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'Wired' Says Some Electronics Aren't Built to Last

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'Wired' Says Some Electronics Aren't Built to Last

Technology

'Wired' Says Some Electronics Aren't Built to Last

'Wired' Says Some Electronics Aren't Built to Last

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Are your favorite electronic gadgets "built to fail?" A recent Wired magazine story contends that some tech toys are built to last only until the manufacturer wants you to upgrade to the next great toy. Wired's Mark McClusky speaks with Deborah Amos about the article.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

On Monday, we focus on technology - and today the frustrations, the pain of technology. In particular, just when you figured out all the buttons on that MP3 player, how to program your phone or the digital camera, wham-o - something stops working. Your high-tech toy becomes an expensive paperweight.

Wired magazine recently raised the question, are some products that seem to die young actually built to fail? Mark McClusky is Wired magazine's product editor. Good morning.

Mr. MARK MCCLUSKY (Product Editor, Wired magazine): Good morning.

AMOS: It's not a surprise to customers, this critical mass of breaking. So why did you decide to take it on?

Mr. MCCLUSKY: It's a trend that we've actually noticed over time, especially when you have so many products coming through a place like we do at the magazine - that more and more, we just have them break. And it's hard to get anybody to say, yes, we design our products to fail. But we do know that these technologies have sort of built in life spans. And so there's sort of an implicit design limitation of the parts that it's made of and the technologies it contains.

AMOS: So what are the most common problems?

Mr. MCCLUSKY: The thing we hear about breaking most right now is the iPod. And the major reason for that is that hard drives like in the iPod just simply aren't meant to be moved around the way that people move around their iPods. It's a moving part, and so as you carry that around and jostle and bang it, it's going to fail.

But then also things like, you know, cell phones getting beaten up pretty well as you carry them around in your purse or your pocket. And then cameras also have a mechanical shutter in them, and that's a part that has sort of a design-limited lifespan. It's rated for a certain number of pictures, and after that, you're probably out of luck.

AMOS: But is it worth putting up with the hassle to get these gadgets repaired?

Mr. MCCLUSKY: The problem with a lot of them is you simply can't get them repaired. A lot of companies actually don't even make replacement parts for their products at this point, and that's part of why it's so cost prohibitive to repair things. And generally, it becomes cheaper to replace it than to repair it.

AMOS: Do you think that consumers think a little differently about these gadgets than the people who make them, in that I buy something and I think, all right, I have it now for years. They make something and think I'm going to make a new one in two years. I want the consumers to buy the new one.

Mr. MCCLUSKY: I think that's a great point. I think that just the pace of sort of innovation of technological change, you know, which we love as consumers on one hand because it gives us more and more features for less and less money over time. The flip side of that is that, you know, manufacturers are always just trying to churn out the new, the latest and greatest, and that sort of focus on maintaining, you know, older products can fall by the wayside.

AMOS: And let's talk about our own psychology about the gadgets that we buy. These are delicate hard drives in some cases, with lots of electronics. But we do - we beat them up.

Mr. MCCLUSKY: Yeah. I think there is some culpability on our part, of course. It's not having that sort of preciousness about our gadgets, and, you know, maybe that's because they're so pervasive in our lives now. You know, I think 20 years ago when the first cell phone came out and it was the size of a phone book, I think people were probably a little more precious with them than now that everybody has one stuck in their jeans pocket.

AMOS: Well, thank you very much. Mark McClusky is products editor for Wired magazine.

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