in case that particular piece of hardware to which just a particular one of your assorted junk fits, suddenly requires, as IT and its devices so often do suddenly require, a new fitting or soforth etc, etc?
Hence each of us holds stores of what is for 99.9% of the time sheer junk; and we hold it for the sake of that 0.1% of the time items amongst this junk might suddenly leap to life and become useful.
The reason why there is this massive waste and overproduction and overconsumption, this throwing away of scarce resources and why there is this general running through earth’s treasures like a Californian wildfire; is simple – we as a race are happy to put up with it. Manufacturers, in electricals, IT, and such, are generally well-known global brand names, and they desire to diversify all these peripherals so as to a) tie in their customers, those consumers who have bought such a Branded device item, so that these consumers are thus constrained, compelled to buy the same Branded peripherals for that device item, and which often arise as being necessary purchases during such an item of goods’ lifetime; and b) this specialisation and diversification, being all to no greater-good utilitarian purpose, does allow Brands to ramp up prices for their peripherals, since only a single particular Brand makes them and since only that particular Branded item fits your same Branded device.
You might shout out, if you are a boss at such a Brand’s company; that indeed there are manufacturers, and sometimes, maybe often, manufacturers who are infringing the Intellectual Property Rights of the big Brands: maybe in China, maybe down the road in backstreet Harlem or Queens, and then you may go on to say that there are alternatives provided by the copiers and imitator factories, illicit or otherwise. As a boss at a big Brand you might decry this copying; yet will you not let have the crumbs even the dogs who scavenge those which fall to the ground from your table. And were you not to charge so very outrageous prices for bits and pieces you make and sell to fit your products; then perhaps you might be able to compete, and more fairly with such ‘scavengers’?
In the main it is overwhelmingly advantageous to any Branded manufacturer for it to particularise and to design, and then to register as a protected design, each its own particular peripherals, unfit for anyone else’s stuff. In the main it is utterly disadvantageous to the consumer customer for her or him to sustain the price costs and quantities of pecuniary attrition which these kinds of Brand owner policies and strategies give rise to. It is a seller’s marketplace; and the buyer consumers are taken for a ride and exploited.
God forbid that say Sony should sell something which fits, say, Apple! The world would self-destruct and Doomsday would be here! No, the attitude is belligerence; Sony towards Apple and Apple towards Sony; and never the twain shall accord. And this is because each Brand says to the others and to itself in the marketplace ‘I…I…I…I.., no-one but I – I want the BIGGEST piece of cake! ALL the cake!
The iniquity goes deeper. One is more often than not compelled even for two or more discrete product items, coming from the same Brand, say for two or three adaptors, which connect to different devices, to buy them separately because buying one adaptor only to use intermittently on all three devices of the Brand that you possess is not possible. This is not possible because each discrete device type even though all devices being from the same Brand will often require its own specialised adaptor: regardless; and even when the amperes watts polarities are identical. This is vicious. Yet we put up with it
We put up with it because we are powerless in these matters. We have in common accord thrown our lots in irrevocably with IT and electronics, telecoms and smart devices, and we cannot now function without having these devices functioning. We have no idea how they work; we could never hope ourselves to build or to replicate from scratch – I am not talking about bolt on of parts – any of their intricate and high-spec technologies – these Branded companies have us in the palms of their hands.
Now about Brands and Designs – how these allow, facilitate, are sine qua nons for such profligate deliberate diversity of manufacture and design for parts and fittings.
There is a phrase circulates in those circles of person who extol Intellectual Property Rights as being the drivers of the engine of the 21st century global economy; and this phrase says that Branding and Patents and Design rights all ‘add value’ to a product.
This saying is an outright, probably deliberately so, misnomer; a deception at that. It is used to hide the truth of the matter of our global Branded and IT protected companies and manufacturers traders etc, etc.
The patter issuing from governments and from those interested parties such as Intellectual Property offices in the various nations, and from that interested class of Legal Agencies and their clienteles who patronise these entities, these being the Brands; all of these sets of interests proclaim loudly that without Intellectual Property Rights we as a people as a whole would be far less prosperous than we are. Perhaps they should be saying ‘far less preposterous than we are’?
Yet this lauded concept of ‘added value’, is one which boils down merely to the Rights’ owners action of having bought a right to a piece of commercially-viable Intellectual Property and them using it in trade so that automatically and very often such an owner of a Right is able to hike the price s/he is able to charge for the very same item of goods which would cost far less had it no Brand nor Design right attached to protect it and its use.
When you buy or own an Intellectual Property right, unless you give permission, and normally also charge a fee to those you permit, you can keep to yourself alone the right to make, advertise, sell and trade in those material items of goods or those services which are protected by your owned rights. Hence Intellectual Property Rights create Monopolies; which are created by use of the Statute Law of a nation. And monopoly traders are enabled to ask premium prices for their goods simply because no-one else makes them so consumers can’t get them from any other source but from the monopoly holder source, For in the case of owning an Intellectual Property Right, no-one else is allowed in law to make them without your say so. Here then is your source of ‘added value’. It is not added value at all – it is a simple price-hike which all buyers have to pay.
Value however is a concept which has to be related to another evaluative concept. Just as time is not interesting on its own when a person says s/he took ten minutes to do a task, without the person saying what the task was and laying out for you the surrounding helps and deterrents to completing the task –such a laying out we might call time and motion studies – then time now becomes a useful to any discerning mind as being a part of a measure of efficiency.
Value then has to be related to speed, or to effort, or to cost, or to grade of difficulty, or to natural scarcity, before it can become a useful, valuable concept. Context is all. Thus one can assess say, value for money etc, etc. Value, then, stood alone, is only one leg of a two or more legged monster. It means nothing as such. Added value is newspeak for simple opportunist price hikes.
A buyer gets no added value of use or performance from any item s/he has bought when under an impression it is an ‘added value’ item of goods. Rub off the Brand name, say, and you can often get the same, or sometimes better, in the marketplace and for much less in many instances. It is only with the assistance of Intellectual Property rights that Brand design patent owners are able to pursue diversified and devious particularisation of parts and accessories. Using such rights Brand owners and their companies are able to force consumer ‘buy-in’ to the spares and accessories of their ranges of devices etc. Only by these companies Branding their items and then slapping a Design Right on each particularised accessory or part, can they enforce ‘buy-in’. Enforcing ‘buy-in’ like this means necessarily for them to be making novel designs for each of their the parts/accessories in order for them to become eligible for a Design Right being able to be granted to them.
And so I hope you are making a note of all this futile and wasted activity; gangs of designers in multitudes of cloneed design depts across the global world of enterprise; all to be paid for – by whom? – by you of course as your ‘added value’. All the work and all the people involved in the professional representation in law of would-be rights’ holders; plus all the gangs of staff at government offices who respond to these professionals and to their Branded company clients; all this to be paid for – by whom? – by you of course – as your ‘added value’.
Talk about a treadmill going nowhere and doing nothing of use!
Just a little bit of co-operation between the various entities involved in this stitch up, would mean instead of dog eat dog to the death because of competition and bloody antagonism, that so many of us might be released from perhaps half our working hours so as to enjoy a better style of life – and – despite what the pundits – all of whom are in league with or are in the business world and so serve its desires and interests – despite what they say, we as a people would nonetheless survive and at no especial cost or detriment to our lives and our livings.
Imagine a mains plug which fits any wall socket. Imagine an adaptor which fits any device which requires the same wattage/amperes polarisations etc. But this is too simple; too much is at stake; not for you and me the consumers, but for those barren barons of industry who to a man and woman are demon-possessed to make as much money as they can, to grow empires as big as they can; to make as big a splash in the world as they can – pooh!
I went online to buy a nut to fit my son’s bicycle wheel spindle – I searched say an hour – imagine that? an hour for a nut of a kind which probably many of bicycles would require – and I could find nothing under UK£8 (US$12). In throwing an empty can of beans into the waste bin I am throwing away perhaps daily as much metal as goes into such a nut. Old abandoned bicycles at corporation tips abound in them. The world has gone crazy. They are steel, not particularly special steel, not titanium or platinum. Just the shape I wanted though.
I tried in a local chain store to by a gel case for a smart phone. I had a Sony phone and the chain store stocked only iPhone and Samsung phone cases. I went to a branch of another chain store. It sold one single model of Sony case – a piece of plastic of an amount a person is able to pick up in seconds from the grass verges of all and any of our British roads anywhere in the nation, and which has been thrown away from car traffic as waster pop bottles or food wrappings etc. The single Sony case was listed at the branch at UK£19.99. Or else 3 for the price of 2. Who wants 3 or even 2? Who can afford even one? It’s not special plastic, just made to a convenient shape I wanted, and costing the manufacturer how much? – pennies if that.
This is your ‘added value’ economy, which drives up prices continuously in ways which are non-commensurate with value for money.
Our nation is a joke – if it were not tragic what is happening to us. Light bulbs and light fittings have ‘diversified’ in the past 20 years. Once one bought either large bayonet bulbs or else threaded bulbs. Now one is able to see a whole shop wall filled with an array, all different, of bulb kinds which connect to a socket each in a way individual to itself.
Faucet taps similar – Door furniture likewise. Wherever the trick is able to be played, ever more so it is being played; so that whatever one buys, from a single bolt and washer, to a new car, generally one buys along with the purchase, a long and tiresome leash, which acts to attach you by compulsion to the manufacturer or to the brand for years to come
Here we have the global consumer economy’s much vaunted consumer choice in its more proper guise. Once you have made your big choice of what Brand, what range, what model, your device; thereafter for all the lifetime of that chosen article that you have bought you are able to have any accessory or fitment or bolt on to it you like, but as it were, in any colour so long as it’s black. Consumer choice is very often no choice; is very often a fleecing of your pocket, of one buying a fancy deal and paying for it through the nose ever after.
These trends will continue until either consumers insist on in-common standards for all fitments etc for which in-common standards are easily feasible; or else until there begins a catastrophic meltdown, a natural result of the fragmentation of society which in no small part is being helped along to its fruition by the injurious ethos of antagonistic, corporate divide and rule, with its default devil take the hindmost approach to life. Such an ethos is being spread like an infection by these business methodologies at work across the world. It is a non-material industrial pollution and it is contaminating too many minds.
As a last shot I ask you to ask yourself how much of your income per month goes out the door solely because of this intentionally designed fragmentation of standards perpetrated by corporate business, not merely in the areas of fitments and parts for devices, but which is a malaise which is also to be seen growing ever more so out of the current triumphant ascendancy of business life as the paramount concern for society. This same business life is acting to propagate and promulgate a sour and nasty happy-go-lucky me-first and you-nowhere outlook and model of general public (and private) behaviour
This business life nexus has moved and spread out from diversifications of parts and fittings, out from getting, exploiting Intellectual Property rights, out from forcing the consumer into that corner in which he is best prone to extortions; the nexus is moved out also to occupy advertising pitches and angles (more on this in later essays); out into product design (see my discussion in verse on the psychology of automobile design, and see also my remarks on power-totem architecture) and into recommended behaviours touted for our admirations, by way of role models, movies, and their stars, and by sports adventurers; in fact all the roll-out of bread and circuses by which this elite and parasitic capitalist class sucks ‘value’ (read ‘money’) out of us by managing our appetites for buying their particular junks