There is no reason why such a common, old and ubiquitous instrument like Stethoscope should become a newsmaker. It is old (invented in 1816), standardized, pervasive and familiar. There is nothing to be told about this device. It is devoid of newsworthiness. But sadly, it has found space in newspapers for the reported reasons that it is soon going to be dead rendered obsolete by new technologies. The new devices like portable ultrasound machines offer greater score better on functional performance.
Creative destruction as proposed by Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942) is central to modern capitalist economies which create new and good through ‘the perennial gale of creative destruction’. The new and better products arrive that improve the order of the day. It is through this process of creative destruction societies become productive and richer. There are two sides of this process. The creation benefits some people but at the same time it ruins others by dismantling the existing order. This applies everywhere. Consider how e-rickshaw hailed as ecofriendly solution to las mile connectivity benefits some and destroys the source of livelihood of the lowest at the bottom of pyramid.
Like stethoscope, products in all industries have to bear the brunt of creative destruction. There are people who think products like desktops, watches, and printed books would soon become artifacts of museums like LPs, VCRs, dial phones and CDs. The concept of obsolesce sits at the heat of this creative destruction. The products like LPs and VCRs work and work fine but they are not wanted by customers for new products meet their wants better. So the question arises what makes a product or service relevant? Why do products cease to be wanted?
A product or service is wanted for the problem it helps customer get rid of. For instance, a fairness cream like Fair & Lovely allows customers to get rid of dark complexion and LED lamps allow customers to save on electricity consumption. Why then some products continue to attract customers in spite of their diminished or ceased utility which caused them to come into existence? This happens because of shift in what sits at their core as implied value proposition. The product that R&D creates is veryoften different from what customer actually buys. Products are creatures of physics and inhabit in physical space but what customers buy are mental constructions of which physical angle may just be one of many dimensions. This is where brands and branding begins. Many brands succeed and thrive by an act of subversion. The implicit purpose and logic is removed and substituted by something imagined (free floating signifier).
A product or service evolves into a psycho-social entity after its launch. It may originate in a factory as ‘manufactured’ or ‘assembled’ (assembly of parts/components/ ingredients) but after its launch it becomes a part of social system as consequently its meaning gets extended beyond intended functions. A product or brand has the following options to create relevance:
Functional: involves being relevant due to a product’s use or function for which it is designed. All Out drives mosquitoes away and Ujala gives clothes a cleaner hue.
Psychological: brands assume significance for psychological reasons. People feel better in the company of their brands and enjoy emotionally satisfying states. J&J transforms new mothers into ‘the best mothers’; Axe does not allow people to ‘fade away’ in significance; Kellogg’s K Special give route instant admiration.
Social: brands assume significance by aiding people into playing social roles by becoming devices of social signification. They can subtly inform who you are and how you should be treated. Visible products like cars (Mercedes or Jaguar) bestows owners a position of power and expects to be treated with respect and honor. Brands work by creating belonging and disassociation at the same time.
Stethoscope as product may lose out to its new challengers in terms of embedded functions like reading breathing sound, heart function and bowel sound but it may still continue to be relevant for psycho-social reasons. Socially it is a powerful communication device of medical profession. As long as doctors enjoy reputation of healers and life givers, stethoscope would continue to find takers for its signification role. People continue to wear watches, especially Swiss made not for their virtue of telling better and accurate time but for their expressiveness (although mobile phones are used more for checking time). Psychologically, stethoscope can give a sense of being in control and confident. By putting it around the neck, a doctor can forge a celestial link with heritage and spirit of medical profession. It can potentially find role in a transformational ritual by which competent doctors are transformed into good doctors. If cultures and societies have totems why can’t stethoscope be?