planned obsolescence

I almost bought a new computer today, but then I talked myself out of it. “Do I really want to do this?” I wondered. In just a year or two it will be obsolete, just like my current (ten-year-old) computer.

This led to a depressing spiral of thought. Computers are perfect examples of planned obsolescence. Today’s average computer user uses his machine to perform the same tasks that he needed a computer for ten years ago. But would today’s software run on a computer from ten years ago? I challenge you to try that with Windows Vista.

I don’t think computers have improved substantially in ten years. Sure, they’re faster, and arguably better looking. But those changes are just icing on a very expensive cake. I just want to check my e-mail. Not that I was planning to reply in a timely fashion.

Mobile phones are designed to be thrown away after 2 or 3 years. Something like 150 million go to landfills every year. They don’t decompose! Of course my Model 2500 home phone still works after 35 years, and it still has better sound quality than any cellphone. I admit that it won’t fit in my pocket and it can’t remote-control my blender, but those are drawbacks that I can live with.

My Mach 3 razor blades are terrible. They give a great shave, but I’m already planning to throw them away from the moment I open the box. In fact, the patented lubricating strip changes color to remind me that its time has come. That bothers me. One of these days I’ll learn to shave with a straight blade.

Mardi Gras beads are meant to be thrown away almost immediately after purchasing. A friend of mine likes to ponder life from the perspective of the Chinese girls who work 10 hour days in Mardi Gras bead necklace factories. What do they think we’re doing here in America with millions of ugly necklaces?

I would mention cars in the same way, but they’re a special case. Lewis Mumford described America’s transportation system as “monotechnic”—fraught with the same kind of problems that monoculture has brought to American crops. Heavy reliance on automobiles has led them to interfere with other modes of transportation. (Let’s not even consider those special cases of pure stupidity in transportation history.)

Wikipedia says this about Lewis Mumford:

In The Myth of the Machine: technics and human development (1967), Mumford criticizes the modern trend of technology, which emphasizes constant, unrestricted expansion, production, and replacement. He explains that these goals work against technical perfection, durability, social efficiency, and overall human satisfaction. Modern technology—which he calls ‘megatechnics’—evades producing lasting, quality products by using devices such as consumer credit, installment buying, non-functioning and defective designs, built-in fragility, and frequent superficial “fashion” changes.

There’s a book I need to add to my reading list! I’m doing it in the name of overall human satisfaction.

Leave a comment

Leave a Comment

August 11, 2007 August 11, 2007 archives by Scott [permanent link]