My BIC lighter is slowly guttering out, which is always a strange and unexpected phenomenon. Bic lighters aren’t supposed to go out, they’re just supposed to disappear. I’ve had this lighter for the entire time I’ve been here. I may have even had it during my last weeks at Stanford, which makes it at least two months old.
While attempting to nurse a flame out of my lighter, I pondered the wonders of this simple $1.29 piece of machinery. I don’t understand how an item can be cheap, aesthetically pleasing, and durable in a world where most products have only one of these qualities. Most lighters are definitely ugly and short-lived, especially the ones where you can see the little well of fluid disappear over the course of a few days.
But Bic lighters last for months. They have a slick, wide shape that fits easily in the hand or pocket, they light easily, and I could use them to blow a puff of fire and impress people at parties (at least until I singed my moustache and smelled burnt hair for days.)
The Bic people seemed to have clung to the integrity of their product. Unlike, say, Gilette razors, they don’t innovate needlessly in order to reinvent themselves and keep people coming back. They just sell the same old unassuming, yet brilliant, staple of the tobacco, pot, crack, and/or meth consuming lifestyle. There is no way this can last. Where is the profit in creating such a product? Surely the manufacturers of this device would be better served by making it last less time and thus artificially increasing demand for them.
I don’t know what it is about the world that subconsciously signals to me that nothing I pay only a $1.30 for can be so trouble-free. There are just certain standards one gets used to, and one of them is that the people who make the stuff I use are out to screw me somehow. I accept that my printer is going to need toner cartridges that cost more than it does. I accept that every item of electronics is going to break down right after the warranty runs out. I accept that my new-fangled Gilette razor is going to cause more razor burn than my trusty old-fangled razor because I am idiot who got suckered into thinking that more blades are better (they say it has five blades, but I can only count four, I think the fifth one is a special dull one that they put in to torture me).
So how is it that this one item delivers so much more value than anyone expects it to?