Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Do-It-Yourself Globalization

Chinese Factory Workers

Computers, whether small or mighty, could be described as modified telephone switches. In any event, almost every computer is attached to the telephone system with wires. It once required an electrician to splice the ends of copper wires together in a way that would hold, but now the ends are held together by a little plastic clip that slips into the fitting, and then is held in place by a small plastic dongle. Unfortunately, these dongles break off easily and you get a wire that keeps falling out of its attachment. The plastic dongle surely costs less than a tenth of a cent, but a multi-gigabyte Internet system is useless without it. Solution: go buy a whole new telephone wire, with new clips at both ends.

The other evening that approaches offended my sense of frugality, self-reliance and home repair ethos sufficiently that I went to an electronics store to buy a bag of clips and a special tool to apply them. After considerable discussion with several employees, all of them quite sympathetic to my repair- don't- replace motive, the equipment was located. I was half-way to the check-out counter when the arithmetic began to emerge. It would cost exactly three times as much to repair as to replace the whole wire with a new one having a clip already fastened to both ends. So, naturally, I bought the new wire instead, and will not have the repair tool and bag of spare clips to clutter up my drawer. To get lost before I need them again, or else forget I have them and buy a second set. It all makes sense, it's modern and increases productivity, but the clerks and I had a moment of bonding. Our way of life has taken another step out the door. We are just a little further from the self-reliance of the frontier, and a little closer to dependence on those starving wretches in China who make dongles.

On the way home with my new wire, I saw something I hadn't noticed as I went out shopping. Two hardware stores going out of business. Everything must go, the signs said.

Originally published: Friday, June 23, 2006; most-recently modified: Thursday, May 16, 2019