Planned Obsolescence: Why the Products You Buy are Designed to Break

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“Planned Obsolescence” is also known as “Irritation Engineering”

How many times have you bought an electronic device, only to find out that it has stopped functioning properly just a short time after your purchase? You spent so much money on it, and suddenly you’re sad to know that it’s not working well anymore. The result? Wasted expenses, labor, energy and finite resources, not to mention the toxic waste that ends up in landfills, poisoning the planet.

But why is that so? Why is it that most products’ lifespan is so short, considering the advanced modern technological means of production? The answer is planned obsolescence.

Planned Obsolescence and the Cycle of Perpetual Consumption

Our economic system is based on constant consumption — the more we buy, the more money moves into the economy, and hence the more the economy grows. If money stops moving, the economic system is bound to collapse, since people will not be paid or have money to pay for the products and services they need or want.

There are two main ways our society manages to keep people buying stuff:

Firstly, through advertising. We’re exposed to thousands of advertisements each and every day whose sole purpose is to convince us to keep on shopping under the promise that doing so will make our lives better. Through advertising, companies have managed to make us confuse our needs with our wants, thus making us desire to acquire things that we don’t truly need, so that we can fill in their pockets by emptying our own.

Secondly, through planned obsolescence, although this is not yet understood by many. If you didn’t know, planned obsolescence is a production technique that compels people to buy more and more stuff unnecessarily, by providing people with products of short lifespan. Instead of creating goods with the intention to last for as long as it is technically possible — considering that we are living in a finite planet with finite resources as well as the importance of saving material and human energy — companies, whose sole interest is to make sales, purposefully design products of low quality that will soon break, or become obsolete, in order to assure repeat purchases.

Planned Obsolescence and the Phoebus Light Bulb Cartel

In the early 20th century, technical efficiency brought about by industrial development in the United States increased dramatically, which resulted in the production of higher quality goods at a much quicker pace. Although that was a great success from a technological standpoint, the fact that the goods produced had increased lifespan was found to slow down consumption — hence it was an anathema for the economy of consumerism.

In order to prevent this from happening even further, people were encouraged to make more purchases, but it was found that this alone couldn’t make a significant difference. The “solution” given in the 1930s (the Depression era) was to make it legally mandatory for all industries to produce goods of lower lifespan, which was believed to help reduce unemployment and increase consumption…

This brings us to the case of the Phoebus light bulb cartel, comprised of Osram, Philips, and General Electric and other major companies, which pioneered the strategy of planned obsolescence. In the 1930s, a single light bulb could last for up to 25,000 hours, but the cartel forced all companies involved to produce bulbs limited to a maximum life of 1,000 hours, in order to increase demand. Below is a trailer of The Light Bulb Conspiracy, a feature documentary film that investigates the evolution and impact of planned obsolescence.

In order to make sure that people make repeat purchases, most manufacturers today create products that have short life cycles. In other words, the products sold by most companies have been intentionally designed in such a way that they will break shortly after they’ve been purchased, so as to urge the general public to buy more of them in the future.

Market Efficiency vs. Technical Efficiency

In our economic system, which is based on cyclical consumption, technical efficiency is damaging to the market efficiency — both cannot co-exist by any means. Increased technical efficiency decreases market efficiency, which is disrupting the flow of our current economic model.

But how stupid is it to keep on having such an economic system, knowing how technically inefficient it is as well as its tremendous negative impacts on society and the natural world? Instead of urging people to buy more and more, would it not be wiser to make use of our current scientific knowledge to create an economic system that is based on technical efficiency and environmental sustainability?

I would like to leave you now with these questions in mind, which will hopefully help you to realize how obsolete our economic system is and urge you to seek out information about how alternative economic systems can be implemented that would actually promote social and environmental well-being.

December 12th, 2016

By Sofo Archon

Guest writer for Wake Up World

9 thoughts on “Planned Obsolescence: Why the Products You Buy are Designed to Break

  1. Planned Obsolescence is taught in college. That’s where I first heard about it. It’s a symptom of late-stage capitalism and strongly indicates the end is near for the current paradigm we call capitalism. In order to maintain the fairy tale of perpetual growth which is central to capitalism, corporations now can’t come up with a better idea than fleecing the market place. There’s nowhere left to go from here.

  2. Everything that ails this planet and humanity is caused by the monetary system. When the collapse occurs, I hope humanity is wise enough to leave it collapsed.

  3. Planning planned obsolescence (PO). REASONABLY: Any company that does this should be held CRIMINALLY liable for the theft of the money and pollution of the planet. At they should be required to a bear minimum, calculate a time period of useful lifetime of the product.

    We should all return the products upon breakage. Or at least post a list of companies conducting PO.

  4. Indeed, excellent post – just down my street, as since long time aware of all mentioned and totally agree with ! I am a very “bad” consumer, in the good sense haha !

  5. Yes, so true it has always a negative impact as a consumers of these things , even if we are consuming false news , false awards false Phd’s , false social upgrade so fake styles , even extortion and torture in face(they call it a kind of kindness, as the UN does for years with nothing never in peace because of them).There is a movie named “The good, bad and ugly” . The good were and are good suffered extreme pain but still good, the bad we always know they are and now much in depth, but who are the ugly ones: We are , we became so ugly , like a running show of nonstop nonsense. The new trend should start in the heart of the ugly.Us.As we are always considered by this dark force as ugly and slaves, making them more so deeply bad that they appears to us as the goodness they are selling is forever and there no such good exists in real. Thank you so much. Victory of light , love and peace forever more. Nmastey

  6. one of the best/funniest examples of this was the men’s razor blade in north America
    every year they’d add another blade, it’s probably up to 15 blades now, battery powered, fluorescent lights, bells and whistle galore!
    Joke’s on them, when I found out about pyramids I bought one that opens and have had the same balde for 4 years
    nice post!

  7. Excellent post, so true. This world needs a revamp of all industries, craftsmanship and competition to make the best longest lasting products should be our goals. Companies would be singular, or limited plurality, a very few known for making the best products, and earning good money doing it so they can pay a higher wage helping their employees live a better standard of living, is far better than two hundred making cheap crap, paying their employees squat and makng a few at the top filthy rich on their employees misery.

  8. They used to build a better mouse trap ….. Hopefully in the future, it will go back to the better mouse trap.

    Don’t forget about the clothing styles in the fashion industry too. Clothing styles constantly are changing to produce more money too. Good thing I saved my bell bottom and cuffed pants. I think that the bell bottoms and cuffed pants are coming back into style now. If not … I’m starting the new trend! 🙂 good post my brother

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