By Jared Newman | Monday, January 25, 2010 at 4:22 pm
In what looks like an example of staggeringly bad journalism, the Telegraph ran a story on Sony’s mythical “kill switch,” or “Sony Timer” — a Japanese urban legend that says Sony products are timed to fail shortly after their warranties expire.
My problem with the article isn’t the urban legend itself — almost two decades old, the myth is fascinating in that it applies only to Sony products — but that it pretends to be a news story while offering no new information whatsoever. The story, by Hunter Skipworth, has not a single statistic, quote or recent piece of evidence to back its claim that “many” Japanese people still believe in the Sony Timer (and how many is “many,” by the way?). Nonetheless, Wired, Engadget and CrunchGear picked up the story without questioning its validity.
Much of the article is rooted in things that occurred four years ago, such as the 2006 recall of 4.1 million Dell laptops containing Sony batteries, and an issue with Bravia TVs that gave them just 1,200 hours of life unless patched. Skipworth says the rumor persists in manga comics and Internet message boards, but he links to no examples, recent or historic. He cites comments from Sony executives that date to 2006 and 2007, saying that the myth is hurting the company, but didn’t bother to get an update for 2010.
It’s also worth noting that an article on the blog Pink Tentacle, which predates the Telegraph article by nine days, has several of the same anecdotes. However, that article does not pretend to be news; the blog clearly states that the post is part of weekly series on Japanese urban legends.
I’m not disputing the urban legend’s prevalence in Japan, nor am I testifying for or against Sony products’ longevity. But the Sony Timer is a 20-year old myth that picked up legs four years ago thanks to a couple incidents. If you’re going to bring it up again and present it as new information, some actual new information is essential.