Let’s begin with a brief definition to understand what exactly, planned obsolescence is.
a method of stimulating consumer demand by designing products that wear out or become outmoded after limited use.
The idea of this structure began as an innocent way to stimulate the economic system after the depression in the 1930’s. Since then, it has evolved enormously.
In the 1960’s Vance Packard published his book The Waste Makers. In which he describes planned obsolescence as having two subcategories: the obsolescence of desirability and obsolescence of function.
obsolescence of desirability:
In summary, this means that the product has become outdated or boring to the consumer.
You can see examples of this through clever marketing and the constant push for companies to sell their newest gadgets, like cellphones. Although the changes are minimal, the desire to purchase a new phone is lit within the consumer due to focusing on the features your phone lacks. Like a longer battery life, better cameras and faster software.
obsolescence of functionality:
Yes, companies will actually build products that are meant to break.
The strategy behind the design for an appliance to break is to improve long-term corporate growth. For example, your grandmother had a refrigerator that probably lasted over twenty years. Obviously, there’s been advancements in energy efficiency in that timespan. But newer refrigerators won’t last nearly as long. They’re designed in such a way that the average consumer cannot repair it.
Planned obsolescence is a corporation’s key sales strategy
Apple has been outed for their software “upgrades” to make older systems have limited battery life. This is a prime example for how large corporations will secretly motivate you to purchase something that you don’t truly need, to fill their greedy pockets.
Yes, technology grows old. But there’s absolutely no reason why they need to make it obsolete before its useful life is over.
We’ve all experienced planned obsolescence.
We vacuum a lot. With a very furry dog and a toddler, it’s incredible how messy and dirty the floors become overnight.
In 2016, we invested in a pricey Shark vacuum. I absolutely love it. Except, the tubing was built poorly and designed to break before the end of the vacuum’s lifecycle. I tried repairing it, but this break was just too difficult to fix and there was absolutely no way I could take the product apart without damaging it more.
Long gone are the days of the repairman
When was the last time you called an appliance repairman? Dishwasher breaks? We’ll buy a new one. The washing machine leaks? Guess we have to go to the store. Dryer won’t tumble? Let’s whip out our credit cards!
See the trend?
Years ago. There were mechanics and repairmen to fix broken appliances. Now the products are designed in such a way that the typical person will spend more money hiring a Samsung approved mechanic to fix their washer. So most people will just opt to buy a new one.
This isn’t limited to your household appliances.
We see this throughout so many aspects of our daily lives. From cell phones, to computers and cars.
Reaching out to these corporations
Going back to my vacuum, I didn’t want to purchase another brand new one just because one small part of it was broken. It was an investment (welcome to adulthood!)
Thankfully, my spouse reached out to Shark through their Facebook page and ultimately called them up.
We purchased the repair part for $50, one third of what the entire vacuum cost us originally. And kept the rest of our vacuum which was working perfectly fine.
There’s still waste created with the purchase of this new part, but at least we were able to minimize the amount we spent and save a vacuum that was otherwise working perfectly from ending up in the landfill.
The typical person will not do this
The average person will just save their time by not calling the company to ask if they have the part required. They’ll purchase a brand-new vacuum. Because it’s faster and easier. That’s the problem with planned obsolescence.
As a consumer, how can you combat the cycle of planned obsolescence?
Let’s look at these methods to avoid planned obsolescence through the definitions that Vance Packard described for us.
obsolescence of desirability
Avoid buying brand-new
When it comes to technology, it’s better to purchase refurbished or secondhand. Yes, we’re “missing out” on the latest and greatest features but, are those features truly so necessary? Ask yourself if you would really use facial recognition software to unlock your phone… or if you’d even enjoy that?
Through the purchase of brand-new tech, we fund the exploitation of child workers and people in unsafe conditions. It is much more ethical for us to buy something that has already been created. Rather than made specifically for us.
Ask yourself why?
When you see the ad for the newest Iphone and feel the urge to purchase it. Ask yourself, why?
Purchasing new technology is a lot like the honeymoon period in relationships. If you’re notoriously bad at staying in relationships, maybe this will be good practice for you. We’re inevitably going to grow bored of it at some point.
Yes, the newest Iphone is shiny and new. But one day it will be old. If you’re a sucker for the newest tech, I at least urge you to consider using your gadget until it is literally no longer functioning.
obsolescence of functionality
When something breaks, inquire.
If, like me, a piece of your vacuum breaks or a tube in your washing machine has split. Call the company who manufactured your appliance to see if they have the part. To your surprise, it may even still be warrantied for repair.
The business of planned obsolescence is tricky because companies want you to buy more from them in the future, but also don’t want to lose you as a customer. They’ll likely work something out to help you.
Older appliances are more easily repaired
I know it sounds counter productive, but the older the appliance the more easily you might be able to repair it.
Now, I’m not saying you should buy a washing machine from the 70’s. But, there hasn’t been too much advancement with dryers for a long time. An older model may be more easy to fix.
When purchasing an older model of appliance you do have to keep in mind that after a few years, companies will likely no longer supply parts. I’d stick to well known brands that have been in business for a very long time and have a good track record of customer service.