When did cheap become better than functional?

I've been thinking a lot about the extremely low quality of consumer goods. From the $20 dress shirt that shrinks the first time you wash it, to the cell phone that disconnects every five minutes.

When did "cheap" become more highly valued to consumers than "functional"?

I have a cell phone through T-Mobile and I live in a major metropolitan area. There are a number of dead zones throughout the city where the phone has no coverage whatsoever. In the old days, people had landlines (some of you probably still do.) The landline was hideously overpriced, but most of the time, it actually worked. You picked up the phone, dialed your number talked until you were done, then hung up. Now, it's more along the lines of "Dial, redial when the first try fails, talk, redial when you get disconnected, yell over the static, talk some more, redial, say goodbye, hang up."

Is it cheap? Sure - 1500 minutes for $40. Is it functional? Not really.

Another example: VoIP. *hiss pop* Ever tried talking to *pop* tech support *hiss buzz hiss* from Dell?

We have almost universally traded down on quality. Disposable cameras, Old Navy sweaters that can be washed twice, the Daewoo Lanos. We've become a disposable society.

Is this really cheaper in the long run? I don't think so. Sure, you get more updates. Sure, it's easier to replace a loss. But how long do you think those 6-for-a-$1 forks from Walmart are really going to last you? 3 months? How many sweaters on SUPER DUPER sale are you going to have to buy?

Consumerism, baby. Awww yeah.