Obsolete? Smell My Feet!

Opinion by Dominic DeGrinney, Newswire Intern

As the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas approaches, it is once again the regifting time of year. If you are anything like me, you have either given or received a well-intentioned gift that turned out to be a curse in disguise. One such instance that I can recall was that of my first laptop. It was gifted to me during Christmas, and it served me throughout the later half of my high school years. Beyond that, the computer started to fail me, eventually resulting in my purchase of another laptop.

One might suggest that this is because I did not take proper care of my laptop, or that it is the natural course of technology. Both of these objections have some truth to them, but the second objection is of particular interest to me. My old computer parts were soldered, meaning that they were fixed and non-modular. For devices — especially mobile devices like laptops with their battery restrictions — it is not uncommon to have soldered parts that cannot be removed or exchanged.

What this lack of modularity leads to is a device that is eventually outpaced by the demands of modern technology. This takes the choice away from the consumer to upgrade their devices on their own. This in turn forces the consumer to pay for practically the same product at a dramatically increased price.

This is the natural extension of the product policy of planned obsolescence. The policy of planned obsolescence revolves around the idea of creating a purposefully frail or artificially limited product that will eventually become obsolete, forcing the consumer to buy more in the long run. Long-running examples of planned obsolescence can be found in the auto and electric industries. 

Both cars and lightbulbs were found to last too long and failed to bring back returning customers. Cars, like those of the early Ford Model-T, were supposed to be work horses which lasted for long periods of time. Eventually, most families that could afford cars purchased them, which created an issue for Ford and their competitor, General Electric. This issue was solved by General Electric, who partnered with the paint company Dupont to create cars of various colors to make consumers feel as though older models were obsolete.

EDIT AH (to Chloe) 

Through this method, which General Electric called dynamic obsolescence, car companies  and those that copied them were able to ensure that customers kept returning to them for new products. This form of obsolescence did not depend on the breakdown of the old car, but rather on the advertising of the new car. This method is something still seen in the modern car industry, as similar products are sold each year with marginal differences or new gimmicks in order to make the consumer feel as though the car they already purchased had become obsolete.

Even more malicious than the auto markets’ planned obsolescence is the electric industries’ planned obsolescence. Similar to the auto industry, lightbulbs in the 1920s were increasing in lifespan. Though many companies across the world realized that they would have an issue if they continued in the direction of increasing the lifespan of lightbulbs, instead of working towards the benefit of society, the electric companies reversed the technology to force the consumer to purchase more of their product.

The tendency of technology to advance only to a point where it can be profitable is a common occurrence. In some ways it is as though the point of technology — to better human life — is entirely incompatible with the capitalist nature of open markets.

Planned obsolescence is often the result of monopolistic or oligarchical control of markets combined with general unawareness. The way to combat the power of centralization of markets and the uninformed nature of the public on technology is to educate. It is therefore important to recognize the value of the idea behind the right to repair movement. 

The right to repair is a heavily debated topic in many states as a result of the greedy actions of companies like Apple and Microsoft. It argues for giving consumers the option between repair and the purchase of a new product, rather than forcing them to do the latter.

Though the greed of society may weigh heavy on you after reading this article, remember that it is not evil to participate in the market. You should make sure that you participate in the market responsibly, however, as there are always those looking to exploit you.