“We live in a disposable ‘cast-off and throw-away’ society that has largely lost any real sense of permanence. Ours is a world of expiration dates, limited shelf life, and planned obsolescence. Nothing is absolute.”
- Myles Munroe
The classic motto ‘out with the old, in with the new’ could never be truer than today’s American society. No sooner do we buy the ‘latest and greatest’ it is either outdated, with the newest innovation suddenly sweeping the nation demanding that we upgrade and update, or our big purchase falls apart in our hands requiring over the top repair costs and new parts.
After the same situation repeats itself a few times, you have to wonder whether this is a secret plan laid out by the big business owners in corporate America to extort us for our money… Experts say that there is some truth to that fear!
The word for this ‘artificially limited useful life’ that causes all our purchases to be deemed obsolete after a shortened period of time – Planned Obsolescence.
This philosophy was first adopted by manufacturers and corporate business owners in the 1920s and 1930s as a response to the growth of mass production and improved quality in production. At first, these changes led to longer lifespans of the goods that were purchased, however, that had a negative impact on the economy. Before long it was made mandatory for all industries to produce goods with a lower lifespan in order to both improve upon the rate of consumption as well as to reduce the recent increase in unemployment from a decrease in demand.
By using lower quality materials and creating inferior products companies could ensure that they would produce higher profit margins. Their profit then increased further when consumers were forced to replace their worn-out products or upgrade for newer models with better features.
Today, this theory can be witnessed across a number of different industries. The ‘discount store’ or ‘dollar store’ industry exists solely on this premise, selling lower quality items for slightly cheaper pricing realizing that this will draw consumers in with their great deals only to purchase more items, and replace these items on a more regular basis.
One of the most obvious industries where you will discover planned obsolescence is in the technology industry. Consider how often the average American upgrades their cellphone or laptop. Often companies are already talking about the next model coming in the future with their latest innovations and technological advances as they are releasing their current model, perpetually looking forward. In fact, experts predict that the average laptop today is likely to break within 3 to 4 years of purchase, requiring consumers to go back to the marketplace.
Neil Bearse, director of marketing at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business explains: “We’ve entered a world where having the latest, most capable phone in our pockets is something that’s expected – it’s not a luxury. Because of the sophistication of our devices, they are becoming increasingly disposable as the next thing comes out.”
Is this a sustainable economic model in a world with limited resources, or has the time come to once again reconsider our spending habits and their impact both on us, the consumers, and our environment?
Some experts are saying that we are currently hitting a plateau in the area of technological innovations, which may turn this purchase habit around if only the consumer bases shift their mindset in regard to the necessity to say they have the newest model on the market.
“It certainly feels like Apple (and, to be fair, its rivals) aren’t coming up with mind-blowing breakthroughs lately. So, there’s a difference between lusting after tech that really seems better – and feeling like you’re being forced to ‘upgrade’ to something that’s just slightly better,” stated technology journalist Rob Walker. “I suppose they could solve the problem by blowing our minds with amazing new improvements and breakthroughs – but, easier said than done.”