Saturday, 26 February 2011

Planned Obsolescence and me

I'm told that Planned Obsolescence was part of the household vocabulary in the late 1950's.  So much so that Volkswagon incorporated it into their now famous advertising campaigns "We don't believe in Planned Obsolescence"... "We don't change for the sake of change".  Fifty years later the concept and execution of planned obsolescence has permeated consumerism and has dramatically evolved.  Yet,  I'm the only person I know that is nerdy enough to want to have a conversation or three about it.

For those of you that haven't yet been exposed to the idea of Obsolescence it's a pretty simple one that generated during the Great Depression.  People weren't buying things fast enough to stimulate the economy, they weren't replacing household items and the UK government brainstormed ideas to encourage people to do things like replace their wireless radio more frequently.  Their ideas were rubbish - such as fining people who didn't buy a new radio after five years.  Although, on the plus side, it might have created a lot of jobs at a time when there weren't many - can you imagine how many people it might have taken to knock on the door of every household in Britain and ask to see the receipt for their radio?  Eventually, the rather clever idea of making a key function of products fail after a certain period of time rose to the surface.  And boy did it take off.  Manufacturers used it in cars, kitchen appliances, light bulbs... whatever it was, it was built to break.  It still is.  Only worse.  And, we seem to have forgotten about it.

The best part of a century later, Planned Obsolescence has got a whole lot more sophisticated.  There's fancy names for a variety of methods to make people needlessly buy your product again, and again. One way whose evil genius I admire is Systemic Obsolescence....
The deliberate attempt to make a product obsolete by altering a system in such a way that it's continued use is difficult.  Think computers. Think new operating systems. Think software.   New software usually doesn't offer a whole lot more than an old version but you need to purchase it anyway because they're not built to be compatible.  (yes, I'm looking at you Microsoft).  And yet, as a majority we still buy it, grumble to ourselves and keep on using the product.  A few months pass and something else needs upgrading.  We might grumble to someone else this time, but ultimately we still willingly participate in the cycle.

Another form of planned obsolescence I admire for its boldness is Notification Obsolescence....
When the product itself tells you that it's time to buy a new one.  I associate this with razors mostly... the strip changes colour and you know to add razors to your shopping list and buy some more.  Inkjet printers are another one, only worse.  You know, the light starts flashing on your printer and you know it's time.  Only, usually there's a lot more ink left.  Some manufacturers actually install smart chip technology to disable the inkjet from working after it's been used for a certain number of pages.  Pretty smart stuff.

Planned Obsolescence annoys me.  For many reasons... the environmental impact, the waste, that corporations think that we're gullible enough to continue buying their products and most of all, that we do.

Style Obsolescence has occurred at the same time and it's the desire to want a new product because there is a prettier one to buy now.  To upgrade our TV because there is a thinner one available. Look, where it's got us.. to a place where we take out store credit and credit cards to buy things we can't afford to replace something that works perfectly fine.  It's crazy.  So this year, one of my resolutions is to replace nothing.  To use everything until it completely breaks down, and even then to use some cool MacGyver tricks to try and get it up and running again.  And if that doesn't work, I'll even take it to a repair shop, if they still exist.  No matter how ugly it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment