The problem with toasters (and other technology)
A while back, I had to buy a new toaster. You would think this was a simple process; it’s not. And the problems I encountered along the way tell us a lot about what is wrong with buying technology today.
This is a piece from RedShark published back in 2015 but no less relevant today. Here’s the obligatory snippet:
Quickly browning two slices of bread at the same time should not be a problem that vexes modern technology too much, but trying to buy a modern toaster that a) works how you want at b) a price you are prepared to pay is a step into a vortex of deeply unsatisfying compromises.
And this is important, because this process can be easily mapped to other products, such as cameras.
Toaster A is thought of as okay by 50% of people, loathed by 20%, and costs £35. Toaster B costs £120 and is considered a religious experience by 60% of buyers, but the manufacture apparently switched to China in 2012, the new components are shoddy, and the recent reviews are poor . Toaster C meanwhile is £15 but the slots are too small for large loaves. Then there is Toaster D whose walls are made of glass so that you can see the toast browning inside. Toaster D looks great, costs £150, but is apparently not so good at making toast.
Every single time I stepped down the decision tree on a likely candidate, I ended up coming across a deal-breaker and reversing my course. It took days and, in the end, I ordered a variety of Toaster A which is sitting in the kitchen at the moment. It looks all right, the bread fits, it toasts unevenly, it feels plasticy, and — if I’m lucky — it might last me a couple of years. It is the classic ‘meh’ purchase.
Currently, I’m just very glad I’m not sitting here with a £500 (or significantly more) camera in my hands going ‘meh’.
So, what is going on here? How has the consumer experience become quite so complex and unsatisfying? I reckon it’s down to the interplay between two factors: an over-reliance on the Wisdom of Crowds and faulty manufacturing processes.