For this issue I have chosen to write on a topic I first heard about in a business class last term. A few months ago, through a cynical anti-consumerism video, I learned of the concept of planned obsolescence of consumer goods. I think the concept is ridiculous. Before I elaborate on the absurdity which is planned obsolescence, I will concede my biases. First, when it comes to style in cars, clothing, furniture, etc., I am a lover of all things vintage. I like classics. Secondly, I am environmentally-concerned. I recycle, walk to school and rarely forget my reusable shopping bags.
Planned obsolescence is a concept popularized by those influencing advertising and manufacturing in the 1950s. According to industrial designer Brooks Stevens, planned obsolescence is "instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary." Planned obsolescence is the ploy created by the advertising industry to convince consumers to throw out the functioning things they own and to buy more short-lived replacements. Advertisers' subtle claims of inadequacy are supported by products designed to fall apart at just the correct time. Producers of consumer goods spend considerable time and money to determine the lifetime of their products. If obsolescence is planned appropriately, consumer goods will give out very quickly as to assure many customer repurchases. Products will last just long enough so that consumers do not lose faith in the supplying organization while becoming obsolete frequently enough to maximize sales.
Apple has been accused of planned obsolescence. The use of security screws on Apple products discourages the user from replacing the battery, and reduces the useful life of a repairable product. Car manufacturers are also accused of planned obsolescence. People sometimes say "they just don't make them like they used to" in criticism of the auto industry. I do not imagine that auto manufacturers have forgotten how to make dependable, durable cars. I imagine it is much more likely that car manufacturers sell consumers junky cars on purpose. The manufacturers are looking out for their future sales.
While some planned obsolescence is the result of a product designed to break, expire or become incompatible, plenty more of the scheme is seen in the form of perceived obsolescence. Under the realm of perceived obsolescence, suppliers convince consumers of some inadequacy in their good, when no such inadequacy exists. For example, if an indicator strip on a razor changes colour when the razor is still sharp, the razor producers are convincing consumers to throw away a good product and buy a replacement.
I think planned obsolescence is in terribly bad taste for two reasons. First, planned obsolescence places an incredible and unnecessary burden on the environment through the production and disposal of goods. Second, excessive consumerism places a burden on consumers and reduces their quality of life. As always, it is important that consumers are aware of the message they receive. Consumers should evaluate their decisions on their own merits and understand the high levels of influence to which advertisers strive.
Megan Denty is a fifth-year commerce student. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.