Thursday, February 11, 2010

Planned Obsolescence

If there's one thing that really cheeses me off, it's the notion that things are made to break apart. And I'm not just talking about knowing that things will biodegrade eventually. I mean things that are made to fall apart earlier than they ought to, so that consumers will be forced to rebuy a product.

Drives me nuts, it does!

Computers are the perfect example. Provided one is interested in having a top-of-the-line computer, things are set up so that by the time you get a new computer, it's already fallen "out of date". Granted, that's partially due to a fast-moving industry, but on some level, manufacturers push this kind of marketing. Release a product and then very quickly have it become second-best, forcing the buyer to buy upgrades (hopefully from the same company, of course, to ensure maximum compatibility) to get their machine to the peak again.

It's a vicious cycle. And sadly, it works. How many people go out and buy new computers these days when they still have one that works perfectly well?

When I got my latest desktop, it was because the old one had finally kicked the bucket. The power supply was shot and the hard drive had already been replaced twice. My parents offered to pay for a replacement for me, and when they asked me what specs I wanted, I told them that I just wanted no more than what my previous system had.

Turned out that they didn't make 'em so crappy by that point. What I got was about 5 times as good as the one that had died, and that was the lowest and cheapest model I could find in the store at the time.

But this sort of thing is seen other places than computers. Companies build their products with flimsier and flimsier materials these days, charging the same price as if they were using sturdy materials, of course. The products break sooner, have to be replaced more quickly, and then the company has more of your money than if they'd made a sturdy product in the first place.

On one hand, using less of a material to make a product is beneficial, since when you pare it down to the bare minimum of what's needed, then less gets used so less gets wasted. It doesn't take as much plastic or wood or the like to make something. On the other hand, if your product breaks when you accidentally drop it only once, that has now become waste, and you've got to go buy another flimsy copy again. Funny enough, making things 50% more sturdy could save a lot of hassle and money.

But manufacturers aren't out to save you money and hassle. They're out to take money from you. I don't begrudge hard workers their wage, but I do dislike shady business practices that make sure what I buy is of lowe enough quality that it's practically ensuring that I have to go back to buy a replacement before I need to.

I've seen cell phones made in the early 90s that still work. I've seen the majority of cell phones made in the early 2000s (the "naughties?) that aren't good for anything but being a paperweight now. I think I'd rather have a "brick" that works in 20 years than something small and stylish that fails in 3.


  1. If you haven't already, you should check out "The Waste Makers" by Vance Packard. It was written in the late 60s but he correctly predicted planned obsolescence and a number of other pickles we're currently in... Great book!

  2. I'll have to see if I can find a copy of that. Thanks for the book rec!