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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

EDITORIAL: Where’s the Craftsmanship in Today’s Products?


There’s a small coffee shop down on Erie Boulevard where I like to ⁢spend my Sunday mornings. It’s nestled amidst the⁤ manicured lawns of suburban Schenectady, New⁣ York, a stone’s throw⁢ away from ⁣my childhood home. There, under the comforting hum of the coffee grinder, I cradle a ⁢hot mug of joe between‍ my hands, cautiously warming them against the winter chill. This mug,​ like⁢ the others in the shop, is a hefty ceramic monster with a ‌chip on the rim and a⁤ hairline​ crack creeping up the side.

It reminds me of a bygone era—an era that prided itself on crafting products that stand the test of time. Products that age ⁢with dignity, their blemishes worn with pride. Today, it seems‌ this timeless craftsmanship has been overshadowed by ‌mass-produced ⁣pots,⁢ hastily constructed⁣ and short-lived. And it’s not just mugs, heck⁢ no. Everything,​ from typewriters to ‍automobiles, seems⁣ to share this⁣ common fault.

As someone who’s spent the last ‍half-century‌ in this corner of the world, I reckon I’ve earned the right to gripe about it a little. ⁣Feel free⁢ to humor this grumpy old man⁤ some, and let me ‍share‍ a tale or two. Perhaps it would shed⁤ light on‌ the fading art‌ of ⁤craftsmanship my generation​ hold so dear.

In the 70s, my mother used to‌ tote a‍ cumbersome Kodak camera. It was indestructible. She’d drop⁣ it, bang it, lose it in snowbanks ​while we were sledding, and yet it would produce images of such clarity and color saturation, it could⁣ make ‍even a hardened ⁢shutterbug weep. When was the last time you saw⁣ a ‍digital camera withstand⁢ that kind of ​abuse?⁤ Or a ​smartphone, ‌for that⁤ matter?

I remember working alongside⁣ my‌ Dad in⁢ our ​musty garage, his calloused hands expertly assembling a⁢ radio from discarded vacuum tubes and⁣ transistors. It crackled ​to⁤ life with a warm glow, broadcasting the Beatles’ latest hit, when such ⁣things were new. Today, radios are hardly more than afterthoughts, replaced by soulless streaming​ services on glossy smartphones.

In ‍my twenties, I⁣ was gifted a Timex wristwatch. It wasn’t fancy,⁤ by any means, but ⁤it was⁤ reliable. Rain or shine, drop or ‍dunk, it ticked along with ​a steadfast precision, matching time’s ceaseless march beat for beat.‌ Today, you’d​ be hard-pressed to ⁣find a watch that won’t fizzle⁢ out with⁢ the slightest hint⁤ of moisture, let alone survive a decade’s ‌worth of‌ wear ​and tear.

I’ve noticed the ⁢same degrading trend in automobiles. In the sixties, cars emanated a sense of permanence.‌ Big hulking beasts like the‌ Chevy Impala or the Ford​ Mustang ruled the roads.‌ They were built sturdy and solid, with gleaming chrome bumpers and steel bodies. Today, you’re more likely‍ to come across a ⁤car with plastic doors and ⁣polystyrene bumpers.

Corporate behemoths⁢ care more ⁢about quantity these days than quality, favoring profit over durability. Market competition, it seems, has encouraged a race to the bottom.‍ Instead of being⁢ built to last, goods are now designed to break, making space for constant innovation and replacement. It’s a system known as planned ‍obsolescence, where consumer items are purposefully made to become functionally or stylistically outdated within a certain ​period. It means more ⁤frequent purchases, more profit, and more waste in our overflowing landfills.

Sure,⁢ modern products ⁣come⁢ equipped with bells and whistles our ancestors ⁤could ​never dream of. Still, when a ⁢pair ⁣of‌ shoes‍ falls apart within months, or when a computer seems outdated within‍ years, I can’t help but pine for the age of craftsmanship—an⁢ age ⁤I grew up ‍in⁤ here in ‌Schenectady.

Sipping my ‌coffee from the ⁤worn mug at the corner shop, ⁢I‍ often⁣ reflect on our changing relationship with the products we consume. I yearn for the time we didn’t just ‘dispose’ but ‘repaired’; when goods matured with‍ use and technology promised sturdiness rather than planned obsolescence. It wasn’t just a different time—it was a⁤ different​ value system.

Craftsmanship isn’t just about the quality of the products—it’s about ⁤the​ quality of life it cultivates. It’s about ⁤pride⁣ in ⁢workmanship, sustainability, ‌slow living, and the satisfaction derived‌ from owning a⁣ product‍ that ages gracefully. ​It’s about treasuring our belongings, not replacing them at the ⁣blink of an eye.​

While time might have moved on, I am, and will always be, a stubborn⁣ advocate for craftsmanship. After all, ​if this ⁢chipped and⁢ cracked coffee mug can still hold ⁢its heat after all these years, maybe there’s a lesson to draw‌ there. Perhaps it’s time to ⁤reclaim those values and revive the art of enduring‍ craftsmanship ⁤– for ⁣both our⁤ sake ‍and that of the world we live in. God knows we could use ​a little more substance and ⁤a little less fleeting flash.

Brian McCarthy
Brian McCarthy
I'm Brian McCarthy! At your service to offer traditionally informed perspective on today's issues. Some call it out of touch; I call it time-honored wisdom.
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