Returning to Durability

Durability |ˌd(y)o͝orəˈbilitē| noun
the ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage.

International HarvesterTwo years ago, I read One Square Inch of Silence by George Hempton. I wrote a rather critical reaction to the book on this blog. One of Hempton’s arguments is that we no longer hear our footsteps when we walk, and he attributes this to the fact that there is too much ambient noise in our environment. When I read this book, there were many things that resonated, and not being able to hear our footsteps was one of them until recently.

I have dealt with painful shoes for over 20 years. The pain started after college. Over the years, I tried everything from store-bought inserts, to wearing Birkenstocks exclusively, to custom orthotics. Nothing eased the pain. My feet were only comfortable when I was barefoot.

Last year, I started a new job which frequently requires me to dress more professionally than I have in the past. I dug out my leather soled dress shoes and was a bit anxious about wearing them day in and day out. Something, akin to miraculous, happened as I started wearing those shoes. I could hear my foot steps. And more importantly, my feet didn’t hurt.

I began to take inventory of the situation and realized that it was during college that I transitioned from well made leather soled shoes (which I wore as part of the dress code in my Catholic high school) to cheaply made shoes constructed primarily of man-made materials. These shoes weren’t very supportive (despite claims to the contrary) and wore out quickly. Worse, they couldn’t be resoled. They weren’t durable.

We have grown to accept that things will wear out. We expect that items we purchase will have a relatively short useful life and that there is nothing that can be done about it. As I look around my workspace, I am confronted with a number of items that were built with planned obsolescence in mind. My Mac, planned obsolescence. My iPhone, planned obsolescence. My digital camera, planned obsolescence. My clothes, planned obsolescence.

When I was learning to shave, the razor I learned with was a Schick Injector. It was constructed of strong resin and steel. It had a permanent head that held blades which were the only part of the razor that were replaced, through a convenient “injector” mechanism. A pack of blades might have cost $5. Today, I shave with a Gillette Fusion, which sports 5 blades on disposable heads which cost $20 for 4 of them. Planned obsolescence.

We live in a world where scarce resources are becoming scarcer. We cannot afford to simply throw things away because they are no longer useful. Doing so becomes expensive both for the pocket-book and for the planet.

We need to return to durability.

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