In 1985, I was a young software engineering manager just a couple of years out of college, and was beginning to put down roots in the first home I could call my own. I still distinctly remember my trip to a local appliance store to buy my first clothes washer and dryer. These were still the days of the lonely “Maytag Repairman”—an advertising icon from my childhood that stood for reliability.
But which brand of appliance should I actually buy, I wondered. It felt like a big decision and there were lots of competing choices. I wanted to pick the highest quality model I could find, but my expectations were low. That’s because I knew that washers or dryers broke down frequently, and that it wouldn’t be long—maybe a year or two—before I could expect to spend a day home from work, waiting for the repairman to show up. Eventually, of course, the repairman did come—actually a number of times over the years that those first appliances lasted.
I found myself once again in the market for a washer and dryer last year, and this time I wanted the best of a new generation of ultra-low-water, low-energy appliances. So after a quick price check online, I was once again off to my local appliance store. But as I was looking at the different brands lined up in front of me, I had a sudden realization: My expectations had changed completely from my previous time around. Now, I expected that the washer and dryer would last forever, or at least until my retirement, and that I would be both ...