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Built to fail

Built to fail

By Franco Rivero

Although we think of it as a problem in our current society, planned obsolescence is a strategy that has several years. It was developed in the 1920s, the starting point being the life of light bulbs. Although the first models developed by Edison lasted approximately 1,500 hours of use and in 1911 various advertisements measured the life of a lamp for more than 2,500 hours, this was definitely not very convenient for the companies that made such products. By 1924, several renowned companies around the world that manufactured light bulbs reached an agreement so that they would not last more than 1000 hours, and in this way they were promoted for several years.

That day, they decided to create a global cartel to control the production of light bulbs that was called 'Phoebus'. The objective was to control the market for these products and ensure the viability of their businesses.

Over time, the cartel was denounced and, in theory, stopped working. But the practice he recommended - purposely reducing the life of bulbs - is still in effect today.

Of course, planned obsolescence was not only present in the lamp market, but it was adopted by the automotive industry, the manufacture of household products and even clothing items were affected by this new form of marketing. Obsolescence today

In our times, planned obsolescence remains in force and governs our purchasing rhythm in surprising ways. Among the most representative examples we can highlight the following:

- Apple iPod: When the first generation of iPods came out, it was impossible to change the battery after it ran out. When calling the customer service center, the only viable solution the company provided was "buy another iPod." The matter was resolved in court with Apple's commitment to ensure two years of life on its iPods and to create a spare parts department for those models that did not offer the possibility of a battery change.

- Printers: The printer market is one of the clearest examples of obsolescence. For example, the Epson company inserts a chip in its printers that allows it to print a certain number of copies. After that number, it reports that the printer must be taken to technical service. Many users have solved this problem at home, without the printer having any technical failure.

- Batteries: No matter what device it comes from, most of them last about 18 months.

- Automobiles: Automobiles are added to this list. Many times I have heard it said that in the 50s and 60s, the useful life of a car was twice that of today, whose average life does not exceed three decades. Needless to say, the planned obsolescence suffered by car parts such as brakes, which, after a number of stops, begin to lose capacity.


Fashion obsolescence: Stacy Malibu with a new hat Although the cases described above are valid and real, fashion obsolescence is more widespread, becoming the banner of consumerism in our current society. Its operation is simple to explain and understand, the 21st century user tends to feel unhappy and constantly behind with their technological products, this added to the advertising strategy makes us think all the time about changing our products, even if they work. well.

On average, we change our cell phone every two years, and our laptop every three. The same happens when a garment simply "goes out of style", we forget it in our closet even if it is in good condition.

The companies, obviously, do not turn a deaf ear to these requirements and keep the user in an update bustle that never ends: it looks like a production wheel where the user is the main gear of the money-making machine. To look for examples, it is not necessary to search too much or go to unknown areas, since the current fashion for technology goes through what we carry in our pockets and in our bags.

Every year we have a new top-of-the-range cell phone from our favorite company willing to spend money on the purchase of the new version. Unfortunately, many times the user does not realize that, functionally, he can perform the same task with his "old" computer. The approach is difficult since it is normal for users to cover other gaps with the acquisition of various products, so the logical way to go off on a tangent and not fatten this model is to think about it from a functional point of view. Technological trash

Beyond the expense of planned obsolescence, the real problem in developing products designed to last a certain time is the waste we throw into the environment. By 2007, each inhabitant of our country produced 2 KG of electronic waste per year, therefore, since there is no strategy for recycling technological products, said waste has a strong impact on the environment, the most worrying being batteries lead, a major pollutant of our time. On the other hand, in Europe and the US, aware of the problem, between 30 and 80% of electronic waste is recycled, which returns to the production line to form part of the new models of the latest products.

There is light at the end of the hall

Although the cases presented here refer to a long-term problem and an unsolvable future, there are several interesting undertakings that are already underway. The chemist Michael Braungart and the architect William McDonough, authors of the book "From the cradle to the cradle" propose an interesting resource called sustainable design that should not be understood as a methodology to reduce the impact of discarded products.

"Designers of products or services, we should consider sustainable design as a corporate social responsibility that not only pays attention to the recycling of products or biodegradable production, but should also work on the meaning of the use of those products and the linking of people with their consumer goods, "McDonough says.

On the other hand, festivals are also held against planned Obsolescence. One of them is Make It Up in which designers, artisans, engineers, researchers, social entrepreneurs, artists, and programmers share open and durable designs to address this problem.

Datta Magazine


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