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Planned Obsolescence: How We Are Forced to Buy New Stuff

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telefonyOver time things do wear out, including us and our bodies. Most things have a life span. As humans we may live to be 81 years old, which is the average life span here in the UK.

You may buy a car, and it may last you 10 years, or a white good such as a fridge or washing machine, and they may last 5 years, 7 years, or longer.

Not much lasts forever, and so if you want to continue using an item, it eventually will need to be replaced. However, there can also be other reasons why an item may need to be replaced before it just gives up the ghost and goes to (insert item name) Heaven.

One reason is that some people are harder on things than others.

An example may be that one person drives sensibly and does not take corners quickly, avoids potholes, and doesn’t do fast starts and stops. Their car may require less maintenance and repair as opposed to someone who drive fast, and has to brake harder, and fails to slow down for speed bumps.

They may need brakes replaced sooner, and or also the suspension repaired.

Then there also is planned obsolescence.

lightbulbPlanned Obsolescence

Planned obsolescence, also known as “built-in” obsolescence, is when the design of a policy, or the design of a product, has an “artificial” lifespan; it is basically designed to become obsolete within a certain time frame.

Why would a manufacturer or company design a product to only last a certain period of time, to have you need to buy a new product, hopefully from them.

It as though the manufacturer is forcing the consumer (us), into buying the item again. And while this may insure the company’s continual revenue stream, it can backfire on them as well.

Don’t think that planning for something to become obsolete in a limited time frame is all bad, there are times when progress and technology drive these changes. More on this later.

Here are some everyday items that are planned to become old and obsolete:

* Calendars: They only last a year. They could make a five year calendar, but then you’d only buy one every five years.

* Light bulbs: There are light bulbs that last longer than others, but in the end there is no perpetual bulb. Or is there? (conspiracy theorists unite)

* Printer ink cartridges: These run out quickly, and cost more to replace then to buy a new printer.

* Batteries: Unless you use rechargeable batteries, and even they can only be recharged so may times, we will always be buying new batteries.

* Textbooks: As times change, textbooks become obsolete as well. Science discovers new science stuff, history is revealed, and time marches on.

* Fashion: The fashions change, sometimes very quickly. What was fashionable to wear last year, is not fashionable this year. Although they say if you hold onto all your old clothes, they come back into style at some point in the future. They just may not fit you any longer.

As you can see many items are planned to not so much no longer operate after a period of time, but also just be not in fashion, and it is not limited to just clothing.

TECH-TRENDSTechnology Forces Change

Certain technology has caused items we buy to need replacing on a regular basis, in part due to the technology as it grows.

No where can this be seen more than in the gadget and computer industry. Granted we do benefit from the latest and greatest smart phone, video game, or computer, but it also comes at a cost.

Rachel Botsman an economy expert has said, “It’s almost unbelievable that consumers haven’t stood up and said the planned obsolescence of the gadget industry is absolutely obscene and not serving them,” says Botsman. “But it’s because no one has yet cracked a subscription model to electronics that takes the responsibility away from the consumer and puts it on the company to provide better products.”

And you have the other side of all these obsolete gadgets, the waste part of it. Landfills and tips with all these old gadgets, with batteries and other harmful waste.

The Policy Manager for Products and Waste at the European Environmental Bureau, Stephane Arditi said, “If we look at what we can do to change the situation, it’s a matter of us trying to set rules that say, for example, batteries should be removable whether by end user or repair shop,” says Arditi. “But we also need to think about a new business model: if it was identified that changing some select parts of the computer could boost the performance without getting rid of the screens and plastic casing, a manufacturer would still get business from upgrading the device.”

Arditi went on to say, “If we look at what we can do to change the situation, it’s a matter of us trying to set rules that say, for example, batteries should be removable whether by end user or repair shop.”

The main author of a report done by the Green Peace Alliance Dustin Benton stated, “I’m not sure yet whether the market has tipped into designing devices to be sufficiently robust for second hand use,” Benton says. “But what we’ve seen from other markets like automobiles is that where companies have a business incentive to keep valuable things in use for a long period of time, they do so and that’s obviously good for the environment.”

Let’s look at some of the things technology has caused to be obsolete:

Software: I don’t know about you, but when I receive a notice about a software upgrade, or patch, I cringe. In some instances the software or operating systems upgrade causes compatibility issues with other programmes.

Hardware: How often do you buy a new computer? For me I need a new laptop every 2-3 years, and in part it is due to how much I am on one, which is almost 24/7, but also the many changes that have come about. 

Different ports being made available, faster USB ports, brighter screens and easy to use keypads. And the fact that things due eventually just wear out.

Video Games: I am not a gamer, so I don’t play computer games or video games, but these have changed and become obsolete very quickly.

The platforms change and then the software or game itself needs a new form to be played.

LP’s – Cassette Tapes – 8-Tracks – CD’s: No where can we see technology changing and causing us to spend money on the same item multiple times then in the music industry.

Back in the day all you had was vinyl records to listen to your music on, 45’s and 33/3’s. If you remember 78’s, time for a nap.

Then along came cassette tapes, 8-track tapes, then compact discs, now MP3’s, and you have DVD’s, Blu-Ray, 5.1 surround sound, the list could go on.

Many people have purchased the same songs on different formats as the technology has changed.

The record companies love it when a new format to play music is introduced, as they can sell an artists back catalogue again, and again. We as consumers are the ones shelling out the dosh.

The upside of this is that in some instances, the music does sound better.


You cannot discuss planned obsolescence without discussing the company whose name should be listed under planned obsolescence in the dictionary, Apple.

From not being able to take out the battery in their products, to the proprietary screws so you cannot even take the back off a product, they’ve got us.

You have to take your iPhone or computer, to one of “their service centres” for any minor repair or to have the battery replaced

Apple’s response is that their technicians are trained in servicing their products.

Yes, there have been improvements in some products, and yes, releasing a new model every year, or twice a year does drive up sales as people want the latest and greatest, but having upgrades cause issues with older models, is a push to get people to buy a new phone.

New iPhone 7: The new iPhone 7 is due to be released in September, I hear cheers from someone in the back of the room. An iPhone fan no doubt.

There are reports that the new phone will have two major changes to it.

One is that the phone may be made waterproof. That’s not such a bad idea as people do get caught in the rain using their mobiles and occasionally someone may drop one in the bath or in some water.

So a waterproof mobile phone is a good idea.

The second reported change is the scrapping of the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack. Apple says they can make the iPhone thinner without this jack, and make the headphone portal either wireless, or like their Lightning portal.

What this change does is make all 3.5mm headphones, which is the industry standard, obsolete!

So if you buy an iPhone 7, you’ll need to buy headphones, probably made by Apple, in order to listen to music or watch videos.

Apple could make an adaptor to allow the 3.5mm headphones to be used on the new phone, but there again, you need to purchase the adaptor.

We all realise from a business standpoint, this change will put more money in Apple’s pockets, but that money will come from us consumers.

And maybe it is time to jettison the old way of using headphones, embrace a new way, and new technology. Who is to say.

So we wait with baited breath as to if this change does become a reality.

As you can see, planned obsolescence is not always a bad thing. We have had technology and gadgets and even our music, grow and need to replace the old, with newer, faster, smaller, quieter, and …. hopefully….not more expensive new items.

“Turn and face the strange, ch ch changes

,Over time things do wear out, including us and our bodies. Most things have a life span. As humans we may live to be 81 years old, which is the average life span here in the UK. You may buy a car

This article by Jon Emge was syndicated by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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