Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Week 3/24

Over-consumption is a serious issue nowadays. It contradicts the conception of sustainable development, which basically is acknowledged globally. What I used to hear from my grandpa is that at his time, when something is broken, people fix it; now people just buy new ones. What even worse is that people buy new ones even things are just out-fashioned.

Prof. Woodhouse proposed two reasons to over-consumption: that is the desire of variety and quantity. I totally agree with this. Consumers always have strong momentum to use new fancy stuffs. Such becomes the market and design guideline: replacing old devices with new generation. Also,  Woodhouse suggested that "engineers operate under significant constraints that they are limited in what they can do until their companies function differently." Companies want profits from consumer, so they have to design products that fulfill consumers' needs and desires. Under this premise, companies must hire engineers who are capable of doing so. Now standing in engineers' shoes. engineers have bills to pay and families to feed. They have to do what companies want in order to keep their jobs. Taking this a step further, companies would love to guide their consumer to live in a prodigal way with commercial advertisement bombs. Because this brings even more profits. The entire chain is cycling in a negative direction and it is hard to stop at one point (engineer).

Are engineers completely non-guilty? I would say probably not. First of all, engineers want to design new cool things. This is more of  a self-realization aspect: who would want to repeat things redundantly!? Anecdotally, I am taking a mechanical capstone design course this semester, and my team project is to design a system which uses a phone to assess people's ability to balance themselves. The phone is hung on a belt around the waist, and the belt is completely fine from the previous design, but we change it and come up with a new belt that is a little bit tighter with a transparent pocket to hold the phone more stably. The old one is just being locked up. I think such phenomenon happens in industry as well. When engineers do not know what to use to surprise the market, they will just make some simple updates to the old one that perfectly works fine. An example would be ipad. I have an ipad 2 for 4 years and it works fine, but I forget how many updated versions of it are out there. For Iphone, the company just comes up with several variation in color and sells as a new version, and people buy those. To me, it feels like after Steve Jobs' death, apple lost its creativity. Engineers don't know what to do and start to make unnecessary changes or trivial updates. Then, they belie the consumers through advertisements. Regarding to this situation, engineers are the one should be blamed for lack of creativity and bringing up redundant work.

In conclusion, Woodhouse addressed over-consumption to the population of engineers: what can engineers do to alleviate? He wasn't looking for solution about waking up money diggers among companies' shareholders or general consumers, and I think that what engineers can do is waking up from the fantasy of designing new cool fancy items but truly making milestone changes to existing products and/or designing products which are not to be replace in half a year, which can be fixed rather than dumped (take a look at an old Nokia phone and compare it to an Iphone 5S, it's obvious how fixable things look like.

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