Planned Obsolescence Reconsidered

Sandra Goldmark’s essay, Built Not to Last: How to Overcome Planned Obsolescence, is worthy of a few minutes:

What you can do as an individual consumer, a business patron, and a voter

In 2020, people worldwide bought some 24 billion pairs of shoes, 64 million cars, and 1.4 billion smartphones—200 million of them from Apple. More than 80 percent of iPhones sold last year went to “upgraders,” not first-time buyers. It’s all part of business as usual.

Since the 1920s, when lightbulb manufacturers teamed up to purposefully limit the life spans of their products, companies have been locked into a business model rooted in the concept of planned obsolescence. To “grow,” at least the way economists define it, corporations have to sell us more stuff every year—which is why there are ever-cheaper products made from low-quality or even toxic materials by people working in unjust conditions.

Planned obsolescence is why we see software mysteriously slow down, furniture designed with hollow legs and cheap staples, and clothing burned because it can’t sell fast enough. As repair shops close, landfills expand. How did we get here? How can we change course?

The Components of Planned Obsolescence

DesignPlanned obsolescence is determined largely by the materials a manufacturer chooses to use and how they’re put together (think phones with screens glued in place). If a company’s main source of revenue is selling more stuff every year, there’s little incentive to design for durability, longevity, and repair.

Read the whole essay here.

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