In the early 1970s, my parents owned an Omron 88 Goldenrod-colored calculator. We kids were never allowed to touch it. It was kept in its black case and stowed in the bill box on a high shelf, and its appearance once a month was ominous: it was imperative that our parents were not disturbed, because they were “paying the bills” and this was “very important” and “don’t bother us unless someone is mortally wounded.” The calculator was not only as esteemed as a relic, it was a symbol of the seriousness of adulthood.
Over the years, although the bill box changed, the calculator, its black case, and its place on the high shelf did not. My father used that calculator to pay his bills up until he was hospitalized in 2007.
We didn’t finish cleaning out Dad’s house until 2009. I found the bill box—and the calculator. I still felt I wasn’t really allowed to touch it, like it was some sacred thing, but I slipped it out of its case and flipped the “ON” switch. To my thrill, it still worked, although I didn’t expect it not to. It was clean, the buttons didn’t stick, and there wasn’t a scratch on the screen or the casing.
It now sits in my bill basket, and I use it on a regular basis. It’s probably around forty years old and it works like I bought it yesterday.
The story of the Omron 88 is not unusual for me. My 2002 digital camera still works and is in mint condition; my 2005 cell phone I only recently replaced (last week) because no one makes the batteries for it (and that was all that was wrong with it, the battery stopped taking a charge); I still use one of the very first MP3 players ever put on the market on a daily basis. I spend less money and have fewer hassles than most people I know because my stuff lasts.
While it can be argued that small electronics aren’t made as well as they were even just a few years ago, that doesn’t mean they can’t still last a long time. And why wouldn’t you want them to? It’s not only green (less waste), but saves you green (you’re not spending money unless you absolutely have to). So here are my five tips for making your small electronics last longer.
Buy high. When shopping for a camera, cell phone, MP3 player, or what have you, do your research! Treat that two hundred dollar camera as though it were a thousand-dollar wide-screen TV. Get Consumer Reports. Talk to people who own the models you’re interested in, and read product reviews. Then buy the highest quality you can afford. I’ve convinced part of the reason my cell phone lasted so long was because I bought the highest quality phone on the market at the time.
Think simple. The more complex a thing is, the more likely it is to break (compare the molecular structure of crystal to that of glass, for example). Before you purchase, say, a cell phone, ask yourself what you really need: do you really need all those bells and whistles? What functions are you going to die without? Try to get a model that has only the functions you deem absolutely necessary. When purchasing something new, think as simply as you can.
It’s in the bag. Get some type of protective case for your small electronic, even if all you can find is a change purse, cosmetic bag, or tobacco pouch. A case will deter breakage if dropped, prevent water damage from the occasional rain-drop, and minimize scratching or other damage.
Give it a home. Find a “home” for your small electronic and its accessories when you’re not using it, preferably in a drawer or some other place that’s out of harm’s way. Keeping it in one place not only ensures that you’ll always be able to find it, but automatically prevents accidents.
Keep it clean. Clean your small electronic on a regular basis according to manufacturer’s instructions. Keeping it as free of dust, dirt, and sticky stuff as possible keeps things from gumming up the works.
Back to the Omron. I knew it was from the 1970s, but wasn’t quite sure what year, and wanted to find out. I did some research and came across an excellent, extensive online calculator database, but my model wasn’t pictured anywhere. I tracked down the name of the gentleman who runs the site, Emil Dudek of the UK, and sent him an e-mail with a photograph of my beloved Omron 88 attached, not really expecting to get an answer for quite a while.
I got a response just four days later, and was thrilled with how he closed out his informative e-mail (he believes the model does, indeed, date back to around 1975 or so): “Do not throw away” – you have a model that looks like it is quite rare.
Don’t worry, Emil. I have no intention of throwing it away.
In fact, it’s a pretty good bet the damn thing is going to outlive me.