For Want Of A “Touch Pad”

Yesterday we had to buy a new washing machine, which is being delivered today.  I’m not real happy about it.

The “old” washer came with the house.  As near as we can figure, it was bought new about five years ago.  In prior years, it’s proven to be a perfectly good, front-loading washer, and it’s got all of the high-end washing options and settings you could possibly wish for.

But when we arrived this year, we could not turn the stupid washer on.  Instead of a clunky, old-fashioned button you can physically depress to start the wash cycle, it has a sleek, more high-tech “touch pad” button.  You put your finger on the “touch pad” button, and sensors are supposed to detect the action and start the machine.  But try as we might — including disconnecting and reconnecting the machine to electrical outlets, applying various degrees of pressure, cursing, pleading, and trying knuckles, thumbs, and index fingers — yes, even middle fingers — we couldn’t get the touch pad button to engage, even though every other light and button and lever and dial on the machine seemed to be working just fine. 

We had a repairman come out, he used his testing equipment, and he told us that the “touch pad” would have to be replaced.  When he checked on the cost of that one part, he determined to his apparent astonishment that it would cost as much as buying a brand-new washing machine.  So why buy a replacement part for an old machine that now has had a serious problem when you can buy a new machine for the same price?  Our decision was an easy one.

This whole episode really bugs me.  At our house in New Albany, our washing machine was a 23-year-old top-loading Maytag.  It was decidedly low-tech, with only a dial and a row of black buttons, but it worked perfectly and was as dependable as the day is long.  I bet that machine is working still.

Since we bought that Maytag back in the early ’90s, appliance manufacturers have fallen prey to the notion that their devices need to be as high tech as cell phones, so if you try to buy a washing machine these days you’ll get a smorgasbord of “smart” options that look great.  But who cares how your washing machine looks?  It’s not typically prominently displayed in the American household, but instead is tucked away in a basement or a cubbyhole where guests don’t go.  And isn’t reliability what you are really looking for in a washing machine?  And, perhaps, simple replacement parts that don’t (ridiculously) cost as much as a new machine?

Our current washer, sleek and high-tech as it is, will be hauled away, probably to a landfill, even though its essential washing machine parts seem to be perfectly fine.  It’s a waste, and all because the machine has a “touch pad” rather than a simple button.  Sometimes, “high tech” is a curse.