Mod-Cons – the throw-away society, by design

The term “mod-cons” cropped up recently and I questioned it like I never before: “It has the word ‘con’ in it!”

The term is supposed to refer to “modern day convenience”, but more and more it seems the “con” part is not short for anything.

Today I had the fun task of assisting my brother in dismantling a poorly washing machine (a Hotpoint WT721…. aka, an Ariston A1637). The drum bearings had worn out and we had found videos on Youtube showing hot to replace them and we found the necessary replacement parts on ebay.

The video illustrated that the task was quite an arduous one, but the washing machine was essentially already scrap so we had little to lose; only the relatively small cost of replacement bearings if we failed to succeed.

And fail we did.

We got pretty far but when we arrived at the stage of ‘cracking the drum open like an egg’ we found that our model was neither screwed together, or screwed and clipped, as the video had warned, but sealed solid. Some people would perceiver at this stage and basically cut the plastic outer drum open, but I didn’t see how we would get the thing sealed back together with any confidence regarding water-tightness.

The thing had been designed in a way to prevent the bearings from being replaced, perhaps with the arguement that the manufactures can be confident that the construction will be watertight for the duration of the guarantee, but this is at the cost to the owner of having to buy a new machine (costing £££s) compared to some £15 for the replacement parts.

Then, once I’m all cleaned up and back at home I find myself on Youtube (again) watching some discussion about the harmful effects of LED lightbulbs.

I’m not a fan of these for the fact that the first one I bought was Panasonic-branded and worked for some weeks before continuing to do so only by emitting an annoying high-pitched buzzing noise; too faint for some to hear, but not me. I’d bought it for my office which needs a light on at any time of day that I want to be in there. Unable to tolerate the annoyance, and no longer having my receipt, and also unable to locate Panasonic’s “complain about a bulb” relevent Contact page section of their website in order to rant to them directly, I moved that bulb to my bedroom which only needs a quick on and off of a light for occasional use (I have a bed-side lamp for reading). Strangely, my brother had given me an LED bulb that is identical to the annoying one except it lacks the Panasonic-branding, and hasn’t developed the annoying noise, so I’m using that in my office instead.

The lasting annoyance is that going by the details on the original box, that “faulty” bulb will keep working for some 25 years (assuming that the buzzing wont kill it prematurely), so you’re sort of stuck with a bulb you don’t want, unless you can bring yourself to throw it out before you’ve got your monies’-worth out of it.

There is another problem with buying a light-bulb that will last so long is that you might decide it’s not the right one for you; such as too bright or too dim; gone are the simple days of comparing wattages to get the right brightness of bulb since LEDs are a much lower wattage compared to the old incandescents, but instead carry an “equivalent wattage” label on the box, which often doesn’t fit into the simple wattage categories of  days gone by.

Back to the video though, and it goes into detail, lots of detail about the actual harmful effects of LED light-bulbs; more detail than I had the attention-span for, but something that did make me prick my ears up was a claim that the incandescent light-bulbs were/are designed to fail as early as they do (typically after only 1,000 hours). Some sort of ‘conspiracy’ about their manufacture; “they could be made to last longer”.

The video essential explains that LED light-bulbs emit their light with a high portion of the blue part of the light spectrum, which is what makes them harmful and I believe which too computer/TV/phone screens are also harmful to us, or at least help to keep us awake late into the night because of the amount of unnatural blue light that shines into our eyes and disrupting our circadian rhythms. The two “doctors” discuss how this harmful light actually reaches further into the flesh to cause further harm, bringing in such terms as “DNA” and “mitochondria”.

I’m not sure how the old energy-saving light-bulbs would far in this comparison between LEDs and incandescents, but I have a couple in my lounge that are only just bright enough but once they warm up and my eyes get used to them they are comfortable to read under. My bedroom lamp that I read under is also an old-style energy-saving light-bulb.

I also try and maximise my hours of natural daylight by going to bed early and waking up at the crack of dawn, rather than staying up late, spending hours under artificial lighting and then waking up with hours of daylight already passed. This is a great way to avoid sleeping problems.


p.3782 (Vol.6) of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia, as I have just found myself, reminds me of my highschool Biology lessons regarding the human eye:

When we go into a dimly-lit room, or out of doors from a brightly-lit room, at first we see practically nothing, and then afterward we begin to see. The principal reason is that the rods of the retina are exhausted by the bright light to which they have been exposed, and the cones cannot see in a dim light. After a few minutes the rods regain their power, as the blood is always flowing rapidly through the retina, rich in materials from which the rods can make the special substances on which light acts when we see. So, after a little while, we begin to see again, but we see no colour. The rods are unable to distinguish one colour from another; if they see at all, they see a sort of bluish grey.

This makes me consider that by having increased the number of hours we spend in lighted conditions and less in darker, the rods in our eyes get under-used and perhaps the cones over-used.


In additional to light-bulbs and washing machines… when I moved into my own place I bought myself a new Hoover; my mum had had an old Hoover vacuum cleaner for years that had served her well, and so I wanted to follow on the tradition… mine barely lasted the length of the warranty; I had noticed how the quality and robust feel of these things had been lost over the years and I think mine had been faulty from the start but its faulty motor wasn’t obvious to me because I never used it at full power. By the time it failed proper the warranty was up; I looked for a replacement motor but it was going to cost close to the cost of a new Hoover.


  1. The appliance that really annoys me is the electric kettle. The first I had (a Russell Hobbs K2) lasted years, in fact decades, and when it eventually started to leak I got a new one. According to retrowow “Many people are still using K2s more than thirty years after they first bought them.” Now we need a new kettle every two or three years. They either stop switching themselves off, or the plastic around the spout begins to crumble (and we always take out the plastic mesh spout filter because otherwise after a year or so you discover it has disappeared and you have consumed it), or if you get a metal one they leak. And they are irrepairable. They seem no better whether you pay £10 or £50 so we always get the cheapest and replace it after 2-3 years and throw the old one away. Crazy. All that waste plastic – it’s going to be a worse environmental disaster than climate change.

    • *gulps at the thought of consuming a plastic kettle filter*

      It really is hit-or-miss with kettles. We had a decade-long running joke in our house because when we moved in there was discarded kettle in the loft (an old plastic Russel Hobbs model); it looked a bit tatty so we used ours but kept it as a spare; my aunty even bought us a nice-looking but relatively expensive stainless steel Russel Hobbs one that lasted for only a year before it started leaking at the base… other kettles failed in various ways… each time we would turf out that “backup kettle” from the loft.

      My kettle, a cheapy stainless steel one originally from Asda (as the label on the base informs me) but I bought from a car-boot for a £1 because the original owners had redecorated their kitchen and “it didn’t match”… has lasted me a few years so far… I’m wondering if they begrudge parting with it.

      Additionally, I never pay for an extended warranty on anything if I buy a new appliance, I think that’s a con in itself.

      But yes, the waste and the environmental burden is the worst of it all.

  2. The fears around LED lamps are a popular fringe science topic, there is a wealth of disinformation being repeated over and over. Lighting and colour temperatures have been linked to sleeping and hormone (Melatonin especially) changes but the large changes are from light intensity overall, reducing lighting of any kind will help. Now that LED technology is maturing broad band and warmer sources are available cheaply and found in many off the shelf lamps, you can even check the “quality” at home easily:

    • That’s a neat trick with the CD/DVDs. That Matthias Wandel video on that page is fascinating and shows that Compact Fluorescent bulbs are the problem; what he didn’t compare though was incandescent bulbs with the LEDs and CFs, although since he showed how good LEDs are it’s probably unnecessary. I generally read under some old CF bulbs and will continue to do so until they need replacing. I laughed at the end when he questioned if the low start-up time of his motion sensor suggested it was running Windows.

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