From the Braver Institute
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had purchased a chess set designed to teach new players how to play the game...hold it. Scratch that. This set is designed to teach new players how the pieces move. I have been playing since I was six years old and I still don’t really know how to play the game, but I can move the pieces around somewhat effectively.
Anyway this column is not about chess so I had better steer myself back on course before I go down the path of the never-ending chess rabbit hole.
The pieces of this new chess set were so disappointingly light that I was afraid that they might actually begin to levitate off the table. It wouldn’t surprise me if a mild sneeze scattered them to the four winds. I decided that I needed to weight these pieces. I had thought of weighting other plastic chess sets that I have, but had never gotten around to doing it. These pieces were so light that I would be weighting them out of necessity, not just the desire to have heavier chess pieces.
At a thrift store I bought a set of ankle weights used for exercising. These weights were filled with heavy shot of some sort and my plan was to cut them open and fill the chess pieces with the shot. Once filled I would seal the bottom of the pieces with epoxy.
The whole project worked wonderfully, and when it was done the pieces no longer felt like they would fly away. I also noticed that they no longer felt cheap. I am confident that a person who did not know they had been weighted would think that these were highquality chess pieces since heavy chess sets usually are better made than light ones.
It is funny how we equate the weight of an object with the quality of it. There doesn’t seem to be a universally accepted idea of what gives the feeling of quality— heavier objects or lighter ones. It seems to depend entirely on what that object is designed to do.
A billion years ago, shortly after the breakup of the Bell System, I started an illustrious career in the world of hardware. The hardware store I worked at was one of the few places in town where you could actually buy the phone of your choosing. Prior to that time the telephone in your home was owned by the phone company and you were essentially renting it. The hardware store had its own phone department where we displayed all of the latest models. We also repaired telephones because they were worth fixing at that time, or at least some of them were.
Before the breakup, phones were made by companies like Western Electric, GTE, and Automatic Electric. These phones were virtually indestructible. They were heavy. They could have been used as murder weapons. Of course the phone companies needed to provide high quality phones to the end user. If they didn’t, they would be in constant need of replacement, and replacement is costly. It made sense to make them exceedingly durable.
Now that telephones could be made by anyone and purchased instead of rented, the focus changed from durability to profit margin. Making a phone as inexpensively as possible was a necessity for manufacturers. This also meant that phones were now junk. The only repairs I ever really did on an older phone was cord replacement. The newer phones frequently had problems right from the start. I remember working on a newer phone that looked and felt a lot like an old-style desk phone. When I took it apart, I was surprised to find heavy steel weights inside the cheap plastic housing. The heft of the old phones was equated with quality. New phone makers were actually beefing up the weight of their phones artificially to give the impression of equal quality. Pretty sneaky.
In other areas, how light an object is reflects its high quality. A few years back while looking through a catalog I noticed a bicycle that weighed fifty pounds. Immediately I knew that the thing had to be a piece of junk. Any bike that heavy was surely a scrap heap. It was a clunker right out of the box. My bike weighs about twenty-eight pounds, very light by comparison. Racing bicycles frequently weigh less than twenty pounds. These lightweight bikes will typically outlast their heavier counterparts. My bike is fourteen years old. It has taken a lot of punishment and I have had to do minimal work to it. It still rides like new.
Perhaps the key as to whether quality lies in heavier or lighter things depends on their intended purpose. If it is something that is supposed to move quickly, quality is typically found in lighter things. If the object is primarily stationary, heavier is the mark of craftsmanship.
I wonder if this applies to people as well. I will never be light. I guess that makes me a high quality stationary object.
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