Ever feel like your electronics don’t last? Do you feel like things aren’t made like they used to be?
You’re right. They aren’t.
And, as consumers, it’s partly our fault.
Planned Obsolescence – The Concept
It’s a pretty simple idea (albeit a disturbing one) with a fancy name…planned obsolescence. And it’s applied to the vast majority of products we use every day from cars, to computers, to hair dryers, weed whackers, kitchen appliances and cell phones.
Planned obsolescence is, essentially, a trick used by companies to turn you into a repeat customer whether you like it or not….and we keep falling for it.
It’s problematic for your wallet, and disastrous for the environment.
Manufacturers use planned obsolescence to fuel consumerism in a variety of ways.
Types of Planned Obsolescence
Contrived durability: the use of inferior parts designed to decrease the life of a product.
Hindering repairability: products designed to make repair difficult or impossible to take apart without wrecking them (glues & bonding agents instead of screws).
Diminishing functionality: products designed to lose functionality by excluding them from software/operating system upgrades – apps will no longer work or new versions of apps not compatible.
Fashionable desirability: All about aesthetics-new, fancier, prettier products. They change the size or the colors or screens shapes to be more appealing.
Where the marketers are at fault…
Part of the onus for this environmental irresponsibility & waste of consumer finances caused by the constant purchasing cycle that planned obsolescence creates can be attributed to the Marketers of the aforementioned products.
We are constantly inundated with advertisements; on our TV’s, radios, billboards, and now, our phones.
And the more we are attached to our devices, the more advertisements we see. The more we see, the more we’re influenced…and the more we want.
Yesterday you may well have been perfectly happy with your phone. And it did all the things you could possibly want out of a pocket computer.
But today they dangle a shiny, pretty thing in front of you that can do a zillion more exciting things and suddenly, you need it.
Where it’s the manufacturer’s faults…
The responsibility for waste falls on manufacturers for using inferior parts to make products cheaper. They save money on components, and when things break earlier, we’re forced to buy more.
Producing and designing devices that can’t be repaired if they break works for manufacturer’s because it makes us buy more.
And, for every new device we buy, we need cases & covers, screen protectors & various other accoutrement like charms, cords, cord-keepers & pop-sockets.
No matter what, you guessed it, we’re buying and wasting more.
Where planned obsolescence and ewaste are our fault…
We’re trying to keep up with Joneses.
need want the latest, greatest, prettiest, biggest, baddest, best of things.
And to keep up with that demand, companies create more products. Demand for long-lasting products diminishes, hence the creation of more junky products planned to fail. Why build a product with the durability of a brick house when you’re only going to be using it for the summer?
You talk yourself into an “upgrade” because, well, you have had your phone for a whole 2 years and it does have a few nicks in it and well, you could really use that new feature….
Do you need it? Nope.
But marketers are great at sparking our innate desire to turn wants into perceived needs.
What can we do to stop planned obsolescence?
In a word – mindfulness.
When you see the advertisement that the latest iphone is coming out, think about your needs versus your wants (or what the marketers make you think you want/need).
Keep in mind: You need your phone to make phone calls. Texting can be convenient as well. Everything else is a luxury.
Take a moment to consider if you’d spend $1,000 to $1,500 on any other product that you’d only get to keep for a year or two.
Think about the things that got you suckered *ahem* into buying your current phone.
Do you still think those features are the bees knees? Have they truly altered your life in wonderful ways? Have they provided all the convenience, money-saving, time-saving, beautiful things you were led to believe they would?
I’d venture a guess that for the majority, the answer to those questions will be a resounding ‘Nope’.
Remember when facebook came out and we thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread?
You could keep in contact with your friends and family from far away, reconnect with high school friends, you could even build your own virtual farm.
After a little while, like most new things, the shine wore off: you got tired of seeing people post pictures of their lunch, complaining about their problems, and pretend farming became just too darn much work.
For those still lingering on, the latest data security issues have worn down the sparkly that much more.
Think about your current phone. What’s wrong with it? Actually wrong with it.
Nothing? Good. Keep using it.
Is your screen cracked? Battery life abysmal? Can it be fixed?
Yes? Then have it repaired. Your local tech will be able to repair it for a fraction of the price of a new phone.
Computer hard drive crashed? Take it to your local tech to see if it’s worth being repaired.
We’re victims….to an extent
If your only option is to purchase a crappy product & you need said product, well, that doesn’t leave you much of a choice does it?
On the other hand, products only exist based on customer demand. So as consumers, we do have greater control over planned obsolescence than we realize.
Which brings us to the idea of getting around it all by…
Buying Quality vs Quantity
Phone can’t be fixed? Computer not worth or not capable of handling repair or upgrade?
Check into used devices. You can find great deals on sites like ebay for phones, or your local tech firm for used or refurbished computers. Be sure to check the seller rating to make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate company.
If you need to buy new, buy quality.
Higher end products will fall victim to planned obsolescence less quickly than their lower end counterparts.
You’ll spend more outright, but it’ll be cheaper than buying several junky $300.00 computers over the same span of time.
If you buy a low-end computer with a slower processor and lower amount of memory, you’re limited in upgrades. When new operating systems come out (which you’ll eventually have to upgrade to in order to maintain security & compatibility with accessories), you may not be able to continue to update to them.
If you buy a higher end system with big memory and a fast processor, your ability to upgrade software and operating systems in the future will be drastically increased.
The problem…and the solution.
The problem: We really, really like shiny, pretty things.
The solution: It’s in the numbers. If enough of us make the decision to stop being lured in by the shiny things, to stop allowing ourselves to be duped by marketing, to stop confusing our wants for needs, then we can stop the incessant unnecessary buying cycle, thus discontinuing the proliferation of planned obsolescence. And, in the process, we’ll drastically reduce electronic waste.
Recycling is popular. And it’s a good thing. It’s certainly better than sending your TV to the landfill where it will leach out chemicals & heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, mercury & lead into your local water & soil. (How about a little lead with your locally caught fresh trout? A little cadmium with your corn?)
If your electronics have truly become useless, unfixable, or fell victim to planned obsolescence, then recycle them.
But recycling doesn’t mean your waste is gone without consequence.
Depending upon who does it, recycling your ewaste may be just as bad environmentally as sending it to the landfill.
Per this New York Times article, in third world countries, where ewaste is commonly sent, workers, the air, the soil & the water are regularly exposed to noxious chemicals used in irresponsible recycling processes…. doesn’t make you feel so great about recycling does it?
Be sure to ask your local electronics waste recycler if they’re working with or are R2 & E-Steward certified. According to the EPA, “R2 & E-Steward Certification are based on strong environmental standards that maximize reuse and recycling, minimize exposure to human health or the environment, ensure safe management of materials by downstream handlers, and require destruction of all data on used electronics.”
We’re in charge of our money, our time and our decisions. Let’s use our power as consumers to diminish planned obsolescence. Let’s reduce our consumption, reuse what we can and recycle as a last resort; for us, for our kids, for the planet.
Happy Earth Day!
Need phone or computer repair? Have ewaste recycling? We have your tech needs covered. We’re local to the Northampton, Whitehall, Bath or Lehigh Valley area. Give us a call at 610.502.0854 or contact us *insert link* for more information.
If you’re from anywhere else in the U.S., please visit www.earth911.com, google your town name and electronics waste, or contact your township, county or town for more information.
And for more information on what you can do for Earth Day, visit www.earthday.org .