Good enough or just cheap crap?
September 1, 2009 2:01 AM   Subscribe

Robert Capps, Wired senior editor, has an article up called The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine. It explores what happens when an established product meets a competitor that has most of the features at fraction of the price. Think hi-fi vs MP3s, A-10 bombers vs Predator drones or landline vs Skype.

From the article:
"To some, it looks like the crapification of everything. But it's really an improvement. And businesses need to get used to it, because the Good Enough revolution has only just begun."
posted by Harald74 (74 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Witness craigslist, again.
posted by maxwelton at 2:15 AM on September 1, 2009


Newsflash: People like cheap shit.

What I don't like about this trend is it frankly encourages consumption without conservation. If someone buys higher quality, they'll likely keep it longer, whatever it is, than the crap model. Lot's of people buy crap versions of things they wouldn't otherwise need or want. Very few people seem to be buying heirloom quality items, which is a shame, and quite contrary to the pat on the back we've been trying to give ourselves for slowing down our materialism, buying cheap is often the worst incarnation of our most basic material desires. Walmart figured out this near genetic predisposition a long time ago.

If someone wants to buy cheap, I suggest buying good quality used or on closeout. I've found that the downturn has been a great time to buy high end because of the great deals. I will keep the high end things I bought for a decade while the cheap crap others bought will be out the door soon enough. Much of the half-baked consumer goods are just going to end up in a landfill in a couple of years.

As for the article itself, I just think the author took a bunch of disparate examples and mashed them together. I don't think a cheap camera is comparable to Skype, nor do I think that drones are a particularly helpful example. Each example is actually matched to a given need or want, not really a dumbed down version of an existing product as portrayed by the author. Case in point for consumers - yes, MP3s are popular. Why? Free (often Illegal) or inexpensive downloading coupled with the flexibility of use. At the same time, you can now buy more releases on vinyl than you've been able to for probably 20 years (often the albums also coming with downloads or CDs of the music). Different desires, different functions, different markets. The article is drawing the wrong conclusion.
posted by Muddler at 2:42 AM on September 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


Witness Wired. Breathlessly reporting their discovery of market segments. Because before this moment we all drove Lamborghinis or nothing.
posted by srboisvert at 2:42 AM on September 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


Witness Wired. Breathlessly reporting their discovery of market segments. Because before this moment we all drove Lamborghinis or nothing.

*sigh*. Those were the days....
posted by molecicco at 2:45 AM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh how I long for the old days when ideas were great and precious things, rather than just good-enough scaffolds for half-assed articles!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:51 AM on September 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


Hmmm, I don't think it's a revolution. I think shit's gotten a lot cheaper in general. You can see this in the median price of a tv, or fridge, for example, as a proportion of household income.

People have always been interested in saving money, they now have the means to do so.
posted by smoke at 3:03 AM on September 1, 2009


Computers are trending similarly. Surprise, most people would rather have a $400 netbook than a $2000 gaming computer. How is this not obvious?
posted by mek at 3:09 AM on September 1, 2009


If someone buys higher quality, they'll likely keep it longer, whatever it is, than the crap model.

It's not necessarily about buying an equivalent thing of poorer quality though; it's about buying things of lesser capability, but perfectly good quality, or about going away from the prominent brand. A Sansa Fuze, for instance, rather than an iPod nano.

But yes, the article is basically mushing together a few arbitrary pieces of information and trying to carve a trend out of it.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:17 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I used to read wired back when I was a kid. It was exciting, like we were on the verge of the future. The internet was going to change everything, and obviously it did.

But what is the point of wired now? It seems like it tries to make every minor advance into some world changing event. But it seems like what they're reporting on has been a gradual, long-existing phenomenon. I mean the story starts by talking about people buying disposable cameras. How is that not an example of something cheap that people were choosing over expensive cameras?

I mean duh. The camcorder example. Originally, the electronics in a camcorder were going to be pretty expensive on their own. Why would you sell a stripped down camcorder with $250 worth of imaging hardware (including a tape drive) for $270 rather then adding some nice lenses and charging $350? And contrary to the article, you could always get camcorders for around $300/400. In fact I remember some of them being even cheaper then that.

It happened that we got to the point where the hardware was getting cheap enough that more of the accessories and bells and whistles were more of the cost so a product like the flip cam made more sense.

This article is so stupid. This isn't a revolution, it's just a natural technology curve.

With no big trend to cover, no revolution wired seems devoid of anything. Someone once called it "business porn" and I think that's about right. None of this shit matters in the least except to investors.
posted by delmoi at 3:29 AM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


well when my HTC Diamond (Retail around 400 Euro at the time) died, I was left with no mobile phone. So I bought a Nokia 1208 for 24 Euro.

Which is not crap: it works perfectly, of course I cannot use it as a crappy MP3 player, a crappy Camera, a crappy GPS and so on.

I do believe that this is not crapification, just the fact that tools that focus on their primary task (SMS + Phone) work much better than the jack-of-all-trades. And cost 20 times less.

Same thing with cars BTW (at least here in Europe).
posted by elcapitano at 3:32 AM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


People have always been interested in saving money, they now have the means to do so.

Actually, the savings rate in America declined precipitously in the past 50 years. We, as a nation of consumers, save very very little, run up credit, and buy-now-pay-later ourselves into oblivion.

It's interesting, though. When debt was frowned upon, rather than being something everyone did, people needed to think about their purchases a bit more, and things like TVs would never be an impulse buy. Having worked up-front for the money, I get the impression people wanted better craftsmanship in their purchases.

Of course, looking at history is a selection bias, as the "heirloom quality" stuff, the antiques, etc. are the things that were made to last, and people have forgotten how much crap was made back then too, maybe not of particle-board, but of cheap wood or inferior materials. We knock today's disposable culture, and rightly so, but people needed a nation-wide campaign to tell them not to litter, so we know Americans weren't natural conservationists back then.
posted by explosion at 3:35 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind people used to think that owning a set of silverware was high class, (it was since nobody else could afford it), for a while there people bought knives, like to eat with knives, on an individual basis. So of course after slaving away for three weeks, (well alright, two weeks and five days) in the damn factory you're going to go buy the best knife a buck and a quarter will get you. You're going to cherish that knife, keep it safe, shine it up, and give it to the grandkid, at which point it's an heirloom. Which is why frankly I dislike the concept of high craftsmanship. If it isn't built to last two hundred years it isn't worth more than a plastic mass produced version. Class warfare isn't dead until the last oligarch uses the same kind of silverware as the poorest family in Somalia.
posted by Peztopiary at 4:27 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Windows. Oh wait, Windows just feels cheap.
posted by Scoo at 4:27 AM on September 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


From the article:

MP3s entered at the bottom of the market, were ignored, and then turned the music business upside down. But oddly, audio quality never really readjusted upward. Sure, software engineers have cooked up new encoding algorithms that produce fuller sound without drastically increasing file sizes. And with recent increases in bandwidth and the advent of giant hard drives, it's now even possible to maintain, share, and carry vast libraries of uncompressed files. But better-sounding options have hardly gained any ground on the lo-fi MP3.

This is a really annoying and incorrect argument. First of all, until iTunes started making a dent in the market share, nobody actually bought music in MP3 format. They would buy music on CDs and convert them to MP3s, or get MP3s at some crappy bitrate like 128k off of the Internet for free. It's not as if there has ever been a time where the majority of music sold was at some low level of quality.

Even looking MP3s in general though, there has been a march up to higher qualities in nearly every application of MP3s. The article makes it sound as if all MP3s sound like crap, but the truth is unless you are a crazy audiophile with great listening equipment, 320k MP3s sound exactly like CDs, and that result has been shown in double-blind listening tests. In comparison, the 128k MP3s did sound like garbage, which is why nobody uses 128k these days. The file sharing scene had moved up to 160k and then 192k within a few years, and these days 320k and equivalent quality VBR encodings are the norm. Which doesn't even include lossless encodings like FLAC that have been around for a long time and have gotten increasingly popular.

Meanwhile legitimate music download stores have been slower to react, but 256k MP3 and lossless are pretty common these days on sites like Amazon and iTunes. And I think the lag had more to do with the music industry not wanting to make digital downloads a direct competitor to the CD format than it did with consumers not caring about buying music at a crappy quality level.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:02 AM on September 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


I remember buying cheap in the 70s when I was a kid. Was often all my folks could afford. Typically, cheap was poorly designed, shoddily made, and to add insult to injury, usually embarrassingly ugly.

Buying cheap these days seems to have much better value and satisfaction in just about every aspect. More often than not, I'm amazed at the quality that can be had at the lowest price levels. I won't claim that these cheap goods are equivalent of their classier, more expensive counterparts. But some of the cheap things I've bought in the last couple years, the $99 electric guitar, the $90 bicycle, the $7 pocketknife, truly shame their 70s counterparts in quality, design, materials and aesthetics, and are sometimes even cheaper now than they were back then, adjusting for inflation. And this doesn't even take into account the things we enjoy today that didn't even exist back then.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:02 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mek:

Surprise, most people would rather have a $400 netbook than a $2000 gaming computer.

That's not accurate, I suspect. I think most people would love to have a $2k gaming computer, but don't want to pay the $2k. In which case, a $400 netbook lets them do most of what they do just fine. It's sufficient, not optimal, but sufficiency is a legitimate criterion.

I think context matters also. I have a $2k gaming computer and a $400 netbook; I use one as my primary desktop and the other when I travel, and I'm delighted with both generally. But I don't try to play Left 4 Dead on the netbook and I don't try to take the desktop with me when I travel.
posted by jscalzi at 5:06 AM on September 1, 2009


256k MP3 and lossless are pretty common these days on sites like Amazon and iTunes

iTunes sells 256k AAC files, and used to sell 128k AAC. It's never sold MP3 (or lossless).
posted by cillit bang at 5:18 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


"But some of the cheap things I've bought in the last couple years, the $99 electric guitar, the $90 bicycle, the $7 pocketknife, truly shame their 70s counterparts in quality, design, materials and aesthetics, and are sometimes even cheaper now than they were back then, adjusting for inflation."

Because in the 70s they were made in the good ol' USA, possibly by a union workforce. Now? Not so much.

The Lava Lamp that cost me $50 or $60 in 1991 is now somewhere around $19.95, I think. I wanted that damn Lava Lamp so much, I paid for it with monthly payments to be able to afford it. Now, almost anyone can have one.
posted by litlnemo at 5:25 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


rather than just good-enough scaffolds for half-assed articles!

On the plus-side, at least this wasn't fluffed out to a half-assed book with the same title.
posted by smackfu at 5:50 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


The price of the 2N2222 has fallen dramatically from the 60s to now. But its quality hasn't changed one iota, even if it is made in China. (Love the username, 2N2222!)

I would disagree that the $99 electric guitar of the 70s is worse than the same now available. The finish might be better, but I'll take the red hollowbody over a "First Start" or whatever they sell at Target these days.
posted by jdfan at 5:52 AM on September 1, 2009


Good enough for what, exactly?

Things are good enough for a variety of reasons, because there is always a trade-off somewhere. Engineers have a saying: "Good, fast or cheap. Choose any two."

For example, MP3 playback is fast and cheap compare to "hi-fi" (whatever that is) but it sure isn't very good. But, yes, it is good enough -- for some applications. This is a classic engineering trade-off, and I'm glad to have it. The same holds true for bombers, guitars and bicycles. Having a hard-on for the perfect thing all the time is stupid, but then again so is assuming that the lowest common denominator fits all occasions.

There is room in this world for excellence, good design and high quality. We just have to know when to apply it.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:54 AM on September 1, 2009


I agree. the bit about MP3s is total rubbish. it seems that these days most people use 256 kbps or higher - and in general these sound really quite good. .
posted by mary8nne at 5:58 AM on September 1, 2009


Sorry - this article lost me at the first paragraph because peanut butter is fucking delicious.
posted by chinston at 6:09 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wired hasn't been a good magazine since late 1996.
posted by autodidact at 6:11 AM on September 1, 2009


I don't know, I get that the article is kind of glib, but I think his thesis is sound and worth stating. The Flip example makes the point perfectly, and the other examples mostly back it up: technology makes it possible to meet most needs well enough, in a relatively simple product, that added features and complexity aren't as attractive in comparison. What's interesting to me is that this also tracks with something Daniel Gilbert talks about in Stumbling on Happiness, where he cites studies that indicate that too many choices lead to decreased satisfaction. Trying to decide which set of features, which you are unlikely to use anyway, to get is a waste of time, attention and satisfaction.

Of course there is a subset of users of all these things that need the expert features because they are experts, but for a long time technology has been marketed to people as if everybody should be, or should want to be, an expert or aficionado. This article is fairly convincing about why another model might work better for most people.
posted by OmieWise at 6:16 AM on September 1, 2009


The A-10 vs. Predator example is a stretch. That's like comparing a chainsaw and a pocketknife because they both cut wood. The whole idea of "does the same job at a lower price" falls apart when you consider that the Predator doesn't deliver one of these (no, not the VW) where it's needed.

Of course, there aren't many enemy tanks left in Baghdad or the hills of Afghanistan.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:19 AM on September 1, 2009


jdfan: I would disagree that the $99 electric guitar of the 70s is worse than the same now available. The finish might be better, but I'll take the red hollowbody over a "First Start" or whatever they sell at Target these days.

I don't know exactly when that ad is from, but let's be a bit generous and assume it's fairly late 70s - 1977, say. Your red hollowbody cost $114,95 in 1977, say. That's over $400 in today's money. To be equivalent in price to today's $99 Target strat, it'd have to have cost around $30.

Seriously, while starter guitars may not be getting better, they're getting a lot cheaper, and what you would've paid for a starter guitar in the 70s will net you a decent mid-range axe today.
posted by Dysk at 6:21 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmmm, I don't think it's a revolution. I think shit's gotten a lot cheaper in general.

Exercise: walk through Wal-Mart sometime. All sections, all departments. Pick up one item from each shelf, turn it over and check to see whether or not it's Made in China.

Do this. Actually do this. I won't share the actual percentage I found, but it was eye-opening.

While not 'revolutionary', I think that definitely qualifies as a sea-change, because fifty years ago, the percentage would be near-zero, except for trinkets or novelty items.
posted by rokusan at 6:23 AM on September 1, 2009


Yay. Soyburgers and an intense discussion of what "meat" means. Blenders that burn out in three years. Hershey's waxy chocolate that can no longer be called milk chocolate. The Yugo.

Welcome to the junk lifestyle, designed for maximum turnover on its way from the shelves of a big box store on to the garbage heap floating in a Pacific gyre.
posted by adipocere at 6:33 AM on September 1, 2009


This is a weird article. To me its conflating luxury with quality. Can't the reality be that everyone needs different things. Some people's needs will be met with a 5 year old Hyundai and some will be met with a brand new Porsche. Just because everyone isn't buying top-of-the-line doesn't mean they don't care about quality.
posted by jourman2 at 6:42 AM on September 1, 2009


rokusan: Welcome to the American economy. I'm surprised you were surprised. It's not common knowledge that "shit's gotten a lot cheaper in general" because shit's now made in China, where labor is nearly free, health and safety margins are near zero, and the government pegs the currency to the dollar and keeps it low, so that exports are cheap to the exporting countries?

Nothing has actually gotten less expensive. The US is awash in super cheap Chinese-made goods because of deliberate policy choices by the US and Chinese governments. People may have different opinions about the advisability of this, but for me, I think it's never wrong to stick with the laws of thermodynamics. Nothing comes for free.
posted by rusty at 6:42 AM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


On the plus-side, at least this wasn't fluffed out to a half-assed book with the same title.

Limited edition hard cover or cheap paperback?
posted by device55 at 6:43 AM on September 1, 2009


I bought an acoustic Rogue from Musician's Friend for $50. It was built by robots, and is the netbook of guitars--a good camping guitar. The technology to make a guitar that cheaply didn't exist in the 70s. It's not the loudest or the brightest sounding guitar, but it's good enough for most settings and the action is not painful.
posted by mecran01 at 6:50 AM on September 1, 2009


While not 'revolutionary', I think that definitely qualifies as a sea-change, because fifty years ago, the percentage would be near-zero, except for trinkets or novelty items.
posted by rokusan at 9:23 AM on September 1


Twenty years ago they all would have said "Made in Japan"

Of course there is a subset of users of all these things that need the expert features because they are experts, but for a long time technology has been marketed to people as if everybody should be, or should want to be, an expert or aficionado. This article is fairly convincing about why another model might work better for most people.
posted by OmieWise at 9:16 AM on September 1



See the book Trading Up. What frustrates me about this article is how it is a sloppy rehash of much better explanations of the phenomenon. All that has happened is that certain ideas in manufacturing and technology have diffused from the upper segments of the markets down to the low-end.

Technology and ideas that used be the province of the early adopters ten years ago are working their way down to the commodity segments of the market. It's perfectly natural and expected. The corollary is that at present, the late-majority consumer is content to pay $30 today to get the technology that was cutting edge and $300 seven years ago, instead of paying $300 now for the latest technology. This doesn't merit a magazine article, because the phenomenon was documented in the 1960's.

In other words, it isn't that this technology is "good enough," because a few years ago, it was the best.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:54 AM on September 1, 2009


It was the "simple" part of the title that resonated with me -- because that's my own personal preference.

Everyone around me is going bonkers for i-Phones, and before that it was cell phones that also took pictures and let you play games or save mp3s. But as for me, I never needed a phone that let me play games, take pictures or save mp3's. I just wanted a phone that let me call another person and talk to them, and....that's it. I don't need it to play games, have a walkie-talkie feature, take pictures, make my lunch, or whatever. It's a phone. I want it to be a phone. It doesn't need to be anything else.

Same with an iPod. Sure, I could carry my entire music collection with me, in effect, but....I don't NEED to carry my entire music collection with me. My Discman does just fine -- I just pick a different CD each day. Or not.

Perhaps the thing behind "quick and dirty" is that people are realizing that when they bought the big fancy-pants tech devices, they actually only ended up using a tenth of the features -- so the next time, they said "well, why not get something that ONLY has the features that we actually use?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would disagree that the $99 electric guitar of the 70s is worse than the same now available. The finish might be better, but I'll take the red hollowbody over a "First Start" or whatever they sell at Target these days.

That red hollowbody might have more character. But it's almost certainly an old Harmony or Kay. Real dogs unless you had some luthiery chops (or luck) to make it playable. But few would waste resources polishing those turds.

A two pickup '63 Danelectro listed for about $100, and might have been playable out of the box. Let's even presume it could be had for half that price out the door. That would be over $300 in today's money - for bottom of the barrel instruments in their day.

I'm not familiar with what Target sells. But I found an accurate Les Paul Special copy, solid mahogany body and (glued in) neck, P90s, good playability, for $100 via an internet importer/retailer. That was two years ago, it hasn't warped into oblivion and remains perfectly playable today.

I could go on with my other examples. Point is, cheap is frequently good enough these days. And sometimes, significantly better than good enough.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:06 AM on September 1, 2009


Same with an iPod. Sure, I could carry my entire music collection with me, in effect, but....I don't NEED to carry my entire music collection with me. My Discman does just fine -- I just pick a different CD each day. Or not.

Perhaps the thing behind "quick and dirty" is that people are realizing that when they bought the big fancy-pants tech devices, they actually only ended up using a tenth of the features -- so the next time, they said "well, why not get something that ONLY has the features that we actually use?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:56 AM on September 1


I want to use your comment as the springboard to illustrate the point that judging from MAc vs PC and Ipod threads on Mefi, many Mefis don't understand.

For consumers like EC, the iPod competes with the Discman, and it loses. The iPod is inferior to the Discman on the only characteristic that EC cares about - price. But at $29.99, this Sansa 4GB MP3 player with a color LCD does compete.

People have behaved like this forever. But it doesn't make the cover of Time magazine the way a new $300 music player from Apple does, so the clueless forget that it happens.

And yes, not only do I have a landline, I have a rotary phone from 1933 connected to it. It still works, and unlike the "better" solutions, I can still make and receive calls when the power goes out.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:13 AM on September 1, 2009


EmpressCallipygos: I thought the same thing about the iPhone until I got an iPod touch. Then I realized that until you use one, you're comparing it to the wrong device. The iPhone doesn't compete with a telephone, or even a mobile phone. It's competing with your laptop. The iPod touch, similarly, isn't really competing with a discman, or even an MP3 player. It's also competing with a laptop. Your point is well taken, but your choice of example is, in this case, wrong. When you use one for a while, you realize that "phone" and "music player" is the disguise the iPhone / iPod assumes in order to help people conceptualize what they're purchasing. What they actually are is a general-purpose computing device, that easily does 95% of what the general computer user does on a desktop or laptop. Email, web browsing, facebook, look stuff up on wikipedia, and a hundred little special-purpose apps that probably vary a lot depending on what the owner does with the rest of their time. Mine tend to be weather and tide-related.

Oh, and they also make calls and play music.

But essentially, the popularity of the iPhone is a confirmation of the "good enough" principle, not a refutation of it. They're good enough that you don't have to lug a laptop around anymore.
posted by rusty at 7:26 AM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


The predator isn't better because it's cheaper. It's those other things mentioned in the article, like not requiring a pilot in the plane, and being able to hang and watch a person for hours. It's apples and oranges. It's only better than a jet fighter at attacking individuals on the ground. Afghanistan is not your usual 20th century war. If China decided to attack the continental United States tomorrow with soldiers, boats, and tanks, you can be sure we would want us some fighter jets.

I second EmpressCallipygos on simplifying. Once the wow factor wears off on a new gadget, all we care about is functionality.
posted by Brodiggitty at 7:29 AM on September 1, 2009


More disposability! Just what the planet needs! Yay for polystyrene cups and plastic carrier bags! The rivers are game players - they can take it! The ocean is a boundless landfill! It fell on the floor? Now it's trash!

(This comment is also good for the "economic growth is one vast Ponzi scam and is killing us all" FPP two or three up from this one.)
posted by WPW at 7:31 AM on September 1, 2009


I thought Wired was the Cosmo of the geekerati. Take the poll, look at the shiny and what kind toys you need to be complete.
posted by jadepearl at 7:41 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]



More disposability! Just what the planet needs! Yay for polystyrene cups and plastic carrier bags! The rivers are game players - they can take it! The ocean is a boundless landfill! It fell on the floor? Now it's trash!


Who is this comment directed to, the buyers of the low-cost goods or the early adopters? The early adopters are the ones who junk stuff faster, because there is always something newer and shinier to adopt. How many people do you know who have more than one iPod? How many people who bought the new iPhone already had the old one? Based on the numbers of those products sold, and the number of people who have never bought one, I would guess that a significant percentage of ipod/iphone sales are repeat customers. You are assuming inexpensive means poor quality - it doesn't.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:52 AM on September 1, 2009


It's strange that they use the Kindle as an example of "good enough". On the contrary, it's probably going to be the victim of it. For instance, the iPhone or another smart phone isn't great for reading books, but it's "good enough" if you already own one and a lot cheaper.
posted by smackfu at 7:54 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I'm of two minds about this. When it comes to bikes and cars, I buy quality–except for my '86 Buick (RIP). I mean, that was a quality car when it came out, but not when I got it in 2006. Other things I buy "good enough" – I bought my stereo 12 years ago, I think, for like $150. It's fine, I still use it. I didn't want nor need a $1000 system. Now I want one, just don't need it.

Computers I also buy quality. I want something I can upgrade and use for a number of years. My current desktop was assembled in 2001 from top-shelf bits, and still works fine. It won't run any games from Bethesda, though; oh well. I will probably have to get a new machine in the next 12 months. My work computer is a Macbook Pro. The thing these two machines have in common is that they were top-end and heavily overbuilt when I bought them, but now they are yesterday's news (PC) or par for the course (Mac). I'm OK with that, they are both old machines in computer years.

So I think what it comes down to is that things that I know I am going to lean on heavily, I am going to get quality stuff. I still look for value, and getting nine years out of a $1400 machine (w/o monitor) is good value. Stuff that's less mission-critical, as it were, I will sometimes get a cheapo model, though nowadays I'm actually just as likely to score something used at a rummage sale or craigslist. I do like having the option of getting a cheapo TV or stereo, though.
posted by Mister_A at 8:03 AM on September 1, 2009


buying cheap is often the worst incarnation of our most basic material desires. Walmart figured out this near genetic predisposition a long time ago.

Near genetic sounds exactly right, it's like the instinctual feeding frenzy of mass mammals. Impulsive consumption is a biological inevitability. And the easier it comes, the less we begrudge its dissatisfying hollowness.
posted by kaspen at 8:30 AM on September 1, 2009


But essentially, the popularity of the iPhone is a confirmation of the "good enough" principle, not a refutation of it. They're good enough that you don't have to lug a laptop around anymore.

Okay, well, then if I have a choice between

* keeping my laptop that works just fine, and spending nothing; and
* paying through the nose for an iPhone that does everything my laptop does and is just slightly easier to carry,

....hell, I'll just keep my laptop. I don't NEED to carry my laptop with me everywhere. Maybe I'll use some of the money I saved on a super-nice laptop bag for the times I DO need it.

....Sorry. What you're dealing with in me is a combination of "luddite" and "frugal New England Yankee."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Meh, read the cited "Innovator's Dilemma". Way more interesting. He's kind of extending the original authors ideas with more modern developments. Maybe his next article will be about "futureshock effect"
posted by Napierzaza at 9:32 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma was published in 2003. This article is basically a rehash of everything Christensen covered with some up-to-date examples. But I guess if you wait 6 years and change the examples, it's not plagarism, it's just lazy writing.
posted by GuyZero at 9:35 AM on September 1, 2009


I agree with a lot of the points in the article. I don't use iPods because I find them cumbersome and ridiculous, and hate the fact that I can't easily export tracks from iTunes. That's why I've used Creative and Sansa players.

They don't have all the features or usability of an iPod, but they're good enough for what I need to do and aren't too much hassle.
posted by reenum at 9:37 AM on September 1, 2009


Unlike most, I liked the article, particularly (as a Kaiser member) the part about Kaiser. I don't agree with everything it does, but Kaiser is certainly innovative. (I also like their emphasis on preventative care b/c (duh) it's good business.)

I agree with those noticing the rise in "simple" with "cheap" as a bonus.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:41 AM on September 1, 2009


I don't use iPods because I find them cumbersome and ridiculous

Although the point of the article is that you should be choosing the alternatives not because you don't like iPods, but because they don't have enough advantages over the cheaper ones.
posted by smackfu at 9:41 AM on September 1, 2009


Brother Dysk: actually $355. The guitar was $67.95 in 1971. But it's a quibble. Even so, the Target equivalent these days (guitar and amp) goes for $149.95.

2N2222: Yes, likely a Kay and likely a dog. And today's largely machine made First Act is made to better tolerances.

Btw, that page is from the 1971 Sears Wishbook.

By and large, though, I agree that time and progress have given us equivalent goods at better prices.
posted by jdfan at 10:28 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos, maybe it's the marketing or you have some weird friends or somesuch, but I don't think anyone here is really pushing you to buy an iPod. I like mine, and cost to usage it's probably one of my better investments (I was far from an early adopter), but not every product that exists needs to be for you.

Also "My Discman does just fine" stands out to me as being a line you've drawn somewhere, I mean you aren't saying "My walkman does just fine" or "The boombox I carry over my shoulder does just fine."

You've just drawn the cost/convenience/technology line in a different place than other people.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:48 AM on September 1, 2009


I think the question with features is what need you're actually filling.

I listen to music to have something to listen to. Perfect audio quality is not a need for me. It's not even really a want. I'll take the best audio quality that doesn't cost me more, but as soon as it costs more it's off my list.

I have a phone to be able to have a conversation with somebody. I don't need a phone that does more than that. I'll take one if it doesn't cost me more, but additional features do not fill needs I actually have.

My netbook is my primary machine because the way I use computers is almost entirely based on the internet and simple applications. My needs are covered by a netbook. My wants are better serviced by a middling-quality desktop, which I will hopefully get at some point, but at no point anymore does a $2000 gaming machine provide $1600 worth of additional value to me over the netbook. I'd take it if it was free, but it's not free.

But those features? Those aren't, to me, quality. Quality is the LL Bean backpack I've had since undergrad and will still be using ten years from now. It's not fancy and packed with extra features I don't need. It's just a backpack. It was a little more expensive than getting a backpack at Walmart, but it will last. I will still pay for quality any day of the week. I'm just not going to pay extra to get junk with more bells and whistles.
posted by larkspur at 10:50 AM on September 1, 2009


EmpressCallipygos: I'm not saying you need to buy an iPod. Just that your example is sort of pointed the wrong way. If what you want is a simple cheap music player, you do not want an iPod or an iPhone. If you were, though, considering getting a laptop to check email and look at the web sometimes (as opposed to, like doing real work on it) I'd be pretty hard pressed to come up with a good reason to spend $1000 when a $300 iPod will do most of the job and also be a hell of a lot more convenient to take places. That's all I mean here.
posted by rusty at 10:59 AM on September 1, 2009


This thread also reminds me of my efforts to buy a new cell phone yesterday. My fancy gadget needs are 100% covered by the iPod. All I want a phone for is to make and receive calls. That's it. There is, as far as I can tell, no such mobile phone. It seems like there ought to be a market slot for a phone that is tiny, cheap, and simply makes calls. But there doesn't seem to be such a device. I had to buy some piece of crap that's three times the size it should be and packed with junk I don't want. Joy.
posted by rusty at 11:02 AM on September 1, 2009



This thread also reminds me of my efforts to buy a new cell phone yesterday.


A Nokia 1661 on prepaid? $20 on T-mobile. It just makes calls.
posted by GuyZero at 11:07 AM on September 1, 2009


It seems like there ought to be a market slot for a phone that is tiny, cheap, and simply makes calls. posted by rusty

When I sold phones for a T-mobile dealer a few years ago we had two different kinds of that phone (not that tiny though I guess, as they were often the phone we gave to older cellphone-phobic people). The amusing thing was both of these almost phoneonly phones (no camera, they didn't flip, etc) would survive a ton of abuse and got better signal quality than phones that cost $300 more. Of course one of them would sometimes decide it wanted to call 911 when it was in your pocket even though the keylock was on...
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:11 AM on September 1, 2009


It seems like there ought to be a market slot for a phone that is tiny, cheap, and simply makes calls.

What's happened is that any plan phone has $100-$150 in subsidies in it. No one wants to use that on a phone that costs $50. You have two choices for a FREE phone and one has more features, that is what 90% of the people will take.

Like GuyZero says, prepaid is where the simple phones are. Where they need to sell sub-$50 phones with only a minimal subsidy.
posted by smackfu at 11:12 AM on September 1, 2009


The book Disrupting Class goes into this theory in detail, specifically in regards to how it will effect education in the coming years. Hint: more online, less face to face.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:29 AM on September 1, 2009


EmpressCallipygos: I'm not saying you need to buy an iPod. Just that your example is sort of pointed the wrong way. If what you want is a simple cheap music player, you do not want an iPod or an iPhone. If you were, though, considering getting a laptop to check email and look at the web sometimes (as opposed to, like doing real work on it) I'd be pretty hard pressed to come up with a good reason to spend $1000 when a $300 iPod will do most of the job and also be a hell of a lot more convenient to take places. That's all I mean here.

I think we might all be on the same page, but different paragraphs. Your point here:

All I want a phone for is to make and receive calls. That's it. There is, as far as I can tell, no such mobile phone. It seems like there ought to be a market slot for a phone that is tiny, cheap, and simply makes calls. But there doesn't seem to be such a device. I had to buy some piece of crap that's three times the size it should be and packed with junk I don't want.

This is essentially what I was saying. And it is THIS feeling, I think, which may also be behind the "good enough" trend. The advertisers/ marketers/etc. are the ones saying, "oh, but SURELY you want your phone to do so much more than just make calls!" and people are saying, "no, I just want a phone that makes calls. Just making calls is good enough."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on September 1, 2009


I'm stuck with Verizon, unfortunately. It's the only carrier that I can get a signal from at my house. I wound up with an LG VX5500, since it seems that more people care than I'd have expected. It's at least fairly small.
posted by rusty at 11:35 AM on September 1, 2009


EmpressCallipygos: I'm definitely on the same page as you. Totally with you. I have all kinds of "just do the thing it's supposed to do right and that's it." I have no disagreement with your point at all. :-)

I was merely presenting an alternative view of your specific example that was meant to demonstrate that if you change the perspective a little, something like an iPhone also satisfies that same need, and maybe that's why so many people are going all gaga about it. That's all. The same need which you and I are right there together like this in espousing. (I'm crossing my fingers here, to show how right there together we are. It would be wonderfully folksy and charming if you could see it.)
posted by rusty at 11:38 AM on September 1, 2009


*grin*

As for the Ipod someone asked about above -- no, no one here's given me crap for it, but others out in the world have marveled at the fact that I don't have one.

I just chuckle and think of the sweet home stereo I got second-hand for only $30 from a couple who were selling it because "oh, it works fine, we just use our ipods instead all the time."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:25 PM on September 1, 2009


I don't NEED to carry my laptop with me everywhere. Maybe I'll use some of the money I saved on a super-nice laptop bag for the times I DO need it.

Beyond food, shelter and arguably sex, there's hardly anything you do "NEED". There's no moral advantage to be gained by saying "I don't NEED an iPod" when you've got a Discman that you don't need either. You just made a choice about something you wanted based on different metrics. It doesn't mean they're bad choices, or poorer metrics, but then neither is the decision to buy an iPhone, or replace your unused fixed home stereo with an iPod.

Yet the "I just want a phone that makes calls" (which has been an internet trope since handsets first got colour screens; the sort of handsets that are now seen as "basic") all-too-often has an chuckling associated claim to the moral high ground, as if wanting to do more, better, is somehow gauche.
posted by fightorflight at 7:17 PM on September 1, 2009


Fun fact: Motorola actually makes a really simple phone that does nothing, but it has an e-ink display, like a Kindle. Video. But it kind of sucks at text messaging. So I didn't buy it, even though I though I "just wanted a simple phone".
posted by smackfu at 7:47 PM on September 1, 2009


There are tons of phones that are really tiny (like this one) and really just send calls. You can even get cellphone watches now. I wouldn't want to try to text or surf the web on one of those.

The thing is, once you have the base technology, adding the rest of the crap doesn't cost much more in terms of price, so it's not like you're paying for more then you need.
posted by delmoi at 10:40 PM on September 1, 2009


Yet the "I just want a phone that makes calls" (which has been an internet trope since handsets first got colour screens; the sort of handsets that are now seen as "basic") all-too-often has an chuckling associated claim to the moral high ground, as if wanting to do more, better, is somehow gauche.

...Except....this whole thread is about an article that was about a general trend towards people shunning stuff that did more, and getting simpler stuff instead.

I wasn't claiming it as a moral high ground, I was positing it as, "hey, maybe this is why people are getting cheaper and simpler stuff."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:43 AM on September 2, 2009


flightorfight, I'm not going to claim to be morally superior with my simple-as-fuck Nokia (why do they not print model numbers on the phones?), merely saying that I drop it all the time, and have submerged it in water while it was on, and it still works fine. To top that off, it gets about a week between each charge.

Different strokes for different folks, but those are some features!
posted by Dysk at 6:20 AM on September 2, 2009


I wasn't claiming it as a moral high ground, I was positing it as, "hey, maybe this is why people are getting cheaper and simpler stuff."

So what's to chuckle about with the home stereo, then? I sort-of see your point, but it still smells a bit too much of is-this-something-I'd-have-to-have-a-TV-to-know-about-ism.

Ultimately, I think the difficulty here is trying to map your preference for old tech onto an article that's really just a load of cherry-picked examples but doesn't have a real-world trend behind it. For instance, he completely ignores the iPhone: a complicated, expensive product that does many things, but is simple to use and selling up a storm. If people really wanted simple devices that did just one thing well, how did the iPhone become the most-used camera on Flickr in a bit more than a year?

The ultimate thing here is not that people want "cheap and simple" they want "isn't a pain in the ass" and are prepared to pay for it if required. eg: The Flip camera took off because people just wanted to take videos and slap them up on YouTube. An expensive, fragile camcorder isn't the tool for that, and getting its output on YouTube is even more complicated. That the Flip is cheap is related, but not the cause of its success. Same with iPod vs Discman. If all your music is in iTunes, then putting it on an iPod is ridiculously easy. It's much more expensive than a Discman, but it outsells them many times over.

Part of the problem is in the article's headline, I think. "Good enough" is spot on: my iPhone doesn't replace my laptop, but is good enough at trying that it doesn't matter. "Cheap and simple" aren't the same thing, and it's wrong to suggest they are. The predator drone is neither, but it is "good enough".

It's not a great whole-new-world article for Wired if you just say the truth, which is that "consumers will buy products that do exactly what they want, and shun those that suck", though.
posted by fightorflight at 7:40 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks to everyone for the tiny simple cell phone links. It appears that my problem is not that they don't make such things, but that I'm stuck with a bass-ackwards mobile company that doesn't use GSM. The USA is a technological backwater.
posted by rusty at 7:58 AM on September 2, 2009


The USA is a technological backwater.
To be fair, there's no point in them investing in a GSM network if people are just going to use it for POTS, is there? You want cheap and simple, you get can't complain about getting, eh, cheap and simple.
posted by fightorflight at 8:22 AM on September 2, 2009


Except that Verizon invested in a CDMA network instead. My annoyance is that we have a system that hardly anyone else uses. A big part of "simple" is "it just works," and going from a US mobile provider (with a couple exceptions, and it's very slowly improving) to anywhere else is a big pain.
posted by rusty at 11:44 AM on September 2, 2009


On the plus-side, at least this wasn't fluffed out to a half-assed book with the same title.

Oh, great. Now we know who to blame when politicians start quoting it (grin)

The most irritating part of this article is that it talks in grand terms ("everything is cheaper and crappier - whee!"), but it's really talking about disposables.

$400 netbooks sell like crazy because they'll be just as obsolete as a $2000 desktop in 3 years.

But I also just bought a $400 AM/FM, no-CD, no MP3, no sattelite, made-of-wood radio from Tivoli. Just don't think the $5 version will last for 30 years even though it might be "good enough".
posted by nometa at 6:53 PM on September 2, 2009


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