Have you ever wondered why your smartphone, laptop or tablet breaks so easily? Or why its battery is so inefficient that you are practically forced to buy new ones as you’ve just finished paying for your old ones (or perhaps even before)? Have you ever thought about how risky it is buying light bulbs because you never know just how long they will last, no matter how long it says on the box?
There’s a reason why many products are little more than glorified pieces of garbage: an intentional practice by companies known as planned obsolescence. According to the Oxford Dictionary, planned obsolescence is defined as “a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of nondurable materials.” In plain English, a company eventually won’t be able to make a profit if its products last too long. So companies deliberately sabotage the quality of their own goods in order to leave their customers no choice but to buy more of said goods. This is an incredibly authoritarian practice in a system that supposedly relies on a “free market.” Effectively coercing customers into buying the newest versions of your products just so you can turn more of a profit each business quarter is nowhere near freedom; it is outright commercial tyranny.
One of the most famous examples of planned obsolescence, as mentioned above, is light bulbs. After Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, various companies jumped at the chance to cash in on the new product. These companies’ light bulbs were of the highest quality, and were very well-made. In fact, they were too well-made. People had no reason to buy more because they were so well-made. As a result, these companies were soon losing money on these new-fangled inventions.
So, as The New Yorker points out, in 1924, representatives from several electric companies, including General Electric, Philips, and Shelby Electric, held a meeting in Switzerland where they put their heads together to solve their mutual problem. Eventually, they agreed to manufacture their light bulbs so cheaply and so badly that it would limit a light bulb’s lifespan to only one thousand hours. Instead of making light bulbs that could last indefinitely, companies now choose to produce ones that lasted little more than a month; simply so they could make more money.
If you are curious as to whether or not a high-quality light bulb is still possible to see, you’re in luck! One notable relic in particular resides at Fire Station #6 in Livermore, California, where it has illuminated the way for the station’s firefighters for 120 years! First installed in 1901, the bulb has never been changed and is still going strong. If you are unable to make the journey to California, you can easily monitor the light bulb live from a camera on the fire station’s website.
Unfortunately, the light bulb is just one example of how planned obsolescence detracts from the financial health of consumers. According to the site Durability Matters, some replacement printer ink cartridges can cost more than the printer itself. The site also says that many cartridges use chips that intentionally disable a cartridge’s usage when its ink levels are low (instead of completely empty), forcing the consumer to replace the cartridge prematurely. The site also lists college textbooks, cars and clothing as further examples of planned obsolescence. Practices such as these are unacceptable. People have bills to worry about. They shouldn’t be forced to buy an endless string of poorly made consumables just so companies can make a quick buck. If you are in a fortunate position of being wealthy enough to afford to pay for myriad goods, that is fine, but that is simply not the reality for the vast majority of people around the world. They can’t afford to constantly replace old products with new ones in an endless and financially harmful rinse-and-repeat cycle.
Clearly, all kinds of products are made intentionally obsolete without the consent of consumers, which is deeply authoritarian under any circumstance. Planned obsolescence itself should become an obsolete idea in the very near future. It’s natural for certain things to become obsolete eventually, but making things obsolete intentionally and making a profit as a result should not be tolerated by consumers anymore. Everyone deserves high-quality products at reasonable prices, and many shoppers simply don’t have that option.
If light bulbs can really last over 100 years, who knows how long smartphones, laptops, or TVs could really last, if they were made at the highest quality possible for each product. Diving further into this hypothetical, we see that smartphones are notorious for being shoddily made. In fact, according to the technology news site Computerworld, both Apple and Samsung were fined in Italy in 2018 for allowing software updates that deliberately decreased the performance of many Italians’ smartphones without their knowledge or consent. As a result, Samsung was fined the equivalent of $5.7 million by the Italian government and Apple faced a steeper penalty of $10 million.
As you can see, this is not just an American problem. This is a worldwide problem. We have to come together with love and compassion, using actual freedom to solve this global conundrum. Practices like planned obsolescence don’t promote freedom. People aren’t free if they have to buy a new phone before paying off their current one. That is not freedom! Freedom will always be immune from obsolescence, and you can plan on that!