Wednesday, 14 September 2011



Cthel said...

There seems to have been a strange reversal of attitudes to design sometime in the middle to late 20th century.

Up until then, manufactured goods (and in particular, engineering projects) were designed to last (with appropriate maintenance)as long as possible. Consider Joseph Bazalgette's design for the London sewer system - built from glazed ceramic bricks, to resist corrosion, and laid out so as to avoid clogging and silting. With (often almost neglectful) maintenance, it is still serving the city over 100 years after it was constructed.

This trend may have reached its zenith with the construction of the stainless steel passenger carriages used so widely for American rail travel. These were so well designed and engineered that some have suggested (partly in jest) that they are the first truly permanent structures built by man.

Compare this with the modern concept of planned obsolescence and weep

Trimegistus said...

Permanence is an illusion. What's the point of making a railroad carriage that will last a hundred years when twenty years later all your passengers have started traveling by air?

Despite the claims of Marxist idiots, obsolescence isn't something evil capitalists just made up; it's real. Do you want a computer made in the 1990s?

Cthel said...

Permanence is indeed an illusion, however every object made represents an investment of resources. If investing 25% more upfront returns 50% more serviceable life, is that not a good investment?

I realise that this does not always make sense; for rapidly developing technologies, such as (to use your example) computers, it makes little sense to build something that will last far beyond their replacement by the next generation.

However, for technologies that are unlikely to undergo a radical change (such as chairs, for example) it seems to make sense to invest a little more for a greater lifetime.

As for the railroad carriage, if 40 years later the passengers return due to (for example) rising airline prices, then the railroad will be able to quickly renovate the interiors and place them back into service, instead of waiting for new stock to be designed and built. (One feature that all railroads seem to have is a reluctance to throw away anything that might conceivably be useful at some point in the distant future))

David said...

Cthel: Quite true. The other exception is for technology that is infeasible to service. Modern nuclear submarines, for example, have a service life that is less than that of their fuel supply. Therefore, modern nukes can't even be refuelled and the only way to reach the reactor core is to scrap the boat.