The shiny refrigerator sits in my kitchen, hovering over all the other appliances. It features an exterior water and ice dispenser, a digital control panel that allows me to choose whether I prefer my ice cubed or crushed, a crisper humidity control and “flip-up’ shelving units.
It is quite technologically advanced. Also, it is quite dead.
The coroner, aka the refrigerator repairman, confirmed its demise mere minutes after being summoned by me, via an explicit phone call, detailing its problems.
“It’s making a funny noise.”
“Compressor’s shot,” the coroner said, shrugging his shoulders as if this was a perfectly plausible explanation, never mind that this model was less than 10 years old.
Thankfully our house still contains our original fridge, exiled to the mudroom when the new unit arrived, but now home to all the food we quickly had to transfer from the deceased, said unit. Still humming along, repair-free, after 25 years, it is nothing more than a cold space for refrigerated foods and a colder spot above for frozen items. Its interior is void of anything digitally-driven, Wi-Fi-enhanced or Bluetooth-enabled. To make the fridge colder, I move a knob to 9. The freezer’s temperature choices range from A to E.
Now, as my wife and I peruse the Labor Day appliance sales, we find ourselves once again questioning if the amount of technology we choose to include in the latest model will be inversely proportional to how long the damn thing lasts.
We’ve been down this road before, always falling victim to salespeople gushing over some feature that we MUST include. Our first flat screen television was a 70-inch beauty containing surround sound, a remote featuring buttons labeled with cryptic commands like TITLE/POPUP and an army of streaming services I could choose from if none of the 750-plus cable channels interested me.
Oh, how proud we were to own something that we assumed would grow old with us. “What more could we want?” we asked while watching Dancing with the Stars in high-definition.
Three years later, the TV developed a feature not mentioned by any salesperson or described in any manual: A mysterious red line running the width of the screen’s center.
“Maybe it will go away on its own,” I said to my wife. “Besides, it’s hardly noticeable.”
That fib lasted until we hosted our annual Super Bowl party.
“What’s with the red line?” countless guests asked, in between bites of guacamole.
We summoned the TV repairman the next day.
“What did you throw at the screen?” he asked, after running a few diagnostic tests, most of which consisted of turning the TV on and off, first with the remote and then using the power button.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I’ve seen this before,” he said. “That line appears if the screen suffers trauma. So, what did you throw at it?”
I explained that we were not “throw-objects-at-the-TV” kind of people, although I wonder what I would have done had the Cubs blown Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.
“Well, there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “And, unfortunately, you are out of warranty.”
“So just like that, I’m supposed to drop another $3,000 for another TV?”
“You could pay less,” the repairman said. “Check the post-Super Bowl sales.”
The TV joined the heap of other, AMAZING gadgets and appliances with life spans rivaling your average goldfish. A new, lighter weight and supposedly faster processor-enabled iPad? Dead after two years. Ditto for a touch screen(!) laptop from some manufacturer that promised uncompromising durability.
Now we are faced with replacing an appliance that I barely recognize because somebody decided refrigerators should do more than chill food. Today’s models can include in-unit cameras that let me see my yogurt from my iPhone, exterior touch screens that allow me to upload digital photos, rendering refrigerator magnets obsolete, and streaming music services, in case my celery needs to hear Taylor Swift’s new single to stay fresh. Although it will probably lead to an in-store argument with my spouse, this time I vow not to succumb to this excessive gadgetry and the accompanying price tag, for doing so just opens me up to a litany of potential repairs on features that have zero to do with food chilling. I don’t need a repairman telling me my new fridge is shot because my music service malfunctioned.
Unless he wants to be the target of a rotting chicken, thrown by yours truly.