Friday, January 12, 2007

Products and longevity

click photo to enlarge
On 31st August 1982 I bought a Sharp EL-509 scientific calculator from the branch of Boots on Whitefriargate in the city of Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire. I know this because I still have the calculator, and for warranty purposes the store stamped the back of the instruction manual with these details. All these years that manual has stayed in the pocket of the calculator's soft plastic case. And, every few days since the time of its purchase, the calculator has been used to do our household accounts and any other mathematical task that is required. None of this is particularly remarkable you might think. However, when I tell you that the calculator is battery powered (no solar power), and that the battery has never been changed since I bought it, then you'll concede that IS remarkable!

This fact prompts a number of thoughts. Are modern batteries deliberately made to expire quickly? I've never had any other product with a battery life to compare with this calculator. Is it still possible to buy a calculator that is capable of lasting for 25 years? Why don't other domestic electronic goods have lives of comparable longevity? Are we being ripped off by manufacturers? To what extent are we customers partly to blame for today's short product cycles and lifespans by always wanting new gadgets and fresh styling? Some of those thoughts went through my head when I bought the small lamp that features in today's photograph. It was ridiculously inexpensive, the metalwork was manufactured to an impressively high standard, and I would have expected the glass shade alone to cost twice what the whole lamp cost. But I couldn't help but wonder how long it would last. In theory there's little to go wrong, so a long life should be possible. But I had this nagging feeling that somewhere in its construction a key component had been designed to fail after a "reasonable" length of time, rendering the object useless. Time will tell!

My photograph is what I call an "abstractish" shot, showing part of the base and the stem below the shade. I liked the sheen and gloss of the metal, the reflections, and the perfection and interplay of the shapes. I placed the base on a black background to introduce more contrast, shot it from an angle to inject a dynamic note, and tried to balance the composition. I used a 70mm (35mm equivalent) lens, with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f18 at 1/2 second), ISO 100, with -0.7EV). The shot was illuminated by natural light.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen