• Michael Weeding

Hands up if you want a Smartphone that will last your lifetime?

This is a comment I bet everybody has made sometime in their lifetime “manufactures do not build products to last!!” This is usually followed by “the bastards have designed their products so that it will self-destruct the moment that the warranty has expired”.

The result is that we are forced to repair the damn thing, and the more we look into this the more we realise it will cost just as much to buy a new one. We all conclude that this cycle is driven by the desire of big organisations wanting for more profits. If they build something to last then people are never going to replace the item quickly enough for the organisations to deliver the necessary revenues that their shareholders expect.

Planned Obsolescence is in fact a corporate strategy.

Well you are not that far off the truth and if you want the detail I suggest you read Giles Slade’s book “Made to Break”. In it he analyses the history of the theory known as Planned Obsolescence, a concept that was born in the mid-19th century when American businessmen worried about overstocked warehouses and strategised ways to keep people buying. But it was not all about moving stock out of the warehouse, in many cases it was due to affordability. To provide more affordable products more disposable items became the products of choice for most consumers and as a result employees within the largest organisations were tasked with the objective to build items that could be disposed after use.

There are many things that are available today that was born out this era, the disposable nappy, the razor, the band aid, the syringe to a name a few. While there are many people that are happy to use these products every day and items such as the syringe have provided for a healthier society there are many critics of the ease at which consumers dispose of products that we use, especially as all these items are adding to the excessive amounts of waste that we generate. The other concern is that manufacturers have turned items that could last for our lifetime into products that will only last a few years such as the light bulb, the washing machine and the car.

You are also part of the problem

So while there is general concern around the culture of disposable that has been driven by the corporate strategies of promoting consumption we also live in a world where consumers need to have the latest and greatest. We like the fact that our grandparents only ever needed to buy one washing machine in their lifetime but in reality would never want to own anything for such a long period of time with the fear that a product this old would certainly not perform the function that we would expect when compared to others that are available for purchase today. Can you imagine the look on your friends faces if you claim that you wanted to buy a smartphone that will last you a lifetime.

So Planned Obsolescence is not a plot driven by the greed of large organisations but is a necessary strategy to drive innovation and deliver new and improved products to remain competitive within the world that we live. With technology becoming more and more important in our daily lives and new and improved items being introduced to consumers all the time this strategy has become as much about survival as it is about delivering the latest and greatest product and service. The past is littered with stories of corporations who did not evolve quickly enough to satisfy the consumer’s appetite for more and as a result were replaced with another brand and service as quickly as they were originally adopted, and I cannot see this cycle of consumption ending anytime soon


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