This Device Will Self-Destruct in 3, 2, 1…

By Amy Chavez

For The Bali Times

I went to the store to buy an extension cord for my hot water pot because it had always been just a tad too short. And that is exactly what they sell at stores in Indonesia: the cord. Can you believe cords and plugs are sold separately? I suppose this is the true meaning of extension cord. No one said anything about electricity.

They may have a point. Think of the limitations once you have a plug attached. Without a plug in place, you can use the cord for other things as well, such as, say, a curtain pull so you can draw the curtains with a yank from far away.

Normally, attaching a plug to a cord would have been reason for me to call an electrician. This is because I was brought up to believe that electricity is something you don’t mess with. But in Indonesia, where the average person possesses far more basic living skills than I do, I merely called in an Indonesian friend. I first met this guy when I was looking for someone to give my old stereo to. I told him it didn’t work, but he was happy to take it and fix it himself.

This is the great thing about Indonesians — they can repair things. In the US, getting someone to repair something often costs more than buying a new one. As a result, people are always throwing out perfectly good things that could be brought back to life with just a little tender loving care. The amount of waste in the US is embarrassing: there aren’t even enough places to dump all of our used goods.

Which is why, in the high-tech world of today, you’d think we would have invented products that self-destruct when they’re finished. We have self-cleaning ovens; so why not self-cremating fax machines, self-imploding refrigerators (that reduce themselves to dollhouse size) and TVs that simply self-destruct when their time is up? The US Defense Department could help with this. They know how to blow things up.

Even better would be products that would slowly fade away until one day they would just disappear completely. That way we’d even have some warning before they go.

You: Where’s the telephone?

Your spouse: Just a moment. Let me get my glasses.

You: Did you see it yesterday?

Spouse: I could still see the outline of the receiver.

You: Maybe it disappeared overnight.

Spouse: That’s OK. I’ve already bought a new one.

You: Great. By the way, have you seen the big-screen TV lately?

But instead, you go to make a telephone call one day and the telephone is already dead. Or the washing machine has gone kaput and just doesn’t work anymore. It does make you wonder why certain electronics are so eager to enter the afterlife. No one can really blame the TV for giving up in these times, when all it has to report is violence, wars and terrorism, but what could possibly await other electronics when they leave this material world? Perhaps a radio’s soul goes to Electronics Heaven, where it plays back the greatest sports events of all times.

But in Indonesia, all electronics get a second chance at life (or more). And it makes a lot of ecological sense to repair things rather than throw them away. Like my old stereo. Because of that stereo, I met the guy who was now in my house assembling an extension cord for me.

He worked quickly and efficiently. First he took the cord, and, not having a pair of scissors handy, removed the plastic cord from around the copper wire ends by burning it with the flame from his lighter. I couldn’t help wincing as the flame touched the electrical cord. So what if it wasn’t plugged in!

Then he pulled on the burned areas until the plastic slid off with ease, exposing the wires and inserting them straight into the socket.

Then he took apart the plug. To someone like me, who has never seen behind the plastic encasing, I imagined the inside must look similar to a radio board. Something so complicated that it needed to have a cover so it wouldn’t scare people. I mean, face it – most people would never even attempt to use the TV if they could actually see the motherboard.

But when he took apart the plastic encasement, electricity suddenly seemed comprehensible. The plug consisted only of two pieces of metal rod with a screw in them and a copper wire attached. See? Thomas Edison wasn’t that brilliant after all.

Then he wrapped the wires around the screw, snapped the plastic encasement back on to the plug, and wham – it was safe.

“Now, let’s have a look at the old cord and plug,” he said.

I was afraid of this. I had thrown away the old cord, figuring that, since there was smoke coming out of it, it was no good anymore. Not a good enough reason to throw something out for an Indonesian.

But I couldn’t admit to him that I may have thrown out something that was perfectly good.

“I don’t think we should use the other cord,” I ventured. “It could be bad luck.”

“Oh yes,” he said. I was making perfect sense.

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The Island

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