Do we really need a new iPhone launching every year? Do we really need a latest version of Play Station or X-box? Does it merely makes the companies rich or it also helps the society?
Before answering these questions, let me first explain you the meaning of Planned Obsolescence. Planned Obsolescence is “a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will be obsolete, unfashionable or no longer functional after a certain period of time”.
The concept of Planned Obsolescence has been in existence for almost a century now since the period of The Great Depression. Bernard London, in his 1932 essay titled “Ending the depression through Planned Obsolescence”, talks about his vision to impose a legal obsolescence on consumer products to stimulate consumption.
In order to understand further the concept of Planned Obsolescence, let me give you some more examples. Thomas Edison, when first discovered electric bulb, it was evident that the same bulb could last for almost an entire lifespan of an individual with minimum repair. In a few years it was identified as incredibly dangerous situation for the business owners and for the people who were dependent on these businesses. Hence, it was decided that the bulbs would be produced with lower quality so that it had to be replaced after every 1000 hours of usage. The same was the case when DuPont Engineers discovered Nylon for the first time and stockings made out of nylon were tested. The fabric was strong and could last for years, which meant less sales of stockings. As a result, DuPont instructed its engineers to make more fragile fabric so that it results into repeat purchases of stockings.
The same strategy of Planned Obsolescence was followed by almost all the companies. IKEA in one of its lamp commercials came up with the concept which said, “Lamp has no feelings and the new one is much better”. This commercial was designed in a way that people see it as a concept of change, a freshness instead of durability (which was very important for consumers at that time). This fueled the desire to own the latest among people, which the company exploited. Going further in order to understand Apple and other mobile manufacturing companies’ strategies and our Psychology of being ready to pay higher cost to own the latest products, we must look at Vance Packard’s 1960 work “The Waste Maker”, which argues that people consume a lot more than they should and are harmed by their consumption. It describes how marketers force-feed consumers into buying things which are wasteful. Packard explains Planned Obsolescence in two categories: Obsolescence of desirability and Obsolescence of function. Obsolescence of desirability is what smart phone manufacturers generally use. As sales slow down, they accomplished long term volumes by changing the designs slightly. The changes are usually just an illusion of change in styling of a product, which leads to wearing out previous version in the mind of its owners.
Some may claim that this upgrade cycles will propel technological advancement, which may be true in some cases but not in most of the cases. The concept of replacing instead of repairing products creates more waste, pollution and environmental damage. However, any strategy towards repairing is not given desirable importance. The result is in every few months iPhone battery starts to falter, also the forced iOS upgrade leads to slowing it down as it does not have sufficient hardware capacity to handle the upgrades. Eventually, people are forced to upgrade to a newer version of iPhone.
In spite of all this, I argue that Planned Obsolescence is in a way good for the society, economy and for individuals. My explanation to the argument is –
- Good for Economy: Planned Obsolescence fosters the cycle of demand and supply, which is very important for businesses to grow, important for creating new demand and thus resulting in economic growth of any country.
- Good for Society: Planned Obsolescence helps businesses to grow bigger and this results into more employment generation. This increases the purchasing capacity and raises the standard of living of people. The cycle continues and the society flourishes.
- Good for individuals: As humans, we have natural tendency to get bored easily if we use same product for a long time. Change is important in order to grow, in order to satisfy the Psychological need of sense of achievement, which could also be in the form of materialistic things. Purchasing power gives us a sense of confidence and satisfaction.
Hence, to conclude, I would say everything including Planned Obsolescence has its positive and negative side. I believe that every coin has two sides and it depends on us which side we want to see.