Samuel D wrote:(snip)
The technology philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford described the 2019 bicycle industry well:
“But once established and perfected, type objects should have a long period of use. No essential improvement in the safety pin has been made since the bronze age. In weaving there has been no essential modification in the loom for over a century. And what is true for machines holds good in no small degree for their products. When the typical form has been achieved, the sooner the machine retreats into the background and becomes a discreetly silent fixture the better. This again flies in the face of most contemporary beliefs. At present, half our gains in technical efficiency are nullified by the annual custom of restyling. Extraordinary ingenuity is exercised by publicity directors and industrial designers in making models that have undergone no essential change look as if they had. In order to hasten style obsolescence, they introduce fake variety in departments where it is irrelevant—not in the interest of order, efficiency, technical perfection, but in the interest of profit and prestige, two very secondary and usually sordid human motives. Instead of lengthening the life of the product and lowering the cost to the user, they raise the cost to the user by shortening the life of the product and causing him to be conscious of mere stylistic tricks that are without any kind of human significance or value. This perversion of technics in our time naturally saps the vitality of real art; first by destroying any sound basis for discrimination and then by taking energy and attention away from those aspects of human experience in which the unique and the personal are supremely important.”
… in 1952 in his book Art and Technics.
SRAM has a large marketing department doing its utmost to destroy any sound basis for discrimination. It works too well.
It's interesting to compare these marketing vs functional maturity things in a different sphere. I'm familiar with woodworking tools, which present a similar but much greater range of functionalities than a bike; and have a similarly long tradition in which the basic functions were long ago identified and the basic designs to fulfill them matured.
There are two marketing strategies, one of which might hold an interesting future parallel for bike stuff.
The first woodworking tool marketing strategy is not unlike the present bicycle manufacturers' strategy - new, improved! Innovate technical design! etcetera. All sorts of spurious gubbins, inclusive of degradation of basic functions, result. There are even fashion cycles in the look of certain tools! I'm sure you can now buy a tablesaw with bluetooth!
But the other marketing strategy takes advantage of those decades in which the above "new-improved" strategy took it's toll. Manufacturers of both the old-fashioned, long-use type, as well as new manufacturers of the "we'll make it right" type have (re)emerged. Their marketing strategy is that old one of making high-function, high-quality tools of high-quality design and materials, made "to last a lifetime".
One remarkable aspect of this is that it makes clear that adopting an ethos of high-function, high quality, long-lasting, tried & tested traditional designs does not exclude innovation. In fact, it can encourage innovation of a very effective kind - the kind that results in genuine improvements and genuinely useful new ways of doing something a bit more efficiently.
Examples of such manufacturers, should you be interested in the details, are: Lee-Valley/Veritas; Lie-Nielsen; Blue Spruce. They all make woodworking tools of the traditional kind familiar to C18th and C19th craftsmen, to a very high standard .... but sometimes with some small innovations that improve the basic function and design via perfection of the original in terms of a tweak to the tools topology or materials - not a redesign and nothing to do with bling or fashion.
They tend, then, to take old-fashioned tools that had many drawbacks (because of limited materials or a poor traditional design) and rework them into the same functional object but without the glitches inherent in an old tool that, say, couldn't use better steels; or had a shape that really can be bettered with the aid of CAD and a modern milling machine.
These manufacturers of traditional tools-done-well-or-better may have corresponding makers in the bike world. Certainly there are frame makers and wheel builders like that. Despite his pushy American-marketing blurb, Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly and Compass bike bits has a similar attitude.