What a Conundrum!

// Posted by on 06/11/2015 (9:23 PM)

Classmates – sorry my post is coming in a bit late…

Planned obsolescence is a term I was not familiar with until this class. After reading the article Made To Break I was clearly aware of just how much of a conundrum we, the U.S., find ourselves in. The challenge is what to do with waste, and can the volume be reduced? How is the waste we are disposing of today affecting people in the future? So many items become obsolete because they are manufactured for a short shelf life. We read about the electronic devices that we all use and seem to be continuously upgrading to the latest version or model. It made me think…what did I do with my previous cell phone and I remembered that I had donated it. So, I upgraded to a faster, more effective digital product but the one I disposed of was/is being put to good use because it’s being rebuilt for another user – someone who can’t afford to purchase a cell phone but really needs the technology. Thinking of disposal in this regard seems fair and I don’t feel guilty for upgrading to a new device. But, I think the overwhelming majority of devices are disposed of in landfills or just simply sit somewhere until someone decides where it should go. Who is the caretaker of digital waste product???

One example in the reading was General Electric flashlight bulbs. Making an inferior product with a shortened life span increases the demand and turnaround time in between consumer purchases. It’s definitely a financial mess! How many times I’ve blown a bulb immediately after installing it or shortly thereafter only to throw it in the trash not thinking where it is going to end up, and simply purchase more bulbs. I don’t think a lot of thought has been given to this issue over the years but it is surfacing now due to the increased waste Americans generate and the lack of places to properly dispose of the waste. Disposal of waste is a huge part of the discussion around planned obsolescence, but so is money.

Americans are buyers. We spend money. We spend money on lots of things both small and large. Obsolescence of automobiles and computers and cell phones are but a few examples. What happened when Apple announced the iPhone watch? There was a wait list to purchase the watch. It was the newest technological release by Apple and the world was in a hurry to get it! When we make purchases, I don’t think we’re consciously thinking about the lifespan of the item, we’re just happy to have something newer, faster or advertised as “better.” When we upgrade our computers we’re not thinking of the pieces and parts of the computer and the computer screen or what happens to the “old,” we’re focused on the “new.” I think the more attention that is brought to this subject and, the more people are aware of planned obsolescence; the demand for longer lasting, more durable products will increase. Maybe not digital items as the world seems obsessed with increasing our digital capabilities. But items like paper products, lightbulbs, clothing, car parts, etc., could be made better and more durable. But, that would mean less demand from the consumer and less money would be made by the seller which would have a negative effect on the employee whose job isn’t needed any longer due to the decrease in demand. The financial cycle would be effected and trickle down to the average consumer and worker. That’s why I said in the beginning of this blog post that planned obsolescence is a conundrum.

I don’t have an answer to fix the issue…it’s huge and it’s growing. Production of items with a purposely shortened shelf life is not going to decrease because there is money to be made by the manufacturer. As with most things…money talks loudest, unfortunately.

Here is a really spot on video that is a song called “Limited Lives.” I think it showcases planned obsolescence quite well! It’s funny but it definitely sends a profound message to the viewer!


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Rosatelli said...

Hi Lois,

You definitely nail it: we are faced with a conundrum. Our economy demands consumption, but we are faced with waste that is not only overwhelming, but dangerous. What to do? There are some positive solutions out there, such as a modular mobile phone that has easy replacement pieces, or better laws surrounding the precious metals that technologies require. But, as with most things, awareness is the central issue, and that’s where many questions lie. Do we have a responsibility to know the lifecycle of our electronic devices? If so, who is supposed to teach us? Where and when should we learn? Should all consumption come with an education?

// 06/12/2015 at 2:31 pm

SarahP said...

Hi Lois :-)

The Internet just serves as the latest arena for a materialistic culture. As everything from wristwatches to computers that are one operating system behind are disposed of, the mad dash to the Apple Store every time a new product is announced just demonstrates our obsession with what is new. Value is a concept that has lost its meaning in American culture, and the concept of “built to last” is relegated, ironically, to commercials for new car batteries and pickup trucks.

E-waste is the latest in our evolution to a global junk planet. Before long, we will be shooting an asteroid of old computers into space, resembling the ball of twentieth-century junk from an episode of Futurama. Many people in developing countries are suffering the consequences of the West’s obsession with seconds-old technology, as they receive the damaged goods that are functional, yet obsolete, and are poisoned by lead or burned by acids.

Like I said to Kaitlyn, Tubes certainly has opened my eyes to the internet being a “place”- something perceptible, as opposed to just being pages that are zinged from who knows where. It made me realize that everything, even digital things, have to come from somewhere.

We have learned that the Internet is more than information sources and flashing ads, and that its place as a part of our collective psyche has a dark side, which we must work to contain for the sake of the global environment.

// 06/13/2015 at 3:49 pm

Ginger said...


What are we going to do about this? After reading the article I felt so guilty. I too, had no idea what our desire for new and better was doing to the world especially when it comes to the waste. For some reason I didn’t give much thought to the extra phones that are sitting in drawers around my house as waste. I guess it is because they are small, unlike the TV upstairs that will take 4 people to carry out of my house! I may hang on to that because I have to!

All kidding aside what are we going to do? I saw this commercial earlier today for iPhones from AT&T. It is cute and funny and it makes you forget all about e-waste. Then it dawned on me, that is the point. Now the commercial is called hand-me-downs, but the hand-me-downs are not shown in the best of light. Please watch.

// 06/13/2015 at 9:01 pm

Kindall said...

Lois: Great post!

I agree with your views and think that you make some really awesome points. You are right. Americans are buyers and we do spend a ton of money.

Our economy depends on us spending that money. So who do we become less wasteful while still paying to keep our economy from another Great Recession?

So we pay more for services and upgrades instead of new products? I think every time I buy a new Apple device “This will probably only last until the next, newer thing comes out”. And for some reason- I just think that is the way it goes. BU then, it isn’t I find myself resisting updates until the my phone literally stops working without it. And I sometimes cling to my iPhone 5 because I like it, it works, and I don’t want the 6.

What should we be doing to capitalize on consumers’ desire to keep what they have since it isn’t broken… while still keeping our market afloat?

If the answer were easy… I suppose we wouldn’t be talking about this. But I’m glad we are.

Thank you for your post!

// 06/13/2015 at 9:59 pm