Fighting Planned Obsolescence

Everything has a schedule of birth, of life, and of death. There is nothing that has been created that will not be destroyed in some way, shape, or form. We can see this take place with new products, with everything from clothing to solar panels to telephones. At some point, parts start breaking off, they get worn down, rust starts to form, and the product becomes unusable. This is natural. Things will fail to be useful at some point. However, due to a series of reasons, placing an artificial limit on an item’s lifespan has gotten more popular over the years, meaning that good products are becoming few and far between.

Why Companies use Planned Obsolescence:

If I happen to have a company that sells reusable water bottles, I could create the top so that it can only go through a certain number of twists and turns. This then allows my company to project a date and time to be used, which in turn creates a timetable for the product. Income projections become considerably easier, and new additions to the product can be made incrementally with this timetable. If the market is already full of water bottles, then I can adjust to create a newer model of the bottle to allow the business to get more money and replace the market. If the bottle happens to be broken, our company can either pitch the Water Bottle 2.0 with minimal improvements, or we can ensure that repairs only happen through our system.

How Companies Get Away With This

Looking at all this, it’s no wonder that companies use planned obsolescence. Easier timetables and recurring revenue allow for shareholders to see consistent dividends, which in turn means more money that can be raised or a higher stock price. That said, for a company to actually profit off this method of replacement, one of two things is true:

  1. The product is an industry breaker. If the product is properly marketed and if the product can greatly improve on the current status quo, then there is a period in which the product can be incredibly flimsy, yet it is still needed.
  2. There’s a hype of branding around it. If the company has consistently shown itself to be a strong brand due to a certain status level, then they have more tolerance to create weaker products compared to another organization that has not built its brand.

Planned obsolescence goes a long way to boosting the company, but it also goes a long way to hurting the consumer. The continual production of low quality products creates a mental craving for a larger number of products that all seem to be an improvement over the last, but in reality differ very slightly. Newer does not mean better. Past that, consistently buying a product almost as a subscription service creates a financial toll, which often leads to debt within the current state of personal finance and use of credit cards. Given that worse products leads to more unhappy customers, we have a situation on our hands to build a better system.

How do we Stop Planned Obsolescence?

The biggest thing we can do is to simplify supply chains. If we know who we can buy from and get a direct, person-to-person connection with them, we can then build a rapport of good products with them. If I go to a local tailor and start a connection with them, I can support a small business, get stronger products, and create a relationship with a good vendor in the process. If I can see the item that I’m being sold and know that the person selling has my best interest at heart, or at least can provide me a good product due to history, then I know that this will probably be the best product I can get.

The Cost

That said, good products and local businesses have a high cost. It is much easier to pay $5 a month for 2 years versus $120 as a lump-sum. Those who have the money available to pay will purchase the higher quality product, but it is hard to pitch an expensive product (even if it is economically worth it in the long run) to someone who cannot afford anything near that. This idea is called Boots Theory, where it is expensive to continually buy new, poor quality products rather than a high quality item once. It is expensive to be poor. That said, there are still things we can do. On the consumer side, we can continue to find good companies and good products at a fair cost, while on the production side we can find the market for high quality, good items and fill that need. We vote with our dollar, and if the economy sees a boost in better products, there will be an incentive for better products to be made. Be conscious of where your money goes and build a better system of products around you.

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Aniket Majumder

Aniket Majumder

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I’m Aniket, and I’m interested in how we can make humans fundamentally better through better disease prevention and innovation.