The problem with buffeting and choppy fans

May 26, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More

Manufacturers and retailers are great at solving problems we didn’t know that we had. Sometimes, our “problem” is lack of social prestige.

Check out this high tech “Air Multiplier” I recently spotted at Target. Here’s what it offers. No blades. No “buffeting.” No “choppy air.” Silly me. I thought that fans were supposed to buffet the air and make it choppy. Now I know, however, that the fans I already own are defective and that I need to fix this problem by purchasing several of these $300 Dyson “Air Multipliers.”

Image by Erich Vieth

Image by Erich Vieth

Why would someone buy such an expensive contraption when you can easily buy a decent fan for $15 and a great fan for $75? Geoffrey Miller explains this phenomenon in an incredibly well-written and well-researched book titled Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior. I could write 100 posts commenting on the various sections of Spent; Miller’s book is that good. I’m well on my way. See here, for example, and here.

Out of curiosity, I visited the Dyson website to see whether this “Air Multiplier” is more energy efficient that a traditional fan. Information about energy usage is conspicuous by its absence on Dyson’s site, however.  I know enough about marketing that if the Air Multiplier were more energy efficient than traditional fans, this information would be prominently displayed on Dyson’s packaging.  Along the same lines, note that the Dyson Air Multiplier is “safe,” even though all modern fans come with grill designed to keep fingers away from the blades. I they are going spin their product’s qualities wildly (no pun intended), they would certainly make sure that we were informed about the Air Multiplier’s ability to save energy–if only that were true.

If I’m reading between the lines correctly, this wastage of energy doesn’t detract from Dyson’s product.  Rather it would be another plus—just think Hummer. To the extent that your Air Multiplier wastes energy, this is a display that your electric bills are not a concern to you (I suspect that this instinct to show off by wasting energy is a big reason that so many Americans are annoyed by the suggestion that we should change our ways to conserve energy).

[For comparison, I have inserted a few old-fashioned “fans” that you can buy at Target, a few feet down from the throne of the Air Multiplier.  As you can see, these fans are considerably cheaper.  In fact, for the price of one Air Multiplier, you could buy eighteen $16 fans. ]img_0006

Chapter 7 of Spent is titled “Conspicuous Waste, Precision, and Reputation. In this chapter, Miller convincingly argues that we don’t buy to merely have; rather, many of our purchases are for the purpose of displaying qualities to others. We are very much like peacocks, it turns out. We like to conspicuously waste resources (this is an expensive and thus reliable signal that we have enough resources to waste). We also engage in conspicuous precision, spending lots of money to display that we have not only resources, but also an appreciation of technology that goes far beyond the mental capabilities of those people are willing to settle for those damned buffeting fans.


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Category: Consumerism

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (7)

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  1. Brynn Jacobs says:

    I think this review sums it up nicely:

    The Air Multiplier is a clever bit of engineering that solves a few problems that no-one really had. It's a luxury product, almost a concept product, and carries a price tag that's representative of that status. It's sorta pretty, and has some nice features, but at the end of the day it's just a fan. It's not going to change your life.

    Sounds like your first paragraph nailed it.

  2. Lori says:

    What happens when the shit hits the air multiplier?

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a question for any grade school teachers out there. How many children have you ever met who have had one or more of their fingers chopped off by a fan?

    I suspect the answer is "none," which shouldn't be surprising given that all modern fans have well-designed grates to keep little fingers out. Which makes Dyson's claim of "Safe" deceptive.

  4. Tige Gibson says:

    An example of costly signaling.

    I think there are better ways of doing this, perhaps using a turbine.

    I'm waiting for the one from the movie "Explorers".

  5. richard h says:

    Sandard fans give me a migraine so perhaps the buffeting / choppy air is the cause of the migraines. $300 for a fan that does not give me a migraine is a bargain…

  6. frank says:

    First of all: I don’t like most Dyson products. I find them overpriced and not always a real problem-solver.

    Take the “air-blade” dryers for instance: yup, dry hands allright but at the cost temporary deafness – these things are LOUD!

    Now for the “buffeting”: this is a REAL problem – but few people are aware of it (actually it is a function of the diameter of the fan as well as rpm and number of fan blades): the “choppy” air is not only unpleasant, but also does funny stuff with your brain via you inner ear: fluctuating air pressure below around 20Hz messes with some areas of you brain as well as the vestiubular system: headaches, dizzyness, nausea and tachycardia a commonly observed in connection with fans of larger diameters (smaller ones are noisier but don’t create those problems)

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