LONGING FOR A BETTER ANSWERING MACHINE
This piece was played on National Public Radio in May, 1998
We live in a throwaway society and it really pisses me off. This was brought to my attention when our telephone
answering machine broke. The tape wouldn’t wind. The fancy machine, I was told “was worth fixing.”
I’m no electronics whiz, but I can turn a screwdriver. But I know modern gadgets are circuit boards and microchips precluding quick fixes so I called around.
No one would look at it less than $50 plus parts! Disgusted, I asked a local repairman. “Should I drop kick this in the trash or fix it?”
“That Panasonic is a good machine. First generation digital/tape combination and in many ways superior to the junk sold today. It could be a belt but we charge $50 to look,” he apologized.
“Do you sell parts,” I asked.
“We’re not supposed to,” he hesitated, “we can’t be responsible . . .” I impatiently interrupted him, knowing the forthcoming liability speech.
Agitated, I became an answering machine repairman. Sure enough, flopping between two pulleys was small broken rubber band. I tried replacing it.
The tape wobbled slightly. My 14 year-old nephew’s voice sound like a street wino’s. “Temporary fixes sometimes cost more than doing it right,” my wife observed.
I visited the shop that gave me the repair hint. “Can you sell me a replacement? ” I asked.
“I’m sorry, we can’t sell parts to customers,” recognizing I had just called.
“My only alternative is to wait a week with no answering machine or pay $50 bucks for someone to turn 4 screws to replace this rubber band!” I said holding up the thin black belt. “Are you going to tell me that you have several in inventory but you won’t sell me just one? ”
“It’s not that I don’t want to help you, I’m just following the rules.” He looked at my disbelieving yet pleading look, thought a few seconds and said, “Let me see if I have one in stock.”
“I’ll have to charge you $8.00,” he apologized. “Business is not very good. It’s not worth it for most people to fix their machines and its getting worse.”
“Do all parts cost this much?” I was feeling a little sorry for him.
“It’s ridiculous. There’s no standardization or methodology companies use to make products except to sell more. You can’t repair nuthin’ these days.”
“Companies would rather you buy a new answering machine than get an old one fixed. I see this everywhere with all kinds of goods.”
“Not only that,” the repairman said, “companies wouldn’t even supply parts unless forced to do so by law. They’d rather use proprietary architecture so their products can’t be repaired. They only see lost sales.”
Riding home with my $8 “belt”, I fumed. People MUST demand better products and more accountability from manufacturers. Can society change before we’re awash in broken answering machines?
Copyrighted by Josh Gerak