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Old 02-19-2011, 02:00 PM
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Default Programmed Obsolescence

TL;DR - What you buy is designed to break in a matter of months. But 100 years ago, the same thing lasted years. That's programmed obsolescence.

I'm taking this topic out of the documentary "Pyramids of Waste", also known as "The Light Bulb Conspiracy".

Their point is: why, if progress is in theory supposed to bring us products that are better, that last longer and make us happier; they are actually designed to fail at the 2000th print or after 50 uses?

Thomas Alva Edison's light bulb lasted longer than most of the current; and to name one of the most extreme improvements on the invention, there's one in Livermore which has lightened the same room for over a century, and it's still working.

Why don't our own then last more than a year?

Back in the years of the Great Depression, and especially in the 50's, when the idea finally took shape; several people realized that a product that lasts forever is a tragedy for the one who sells it. A long-lasting product means less production for a decreasing demand, no possibilities for employment, and no large benefits.

Programmed obsolescence seemed the solution to this.

Most of the 60's and 70's economic growth in Occidental countries was due to this revolutionary concept, and to the introduction of the marketing and consumer-oriented programs. People not only didn't complain about having to buy new products every three months because they were out of fashion or simply broke, but liked purchasing new products.

"Bringing the costumer a product, a little newer, a little earlier than necessary"

The problems with this philosophy are that it was created in times when the planet seemed a place with endless resources that allowed endless growth. When it isn't.

"Saying such thing is possible and promoting it means you're either mad, or an economist; and unfortunately we're all seriously-taken economists."

One of the most problematic consequences is the Ghana digital dumps, where tons of useless technological trash are thrown away as "second hand merchandise" -a way to sort out the international treaties that forbid using the Third World as the First World dustbin.

Another consequence is, it changes the focus of economy. It's no longer a matter of making the costumer happy, but also making the seller happy.

From the demanding side, without planned obsolescence, needs will be covered with a small amount of resources, and the impact every item made on the environment would have time enough to disappear.

From the offering side, it means "****, I'm not gonna get money."

Because the second part was just humbug for the reds, this was how the USSR economy worked.

Few resources, inefficient workforce and controlled economy meant the Russians had to make the best of every cubic inch of stone and wood they took out. Engineering was the key.

Thus, people who live in Eastern Germany still have perfectly working fridges with the 25-year guarantee. No maintenance needed.

Another anecdote worth telling from the other side of the Iron Curtain is, a light bulb Communist corporation decided to bring for an international exposition one of their latest models.

The Occidentals said, you'll lose your jobs.
The Eastern engineers replied, not actually. We'll keep them if we save resources and make the most of every bit of tungsten.

When the Berlin Wall was torn down, programmed obsolescence took over.

"It's not efficient, but it's productive."

Back to our times, the new "resistance fronts" come from the own costumers.

Since we are shown (just a portion) of what this "wasting economy" made to the environment and we see what it makes to our wallets -for most of us, just the wallets side-, people is starting to react.

Programs to pirate the counting chips of the printer hardware.
Class actions against companies which don't meet the client's demands (like the one Apple had to face for the iPod battery short life).
And in a smaller portion, a slow redefinition of our economic system due to the pressure from environmentalists, and consumers with common sense.

It's not enough to stop the wasting, but it's the beginning of a turning point.

So the questions are, would you defend programmed obsolescence? And why?

PD: A good film to watch related to the topic, is the old "The Man in the White Suit" -an idealist chemist trying to resist the pressure from both top bosses and the workers to erase his invention, a fabric which never gets dirty or wears out.
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Last edited by ZenitYerkes; 02-19-2011 at 08:42 PM.
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Old 02-19-2011, 06:10 PM
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Well you have certainly opened my eyes. Reminds me of the old antenna TV my grandparents used to have. They had that TV for at least 15 probably 20 maybe even 30 years. Yet it worked fine till the day they finally had to upgrade. Now I'm replacing burnt out LCD TV's every 2 or 3 years, but this is top of the line technology? Its simply ridiculous.
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Old 02-19-2011, 08:13 PM
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That's why you need to learn the art of MacGyver.



Otherwise you're completely right.
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Old 02-20-2011, 12:02 AM
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interesting topic and yes i do agree that it's a waste since i'm the type of person that will use something until the very end of it's life. for example, my shoes may seem broken but i'll keep wearing them because i can. however it's my wasteful parents that throw out something just because it has a hole in it or it's old or because they can replace it with something new, not because it can't be used anymore and i ****ING HATE THAT.
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Old 02-20-2011, 12:39 AM
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It's just a common sense business practice, since money is really the only thing that matters in today's society, and everything else is secondary or obsolete.
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Old 02-20-2011, 12:51 AM
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It is indeed ridiculous. I actually have the right to speak, as well. [Using the argument that if you engage in consumerism, then you have no right to complain.]

I've had the same mobile phone for 6-7 years. [my very first phone, it can only send texts, call, and take very low quality photographs.] It's lasted constant pelting, and constant recharging. I've seen people within the same year as me [in school] get new phones perhaps once every 3-4 months. It seems that things are becoming more and more careless...

My life took a sudden turn a few weeks ago- I won't bore you with the details, but I'm basically in the *thinking stage* at the moment. [I prefer to think of my mental evolution as two stages] - There is the thinking stage, and the action stage of each 'thought brought up by the thinking'.

After a while of thinking about consumerism, I've now stopped buying anything completely unnecessary to me. No chocolate, or anything. The last item of food I bought from the shops was a baguette for 40 pence. I was quite hungry. That satisfied me until I returned home.

But- My point stands... I've still a 7 year old phone, that works well. [Though I only have one contact, I don't use it for social matters, as I generally hate social networking, but that's a whole other story.]

As for ideas of the designer intentionally putting in a failure that will go off after 'x' days... I really don't know. I just think people are getting more and more careless... And companies are getting more and more corrupt... [For reasons that, if you know me, you've probably accumulated without me having to specify]

-------------

EDIT:

Quote:
interesting topic and yes i do agree that it's a waste since i'm the type of person that will use something until the very end of it's life. for example, my shoes may seem broken but i'll keep wearing them because i can. however it's my wasteful parents that throw out something just because it has a hole in it or it's old or because they can replace it with something new, not because it can't be used anymore and i ****ING HATE THAT.
Oh, I know what you mean. My mother has this annoying habit. If she's putting butter/marmite over her toast in the morning- And she can't scrape it out easily, then she instantly throws it away. When I confronted her as to "Mum.. One could still actually get a lot out of that.. Why throw it?" her reply was a rather hostile "Well, we're not poor you know"

I facepalm. This is NOT good logic. I use EVERYTHING I acquire to the maximum. I don't throw away anything that maybe useful later. I have storages of useful things that I actually do end up needing later. [I fixed my school bag with a broken guitar string, just little things like that]

I think that, especially with the human race- Our fall will simply be psychological. Stubbornness. Greed. "I don't want to look like 'x'" - I'm trying to find a project that I can join to change the world.

So, can you imagine the horror in my eyes when I walk downstairs and hear "hey did you watch corrie last night?"- I can feel my ears fuming.
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Last edited by Mune; 02-20-2011 at 01:00 AM.
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Old 02-20-2011, 12:56 AM
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I consider myself a throwback. I fix things. An example would be the clothes drier that I have. I got it for free because it was broken. The belt that drives the drum had failed. It cost about $22 (US) to fix. That was six years ago and it is still going strong. I don't know how old it is, but I'd guess that it is about 30 years old if not more.

Now back to the topic. Yes I agree with a lot of the basic premise. However, with a little more analysis you will see that it is only partially true. Here is an example of where it is really not true. The automotive industry is one of the largest sectors of the economy. Cars and trucks have improved in reliability and longevity greatly. In 1960 many cars never made it to 100,000 miles. A car that old was considered to be completely worn out. Today a car is in mid life at the same mileage. I drove a 1989 Toyota pickup truck that I purchased new about 280,000 miles before I sold it. It was still running strong. I work in the automotive aftermarket parts industry and this industry is contracting about 5% a year because cars are needing less maintanence. This is very much against your premise.

Now if you talk about consumer electronics, I agree with your premise 100%. There is an important caveat though. Your typical consumer electronic gizmo only has a finite lifetime even if it never breaks. Technology moves quickly in this area. Devices become obsolete even if they still function perfectly. That said I have had to toss quite a few poorly constructed printers over the last 10 years.

Another factor is the ridiculous lowering of production costs. It makes fixing things counter productive. Why fix something if it costs just as much to buy a new one. It's really an economic argument as much an an engineering one.
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Old 02-20-2011, 02:31 AM
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But honestly, who needs to buy anything when you can make anything out of duct tape and a swiss army knife.



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Old 02-20-2011, 03:52 AM
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This wastefulness extends beyond programmed obsolescence in many ways. Take a look at computer printers. Most of the time the printer is lieing to you when it says that it is "low on ink." Try placing a piece of tape over the sensor that detects the ink and watch as you get a few more months out of a single "low ink" cartridge.

Though its no wonder why they do it....



I find that its a lot cheaper to open up the cartridges yourself and refill them manually for $4 to $5 instead of buying another $35 ink cartridge.

Last edited by Banefull; 02-20-2011 at 03:55 AM.
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Old 03-17-2011, 07:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by txen View Post
Now if you talk about consumer electronics, I agree with your premise 100%. There is an important caveat though. Your typical consumer electronic gizmo only has a finite lifetime even if it never breaks. Technology moves quickly in this area. Devices become obsolete even if they still function perfectly.
But this, too, is sometimes done intentionally. A great example today is routers. Everybody in the networking business knows that the IPv4 protocol underlying the Internet today is on its last legs; there is just no getting around the fact that there are only about 4 billion possible IPv4 addresses but 7 billion people on the planet. The specification for the replacement IPv6 protocol has been around for over a decade - plenty of time for every vendor to implement it - but most routers sold today still only support IPv4. Anyone buying a router now who's not savvy enough to know this (most people) will, a few years hence, have to throw it out and buy another.
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Old 03-17-2011, 08:01 AM
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Do I support programmed obsolescence? No I don't.
I don't support it because it doesn't benefit anyone but big business in the long run. Not the environment, not the individual consumer and not the community. I think part of the problem is due to the individualist neo liberal society that we have had in the last 80-100 years in the developed world. Supposedly the individual is responsible for their own welfare and needs which are provided for by jobs that the "free market" gives them. I vote that we have a more community minded society structure.
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Old 03-18-2011, 01:50 AM
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But isn't it the way to accelerate development of new technologies? What if companies made products lasting much longer? Would that mean only more smaller companies or just less money to pay the progress in development of new technologies?
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Old 11-30-2013, 09:51 AM
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Name an item, be it an appliance, mode of transportation or product of electronic devices, and it is likely to have some amount of planned obsolescence. Producers love it, because it means a person has to frequently purchase brand new stuff from them and it's great for their important thing.
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Old 11-30-2013, 11:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emsmith View Post
Name an item, be it an appliance, mode of transportation or product of electronic devices, and it is likely to have some amount of planned obsolescence. Producers love it, because it means a person has to frequently purchase brand new stuff from them and it's great for their important thing.
That was said in the OP.
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Old 12-21-2013, 04:06 PM
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I know for a fact that this is true with staplers. Had to learn their design process in an engineering course. They could easily make them to last a much longer time, but they usually build them to break after a certain period.

However, not all things are built this ways. For example, cars have gotten more durable in past years. But now, they make them harder to work on so you're more likely to take it to a shop. (Depends on manufacturer etc.)

For example, changing a dead battery in most cars is really easy, but in some BMWs they put the battery under the rear seat, so you're gonna have to pay an over-priced amount at a BMW mechanic, unless you have a decent see of tools.


ps: Also, fun fact about Thomas Edision. Well you know how our wall outlets use AC current, and Edison wanted them to use DC current? Well, to demonstrate how dangerous AC current was, he used AC current at 60 Hz (a frequency very dangerous to humans, as some frequencies aren't) to shock a person. And you know what frequency your wall outlets use now? You guessed it, 60Hz!
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