Bic Generation

Bic Lighter at the Museum of Modern Art

The Bic lighter at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City


Made in Japan used to mean the product was junk, until E. Edwards Deming brought his message of quality to Japanese manufacturers. We need another Deming – this time for China. 

Made in China has become code for cheap – in the most negative connotation of the word:

  • Appliances with a useful life of three to five years
  • Napkins and tissues that shred in my hand
  • Plastic bottles too thin to grip

We live in a disposable culture, where dumping something when it breaks is cheaper than fixing it.

I call it the Bic Generation, derived from the pens and lighters that started us on the road away from a fix culture to a dump culture.

Zack Whittaker writing in ZDNet, called it the iGeneration, with the “i” representing both the types of mobile technologies being heralded by children and adolescents (iPhone, iPod, Wii, iTunes) plus the fact that these technologies are mostly “individualized” in the way they are used.

“The iGeneration don't care about products lasting,” Whittaker noted. “They just want something here and now, that will do the job and something they can dispose of without it hurting their wallets when that moment comes.”

The worry, though, is not just that every thing is disposable in today’s Bic Generation. This mentality sometimes extends to every one.

The University of Minnesota, for example, found that the divorce rate hasn't declined since 1980, as was thought. When the university’s researchers controlled for changes in the age composition of the married population, they discovered that the divorce rate actually rose by 40 percent.

In reporting the story, The Washington Post wrote: “The flipside of this finding is the relative rarity of divorce among younger Americans today. In the 1970s, a couple might get married at 25 and be divorced by 30. But today, that same couple would be more likely to simply live together for a few years and then head their separate ways when things go south.”

“When things go south.” It can apply to our children, too.

Last week the National Center on Family Homelessness found that the number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged to an all-time high -- nearly 2.5 million children homeless at some point in 2013. That’s one child in every 30.

The blame? The center pointed to our high poverty rate, the lack of affordable housing and the impacts of pervasive domestic violence.

But I wonder how many of these young people were thrown out of the house because they were considered “broken” -- gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or pregnant?

An independent film shot last year, titled The Disposable Generation, sought to capture the writer/director’s view that today “numbness is a virtue … an apathetic youth favors the modern American dream, which doesn’t necessarily involve being awake any more.”

There might be hope. A recent Twitter exchange that I saw went like this:

We’re the “everything is disposable” generation. We dont like it we replace it. If its broke we throw it out. If its too hard we quit on it

Not quite. Dnt like it? We make it better. Broke? Make it so it doesnt break again. Too hard? Make it easier

In my next blog, “A Light from Within

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