Monday, January 7, 2008

No Fix

My girlfriend has a 2002 Lexus RX 300, and being a Lexus, it's loaded, right down to its nifty GPS navigator. Like most modern vehicles, this car's GPS is part of a module that also includes the audio (AM, FM, CD player) and climate controls—very convenient ergonomically speaking. This is a high-mileage car—139,000 miles—but it's in great condition. Hey, it's basically a glorified Toyota, and what car has a better reputation for dependability and reliability than Toyota?

Indeed, mechanically this car is bulletproof—it doesn't use a drop of oil and never has had so much as a burp. But one night a week or so ago, the electronics started to act up. First, the radio on/off button wouldn't work. Then I couldn't go forward or back a track on the CD. The on/off button came back on line but the navigator started to lose its way, heading off cross-country even as we slogged up I-95. Ever since that night electronic features keep disappearing and reappearing in some perverse imitation of musical chairs; when we climb into the car we never know what's going to work and what won't, but we've started carry maps, just in case.

Of course, the ever-helpful Lexus dealer is more than able and willing to fix the problem, which means replacing the entire audio/climate/navigation control module for a price that I calculate is about twice what the car is worth.

Among the many lessons I've learned (and relearned) from this experience is that my psyche is forever trapped in the Mechanical Age when things could actually be fixed—screw this gizmo off, screw this new one on, and you're on your way. In the Electronic Age, I am coming to understand, life is not this way. Stuff is no longer designed to be repaired, only replaced. My epiphany regarding this actually occurred last spring when my boat's chartplotter abruptly went dark. I called the manufacturer's toll-free service number, and after a very brief Q and A ("Are you sure it's turned on? Is the power plug in tight? Have you dropped it recently?), I was told to box up its way-out-of-warranty self and ship it off to the service center where they basically replaced everything but the knobs that hold it to its bracket and returned it to me, fully operational. The cost, I am delighted to report, was zero, but only because the company took pity. They were in no way obligated to give me a pass, unless it was by some corporate conscience (an oxymoron if there ever was one).

Boating has finally taught me that this is now the way of the world: Most things are no longer designed to be fixed, just discarded and then replaced. Considering how much stuff on my boat falls into this category, I find myself seriously questioning what I may have really gained with all this new technology. I have a friend who actually knows how to navigate by sextant and has had the same instrument for three decades. Whenever it needs adjustment or repair, he ships it back to England, where they can replace any part. Gives new meaning to the word fix, doesn't it?

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