Why do things break right as their warranties expire?

This entry is part 26 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

And we’re back! Last week ended up being problematic for a number of reasons. My apologies for the silence — suffice it to say, we have had a stern talking to with the actors and the union has negotiated in good faith, so we think we should be back in business.

Which brings us to today’s myth, asked by cheerful reader Cathi Payne, who asks:

The warranty myth? Why does most new technology begin to fault or fail just after the end of the warranty period? What sort of creatures or beings are responsible for ensuring that these goods keep going until the expiry has passed?

It’s a classic question, and one well worth asking. Why do some devices just… collapse right as their warranty fails. And for that matter, why do some others keep going long after they should have keeled over and died? Or, asked succinctly:

Why do some things break right as their warranties expire?

Before clicking through, please understand that we have accepted no promotional consideration for product placement. However, we are open to doing so. You can’t sell a story without sometimes selling a story out, after all! Ha-chachacha!

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As we know, the world is awake and alive, aware of its nature. Every device has a spirit of its own — a mythic being who not only embodies the device but is responsible for it. We speak a lot about nymphs, but really those are just some of the different spirits found within every rock, every tree, every transistor radio and every well appointed lift-top coffee table from Bob’s Discount Furniture on the I-95 corridor. Nobody does it better than Bob’s. But I digress.

The short of it is simple. Your computer has a spirit. So does your chair, and your lamp, and your widescreen television. That spirit isn’t really the functionality of that device, mind — think of it more as the operator. When your television is showing Bob’s Burgers (which has absolutely nothing to do with Bob’s Discount Furniture, with locations all over New England to better serve you), the spirit of your television can be found in its control room, quickly switching circuits and bypassing systems with the fire of a hotrodder and the dedication of a Starfleet engineer. They keep the system humming, the display bright, the signal flowing and the sound broadcasting for every awkward pause or mischaracterization of psychosis on the episode.

Now, some spirits hate the device they’re driving. It’s annoying to them, or embarrassing. They may feel they deserve better, or at least deserve more. But really, they’re in the minority. Most spirits love their vessels, and want to keep them running forever and a day. And early on they can manage this well — in part because the device hasn’t worn out yet, but also in part because they have the infrastructure to keep it up. They have part suppliers and service technicians. When there’s a significant metaphysical problem they can get the supplies and expertise to correct it, often long before there’s a physical world manifestation of the issue. Think of it as a combination of the Coast Guard and insurance adjusters providing mechanics, parts and support for your device’s spirit.

As you may have guessed, this backworlds support service is provided by the Warranty.

The Warranty is a collection of expert spirits, kami, daemons, nymphs, immortals and the odd human or nine. The Warranty is a huge, sprawling organization, with their fingers in every pie, and they do monumentally good work. They provide the services I mention above, all at speeds human infrastructural services can’t begin to approach. Oh sure, there are limits to their support — sometimes, problems are so profound that they can’t be dealt with metaphysically. At that point, the device fails and its up to you, the consumer, to get the device repaired under the terms of the mundane warranty you got provided with the device (or the extended warranty plan you were conned into buying by the friendly salesmen at Bob’s Discount Warehouse, never expecting some schmuck might actually call in an issue on their freaking loveseat). Still, it’s not one problem out of a thousand that escalates to that level. The vast majority of issues are dealt with by your device’s spirit and the Warranty.

So. You can probably imagine just how unhappy a spirit like that — one who takes pride in his device as his vessel — might be when the Warranty comes due.

Take, for example, Dale — the spirit of a given Insignia brand 32 inch class model NS-32E570A11 1080p television. Dale was excited when his television made it home, and thrilled when the different HDMI ports were filled — satellite television boxes, video game consoles, a Roku, an Apple TV and even sometimes a full Mac Mini were plugged in, so the family could use the television for all its entertainment needs. It was natural that Dale would want the family to love their television, and use it for years upon years.

Of course, an LED television was a complicated beast — made all the more complicated by the plethora of devices plugged into it with the expectation that they would just work. So from almost the first day, Dale was in contact with the forces of the Warranty — gathering them close, having them help with problems as they arose. When the XBox 360 had a fuzziness to the picture, it was the Warranty that came in, troubleshot the issue, and replaced the spectrostatic drive coil, swiftly and at no charge–

What’s that? You’ve never heard of a spectrostatic drive coil? Of course not. It’s a mythic component. Hush now.

Anyhow — when the Roku and the Apple TV essentially collided into the bus in a colossal game of chicken, it was the Warranty that replaced the guard rails and talked the piloting spirits of the peripherals into just taking a freaking pill already. When the color green just stopped working, it was the Warranty that gave it its walking papers and brought in a new color green. As far as the family was concerned, the television worked perfectly — no problems, no issues, no worries. They never knew how hard Dale worked to make sure their experience was seamless. And they never knew just how much Dale dreaded the day the Warranty’s subscription would run out.

To that end, he’d found any number of minor problems eight or nine days before the expiration. Naturally, it took some debate, but Dale was good at what he did, and he managed to get a number of Warranty teams in to correct these issues, which he coordinated from Master Television Control. On this day, a Baba Yaga engineer named Chapeka was his direct contact. Chapeka was a beautiful young woman, which made Dale wonder if she really was a Baba Yaga — reputedly all older women — or if she was some kind of hired hand who kept a given Baba Yaga’s high octane chicken legged hut in tune. It was hard to tell just how Baba Yaga society worked for anyone outside that society — it was known it was highly competitive, manifesting through cookoffs and drag racing their huts down the Western Way.

Not that any of it mattered. Dale just wanted to get his television working right. Chapeka was the key to this, since she was the voice of the Warranty. “Did you get that buzz worked out of the speakers?”

“Yes yes,” Chapeka snapped, a slightly slavic accent coloring her words. She was broad shouldered and dark haired, and work a grease monkey’s jumpsuit. “Excuse me — I’m trying to get your power supply debugged.” She spoke into a radio. “I don’t care — use Raid if you have to. Bloody electrical wasps–”

“Because that buzz is beginning to be noticeable in the physical world, and the last thing I want is for–”

“The buzz is dealt with. Am busy right now.” She turned back to the radio. “Am telling you — offer the wasps money if you have to and if they don’t take it threaten them with lethal force–”

“I’m just saying, this is the kind of problem that gets televisions thrown out. I need–”

We dealt with the fucking buzz! It just needed a stage six exorcism! Next time, try to avoid letting them hook up an old iPod dock to your RCA ports! Now shut up already!” With a huff, the Baba Yaga turned back to her radio. “No, sorry — dealing with the client. Am thinking my hut should have him over for dinner sometime. Now, let’s discuss electrical wasp issue. Have you offered to buy them dinner?”

Dale sighed, walking back over to station control. He dropped in his chair and checked his monitors. “This sucks.”

“Tell me about it.”

He glanced over. Evvie, from the DirecTV, was just dropping into the chair next to his. “Hey there,” she said with a smile. “Just checking on how it was all going.”

“I dunno.” He looked back. “These guys drive me nuts sometimes, but….”

“But you’re scared?”

“…yeah. I mean, the NS-32E570A11’s a great vessel. I’m proud of her, and the family loves her. And she hasn’t really had that many problems, but in just a few days–”

“In just a few days you’re going in without a net. I know it, guy. I know how you feel.”

“Heh. Really?”

“Now what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re flying a cable box–”

“Satellite television receiver and DVR, thank you very much.”

“Either way — they pay the in-house line fees so you’re essentially covered forever.”

“Damn right I am, but this isn’t my first rodeo, you know. Back ten years ago, I was flying a Tivo Series One. Those things left the Warranty so fast they practically broke the sound barrier.”

“Whoa. I remember those. They were tanks.”

“Well, yeah. But for a lot of that….”

“A lot of that… what? Seriously. What am I supposed to do when the support dies. It’s not like the tubes era. When a television fails, they don’t take it into the shop and have some guy fix it. They throw it out and get a new one — or at least a used one. If I can’t keep my systems running and it bleeds over….”

“I know, I know. Well look. You have a head start right now. A bunch of operators didn’t ever do preventative maintenance. They just rode their Warranty until the day it ended, and the day after–”

“Boom. Instant failure, like clockwork, with no salvaging.”

“Yup. I don’t think you need to worry about that. You care about this TV, man. You’ve been dealing with it.”

“Okay, fine. But that doesn’t answer my original question. What am I supposed to do?

Evvie smiled. “Well, first off, you need to get on the right forums.” She wrote down a quick internet address. I’d tell it to you, but you don’t even have access to the .fae top level domain. “You’re not the first op to find himself without the Warranty to back him up. You can get a lot of good advice from them. And then….”

“Then?”

“Then you start figuring out what you can live without.”

“Live… without?”

“Yeah. You start swapping out parts — replacing your current systems with aftermarket systems that may work differently. Salvaging the metaphysicals so you have currency in the post-Warranty community. Take that Amber Drivetrain–”

“What about it? It does a great job!”

“Sure it does — but it’s about twice the drivetrain you need for Amber in this thing. It’s good enough for a 60″ class vessel, and here you are running a 32. You could swap it out for a well rebuilt 32″ Amber drivetrain, along with new linkages for half your inputs. You were complaining about the buzz in your speakers. Let’s say it doesn’t go away–”

“The buzz is gone!” Chapeka shouted from the other side of the room. “I have no intention of discussing that anymore!

“–you can always put out a call for help. Maybe get some local experts to swing in and have a look. Maybe disassemble the system from the inside, find where the cursed component is, swap out some bits and jerry-rig things. There’s a lot you can do to keep everything running and keep everyone happy — especially the family. Some devices run for years after the Warranty pulls out, all without external, physical world repairs being necessary.”

“Yeah — and sometimes what happens instead is they discover the foam core of the Bob-o-Pedic mattress rots out within a month of the Warranty no longer supporting it, and then you end up like Jolene, riding that thing straight out to the municipal transfer station and ultimately the landfill.”

“Hey — the Bob-o-Pedic Mattress was dealing with massive operator error and you know it, and Jolene was asleep at the switch and missed her expiration date! You can’t blame the good people at Bob’s Discount Warehouse for that!”

Dale sighed. “I know, I know. But still. You have to know how I’m feeling about all this….”

“Well sure. Of course I do.” Evvie touched his face. “Look, I kept that Tivo going way past its Warranty expiration. I’m proud of that. But it was exhausting — and I was lucky enough to have it get sold to a tinkerer who kept it going another year even after my modem died. But in the end….”

“Yeah.”

“Still. I did a good job, and I had good references. And I parlayed that into the DirecTV DVR gig, with unlimited Warranty. I wouldn’t go back. But that does mean there’s life after device failure, especially for someone who puts in the time and effort. You have the chance to make a name for yourself with this TV, Dale. Don’t give up before you even stop.”

“All right. All right. And hey — looks like the family’s about to play a little XBox.”

He threw the switches, turning the system live. Out in the real world, Jenny switched to HDMI 3, turning the console on. She made a face at the sound. “What’s that buzzing?” she asked.

Back in control, Dale whirled, staring at Chapeka.

“What? Okay! So buzz is back! Hold on — we can fix this. The electrical wasps work for me now! Two minutes!” She went back to her radio. “Get them over to speakers — stat!”

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  • Jeremy Miller

    Okay…this doesn’t really answer the question. You’re starting to sound like a religious nut. All it takes is a simple answer, not a freaking page of bull crap. Now just tell us, why do things break after a warranty is expired? By warranty we mean mostly computers. Why do the computers break after their warranty has been reached?

    • Eric Burns-White

      It’s… not impossible you have misunderstood the nature of these stories.

      Or of the word ‘mythology,’ which is actually in the title.