BUILT-IN OBSOLESCENCE VS. BUILT-IN REDUNDANCY

When I was a boy if my father was ever in error or had a misadventure he would always somehow manage to give the impression that whatever it was hadn’t actually happened. This gave rise to the notion that my father was unerring, which he was, except he wasn’t. It’s just that I have absolutely no memory of him ever making a mistake.

Hold on, come to think of it, there was the time he tripped over the milk bottles and unleashed a chain of four letter imprecations the existence of which, up to that point, had only been rumour. And I have a vague recollection of a driver’s side door versus concrete bollard incident which was somehow the fault of my mother despite her being in the passenger seat at the time. And what about the stripy cheesecloth shirt he used to wear with tummy knot resplendent? You can’t tell me that wasn’t a mistake. But really, if these examples are the best I can come up with then he’s looking pretty infallible.

The reason I bring this up is redundancy. None of us seem to realise how embarrassed with riches we are. How abundant. How utterly able. The truth is hardly any of us make mistakes or have mishaps, we should be tripping up all the time, dropping things, setting fire to our hair, shit happens but not very often, not really. We are mental and mechanical miracles with so much extra of everything that we can become expert at ridiculous tasks, survive incredible hardship and run on redundancy alone, even after our planned obsolescence has kicked in.

It’s a shame then that redundancy has become such a maligned word, used as it is to describe forced unemployment or to emphasise that which is deemed no longer useful. Rarely is it applied positively, to specify the deliberate inclusion of spare components or capacity. In the past companies ran with a surfeit of staff and stock so that the business was able to respond quickly to surges in demand but with the advent of new technology and logistics redundancy became unnecessary, companies ran leaner and meaner, forever falling forward, assuming that they will always take another step. Redundancy no longer referred to excess in the system it meant the money paid to workers for leaving their jobs, for sitting at home, for being redundant.

My father was never redundant but he had extraordinary redundancy. He was a bloody minded marvel who never gave up. For five years I watched as life used the very last of his surplus, watched him shrink but not in stature, falling forward but always taking one more step. He died at 86, carrying no stock, his health entirely spent. He was the ‘just in time’ business model made scant flesh, stripped to the bone, depleted, the battle between built-in obsolescence and built-in redundancy drawing to its natural conclusion. 

My father lived in the moment, zero hours contract, nothing in reserve but his wits and his dignity. He still knew who he was, what he did, what he had been. Infallible. The last time I saw him he passed me his iPad. ‘Someone broke Google,’ he said. ‘Wasn’t me.’

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