Planned Obsolescence

Yes, I am still alive. Just took a mini vacation in my brain. It’s pretty in there.

Anyway, I recently watched a documentary called Pyramids of Waste (2010), AKA The Lightbulb Conspiracy. I will link the video below (it’s under an hour long).

I don’t know whether to be pissed off or resigned by the movies message. In short, many / most consumer goods are built with a specific lifespan that is determined by the manufacturer. For instance, when mass production of lightbulbs first began, the average bulb lasted 2500 hours. However, a coalition of these manufacturers came together and decided to lower the life to just 1000 hours. They could, at worse, have the same production costs per unit but greatly increase the consumer’s purchases. Pretty nifty…for them.

There are other examples in the movie but this is a good place to start. Basically, the global consumer is being sold inferior products so that they will have no choice but to purchase those items over and over again. For most items, you don’t even have a choice to purchase a superior, albeit more expensive item. So, in the end, leadership at major corporations actually have their engineers make their products worse so they can sell more. I realize this is nothing new but when you think about it, the prolific numbers of merchandise that fall into this category is staggering. Greed, greed, and more fu**ing greed.

(To be fair, some items that are not disposable should be. Dildo’s, for instance. They should be one and done. You know the way spaghetti stains your Tupperware even though you wash it over and over? It’s just like a dildo. You can clean it however many times you want but that tuna smell is not going away…ever).

However, the counter argument is reasonable. If people bought items that lasted, say 20 years, wouldn’t manufacturing go straight into the toilet? Even if you sold those items at a premium, you would have a hard time holding down manufacturing costs and profits would certainly suffer. And, after all, what business is NOT in it for the money? Our love fest with consumption has driven the world economy for a long, long time. Fortunately, we are suckers for good marketing so this addiction is as strong as ever. If you build it, iPad 77, they will buy it. We are the very dickheads who bought “pet rocks” and “mood rings” by the millions. And if I see another one of those rubber wrist bands I am going to shit my pants and then throw it at the offender. We have a disease and big business has the cure.

What to do? Which side is right? I guess as long as we keep buying crap that we don’t need, someone will sell it to us. And if we keep throwing away perfectly goods items to get the newer, better version, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Still, this world isn’t going to get any bigger and this unbelievable rate of consumption is going to continue to take its toll on the environment. Don’t buy anything and we go straight into a depression. Or, keep buying inferior things and accept that you are going to get fu**ed, and fu**ed hard by The Man.

Personally, I am going to stay naked and live in a cardboard box by the freeway. Fu** you, you capitalist thugs. Yeah, I said it. Take your new whatever and shove it up your ass. I ain’t buying. (Except I am totally going to get one of those 4G phone thingies. They sound amazing). TL

Bloodsucking Big Business Douche Monkeys

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20 Responses to Planned Obsolescence

  1. Justin Lee says:

    I think one often overlooked factor that contributes to planned obsolescence is the extent to which government controls, like intellectual property, put in place barriers to competition.

    However, the counter argument is reasonable. If people bought items that lasted, say 20 years, wouldn’t manufacturing go straight into the toilet?

    I think I understand your point. But if products lasted longer, that would free up resources to be spent in developing new technologies and industries that would make our lives more enjoyable.

    • elizabeth3hersh says:

      Wal-Mart shoppers could never delay gratification long enough for new technology to be developed. Truth be told, there is enough crap (in the US anyway) for industry to grind to a halt and there would still be enough *crap* to go around.

      • Justin Lee says:

        Wal-Mart shoppers could never delay gratification long enough for new technology to be developed.

        I don’t know that to be the case. Either way, that situation could be alleviated with the lessening of intellectual property laws, which slow technological development, and putting an end to inflationary monetary policies that discourage savings.

    • tannerleah says:

      I think you make a good point about the opportunity to invest in new technologies but corporations have shown again and again they are much more interested in pocketing the profits. I suspect the iPad v.8 has already been created. However, we need to go through several sales cycles to squeeze every last dime of profit possible. And, sadly, counsumers happily play along.

      • Justin Lee says:

        I don’t disagree. But Intellectual property laws are one of the ways in which corporations use government-granted privileges to create artificial scarcities in the market for the purpose of boosting profits.

  2. elizabeth3hersh says:

    Riveting documentary TL!! Watched it and loved it…a real eye opener! Although very much aware of the endless supply of overseas schlock in our stores, homes and in-and-on (oh, yes) our bodies, I did not know about the covert machinations of corporate cartels manipulating the market to the detriment of the consumer and environment (hmmm, nonnie will be glad to hear that I may have to extricate myself from my Republican party affiliation after viewing this doc). TL, you know I hate junk. I REFUSE to buy junk. But, there is certain ‘useful’ junk I can’t avoid: electronics with the pre-determined life spans set by the cartels for example. I’ve sort of been able to get around the “your ink cartridge needs replacing” by removing the cartridge, shaking it up a bit and re-inserting it ‘tricking’ my printer into thinking I inserted a new cartridge. That strategy usually works, but not always. My printer sometimes forces me to insert a new cartridge anyway when I know damn well that there is still ink left! So whaddayado? I’d like to see an industry of engineers rise up and offer fixes equivalent to the Russian software that can override a pre-set ‘kill switch’ in printers that tell consumers it is time to purchase a new machine. Wonder why we are not seeing more of that? Next time you are in line at ANY STORE, take a moment to scan all the crap surrounding the check-out isle. Ask yourself, is it necessary, is it useful, does it add anything of aesthetic value, is it ultimately disposable, will it end up in a landfill, is it nourishing? The SHIT is everywhere!! And people WANT it and they BUY it. I’ll take fourth-hand Chanel any day over anything they sell at Target (unless it’s a printer or cartridges cuz really, I NEED those).

  3. elizabeth3hersh says:

    Addendum: over a decade ago, sick of bulb burn-out on high ceilings, I purchased light bulbs GUARANTEED to burn 20,000 hours by an upscale company called Frontgate. The bulbs are made by AeroTech and are on the expensive side (6 for $20), but they came with a guarantee (“if these bulbs ever burn out, we’ll replace them for free!”). They did burn out (quite frequently) and I would call Frontgate periodically and they would ship replacements. After so many years, I let the burnt bulbs accumulate and then placed my replacement call. Conveniently, Frontgate could no longer locate my order number stating they “purged” their records. If I could produce an order number they would replace the bulbs or so they said. No order number, no bulbs. So I had to place an entire new order of EXPENSIVE bulbs. This time I jotted down the order numbers and made a photocopy of the guarantee from their catalog and my receipts. You would not believe the hoops I have had to jump through to get replacements even with the aforementioned items. I have to send multiple requests, wait weeks for a response, invariably get escalated to a “product specialist supervisor”, wait another month for replacements and then deal with surly custserve reps who write the following to their supervisors (the supervisor accidentally left the reps correspondence in his reply):

    “You all have told me before that even though something says lifetime warranty we have the right to change the warranty period at will. Would someone please explain that “policy” to Ms. Hersh**** as each time we try to tell her she just keeps hanging on how she has the written lifetime warranty in hand – this will never stop.” 😦

    WTF? They have the “right” to change their lifetime warranty? Shouldn’t they issue a refund for the bulbs if they can’t honor their end of the bargain? Now they make me ship the defective bulbs back at my own expense and will mail out replacements only after a protracted period of negotiations which entail sending copies of my receipts, order numbers and catalog page…they clearly didn’t factor in that a customer would hold them to their word, and purging their system of order numbers may be another layer of planned obsolescence.

    • tannerleah says:

      I promise you that you are the exception to the rule. Anything that comes with a “lifetime warranty” isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. However, kudos to you for holding their feet to the fire. If only more customers did the same, that lifetime warranty claim would never see the light of day again. (light…get it?)

      • elizabeth3hersh says:

        I checked the Frontgate web site and the lifetime warranty has been replaced by a one year guarantee. So long as I am alive I will continue to demand they honor the lifetime warranty. I am a force to be reckoned with.

  4. elizabeth3hersh says:

    One more thing…I have spent over $450 over the years on those frickin’ bulbs.

  5. The lightbulb thing is a good dodge, but the real issue isn’t the lightbulb itself (or how long it lasts), but rather the fact that there’s some sort of misguided push towards CFL’s, which in my experience aren’t lasting any longer than the older, cheaper bulbs.

    Perhaps they couldn’t get the lightbulbs down to a short enough life cycle and are now getting the government (under the guise of “earth-friendly” blahblahblah) to mandate the purchase of new and not-even-improved lightbulbs.

    It’s like buying batteries. I don’t see a significant enough difference between Rayovac and Duracell to spend the extra $1.50-4.00 (depending on pack size) to purchase the “brand name.” And I know Energizer’s lifecycle is well below those other two.

    Everything is disposable. The upside is that when my dvd player goes down, I only have to spend $30-40 to replace it. Back in the good old days, you couldn’t even get an estimate from a repairman for that price. It might be tradeoff and I might be lying to myself, but I think the consumer still comes out ahead in many cases.

    • tannerleah says:

      I remember the first “green” light bulb I bought which was supposed to last 7 years. It lasted about 6 months. I thought it was just a lemon. I have since learned that it is more the norm than the exception. Another case of excellent marketing.

      As to your last point, yes, the consumer comes out ahead but at what long term cost? First, that “broken” dvd player (made of mostly plastic) is going to join millions of other dvd players in landfills in South Africa or South America. At some point, even the biggest garbage dump fills up. Plus more and more natural resources need to be used to keep churning them out.

      Also, that cheap new player is going to come from overseas so it is creating little benefit to our economy. Cheap prices also equal much lower sales tax generation. Also, you just put the repairman out of a job.

      Our lovefest over cheap and disposable products seems great but I would argue that it comes with all kinds of negative ramifications.

      • elizabeth3hersh says:

        Can you imagine a sculpted chrome and enameled (in robin’s egg blue) DVD player (with fins)? That thing would NEVER end up in a dumpster. One can dream.

    • elizabeth3hersh says:

      I suspected Energizer had lower lifespans…didn’t know Rayovac was comparable to Duracell (at lower cost)…will make the switch. Thanks Cap!

  6. John Miller says:

    They call it: “Capitalism”, and tout it to the world as the greatest economical system ever devised by creative bankers. (whom may or may not be Jewish, but most likely are of semetic origin) “Demand and Supply” is their motto. They call us: “Consumers”. (see definition in online dictionary). Enough said. Manson

    • tannerleah says:

      There was a time when this model worked…when most consumer goods were being produced in the US. The outsourcing of most goods has broken the model.

      Of course, for the “capitalists”, the money flows in either way so they certainly are under no obligation to change anything.

      And, yeah, those dirty Jews are probably behind it.

  7. oh my… I’m having to think way too hard to even deal with this post, much less wrap my pretty little brain around the concept. Yikes!
    so, do I buy lightbulbs or start making my own candles? Advice, please

  8. nursemyra says:

    Fascinating. Wish I had time to watch the documentary…… I do very little shopping these days and when I do it’s mostly from charity/thrift shops for second hand goods. I draw the line at second hand dildos though

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