The Decline From “Best” To “Good Enough”

We can’t fly as fast as we used to. Our music sounds worse than it did years ago. On a regular basis, I often can’t understand what people are saying on the telephone, something that never, ever happened when I was a kid.

How did we get from having the best of things to things that work “good enough?”

To me, it’s part of the disposable society that has developed over the years. If things are cheaper — or more convenient — it seems like we give up also having high quality as a feature. But sometimes, I want them both.

I love my iPhone — just having a cell phone period. The ability to call someone without looking for change — then finding a phone booth — not having to arrange a “meet up” location if you’re going to a common place and looking for friends. Just call them. Or text them. Communication, on the fly!

Just don’t expect a clear conversation. I actually have two phones, one a “dumb” one because I’ve learned over the years that “smart” phones have pretty bad talk quality. But even using my dumb phone, I can find it hard to hear someone. Yeah, the phone is convenient — but it’s not convenient to have a conversation that lasts twice as long as normal because you’re having to repeat everything.

Recently, I got a new landline, a deal through my cable provider. It’s voice over IP, and I’d heard some concerns that quality isn’t as good. I’d heard others say it’s OK. Well, I find it’s good enough, I suppose. Usually I can hear people, and it’s pretty cheap. But a call can suddenly get all garbled, and I have to ask people to repeat themselves.

OK, I know there’s that explosion in vinyl going on, but come on — most people today seem to listen to music through either CDs or MP3s. CDs already caused us to lose music quality for the convenience they offered, which I guess was a fair exchange. We lose more with MP3s in exchange for yet again more convenience. But part of me wonders if my kids will ever be shocked if they hear the quality of music from an actual record again. You know, I don’t think they ever have. And would I even notice myself?

Our stove broke recently. As is often the case, it wasn’t worth repairing it. It made far more sense to just get a new one. For one thing, we couldn’t even get the parts if we wanted to repair the old one. But it was more a price issue — the repair price versus the buy new price wouldn’t be that different.

Now, I can remember when getting an appliance was a huge decision. When you might really want a warranty protection plan because you expected to own the thing for 10 years. But with prices low, you don’t worry if it’s going to break in two or three years. Save the money on the protection plan and put it toward just buying a replacement. It’ll probably have all new killer features anyway. And it WILL likely breakdown since to make it that cheap, to make it “good enough,” the quality has gone out of it.

I saw a survey recently that people are buying old compact cars from the 80s because of their high gas mileage. I owned one of those. It got 45-50 miles per gallon. I assumed all cars would continue to go up in gas mileage, because, you know, that whole energy crisis thing.

I’m dumbfounded that years later, NOW we’re hearing again about an energy crisis and all these things that we should be doing to come up with alternative fuels. It’s like we’ve learned nothing. And that while our lives were more convenient in some ways (cheaper gas for a bit, cheaper car prices), we let ourselves move backwards, not forwards.

I was sad when Concorde stopped flying. It felt like a harbinger of backwardsness to me, that consumers could no longer go as fast as they did in the past. But you know, the bigger slower jets were good enough, so why move forward?

I know it’s not all bad. Jets are getting more fuel efficient. There are quality products out there. Life is more convenient in many different ways. But I still feel like we’re consuming fast food when we used to get fine dining.