Monday, October 1, 2012

The treadmill

I'm still working on the blog move (had a busy and more-or-less exhausting weekend during which I was away from my computer most of the time).

But I've been pondering something these past few days, and I want to share it here.

Does it ever seem like our market economy pushes a "treadmill" model of goods and services?

Take cell phones, for instance.  You don't (ordinarily) just buy a phone and pay for service: you sign a contract (in most cases), arrange a monthly fee into which the price of the phone is buried, and before that contract is up the newer and better phones are out...

Or take internet service.  You don't (ordinarily) sign up for service and pay a bill; you end up "bundling" internet into home phone or cable TV or a host of other things, and the low, low rate you started out with inexplicably rises and rises until you start getting calls about switching to a newer, better service which is much faster and costs less (for the first six months anyway...)

Or take video game consoles, or DVD players/Blu-ray players/whatever's next on the horizon, or... get my point.

Sure, you can step off the treadmill.  You can use dial-up internet, or stick with an old VCR, or have an actual answering machine on your telephone, or skip cell phones altogether, or play card games instead of video games, and so on.  But there may be a price.  Your employer may expect you to have an internet connection fast enough to allow you to work from home on occasion.  Your VCR may not allow you to play that Catholic DVD people have been raving about.  Should your answering machine break you might not be able to find a replacement.  If you are stuck somewhere with car trouble there may be no pay phones around anywhere.  And video games might become "forbidden fruit" that your children will seek out at others' homes, where you don't have the ability to make sure titles are family-friendly and decent for children.

Most of us, I think, try to navigate our way off of as many treadmills as possible, while at least attempting to control the speed and direction of the ones we have to be on.  But the downside of living in an era in which technology is always improving is that we have to be careful about getting on the treadmill for technology we don't actually need or can live without.  This effort is going to look different for every family, but I think most of us are making an effort here to keep the things of this world in their proper place in our lives, and not to become ensnared by the sirens of newer, better, faster, cooler, smarter things.

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