Planned Obsolescence: Light Bulb Conspiracy part 2

The Light Bulb Conspiracy shows how planned obsolescence is an integral part of the curriculum at design and engineering schools.

Boris Knuf lectures on Product Life Cycles in his engineering classes. His blackboard has words like, “Make it desirable – stylish – functional”. The goal of successful engineers and designers is frequent repeat purchasing. A company’s business model includes how often the product or offer will be renewed, then they design the product in a certain way so it exactly fits that business strategy.

Teflon coated frying pans (versus cast iron, stainless steel, aluminum, or copper) are a perfect example of items designed for obsolescence. The coating is inherently delicate and inevitably gets scratched despite careful use and washing.

Another example; many people get a new mobile/cellular phone every year, whether it still functioning well or not. The cell phone companies make a big display in press conferences and advertising for their latest and greatest gadgets and updates of technology so that we will be dissatisfied with perfectly functioning items and feel we should replace them. 

The use of inferior materials, fabrics, and components also significantly shortens the lifespan of many products. No doubt you have experienced the frustration of a flimsy, non-repairable plastic component breaking on an otherwise perfectly sturdy product. 

Computer printers are designed to fail. Printers contain a chip holding software instructions that cause the machines to stop working after a certain number of pages or a limited number of years of use. “When the user reaches a preset number of prints, the printer locks up”, Marcos of Barcelona said. However, when the chip is removed, the printer functions properly again. The chip can also be reset by installing some free software.

A new generation of consumers is beginning to challenge manufacturers to reduce our negative impact on the environment.

Serge Latouche is a prominent critic of the unbounded growth business model. He said,

The 3 crucial factors are advertising, planned obsolescence and credit.” and, “Anyone who thinks that infinite growth is consistent with a finite planet, is either crazy or an economist.” He asks, “With this growth society we are sitting in a racing car that no longer has a driver, running at full speed, and that will end up crashing into a wall or run off a cliff.”

John Thackara asks some thought-provoking questions like, “Is it necessary that a new product is created on Earth every 3 minutes?” and “Is consuming more the best way to boost an economy?” Thackara points out that in poorer countries, it’s unthinkable to throw away anything just because it broke, and all items all get repaired if possible, automatically.

In the last generation or so, our role in life seems to be to consume things with credit, to borrow money to buy things we don’t need. That makes no real sense to me at all. – John Thackara

And it’s clear that this ridiculous notion of borrowing money to possess things before we have saved enough to buy it outright, has been going on far too long already. In “Death of a Salesman” Willy says, “For once in my life, I’d like to own something outright before it’s broken.”

Planned obsolescence has been around for longer than you might think. “The Man in the White Suit” is a 1951 film about inventing an everlasting fabric, but the manufacturers and factory workers were very unhappy with the inventor.

An almost identical situation occurred in real life, when Dupont first introduced their nylon stockings for testing. They were extremely durable. Not only did they not ‘run’ or tear during normal wear, they were shown being used to tow a heavy vehicle! However, to sell more nylons, more often, they went back to the labs to make the fibres weaker so they wouldn’t last as long.

In contrast, communist countries suffered from a shortage of supplies and were interested in efficiency rather than planned obsolescence. In former East Germany, regulations stated that fridges and washing machines should work for 25 years… and they did. Now that the Berlin wall has been down for a generation, consumerism is equally rampant there as in other parts of Europe.

People all over the world have started acting against planned obsolescence…

Click here to read the final part of this discussion of the documentary, The Light Bulb Conspiracy: The Untold Story of Planned Obsolescence.

Planned Obsolescence & The Light Bulb Conspiracy

Not so long ago, products were made to last as long as possible…

Planned obsolescence is “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 non-durable materials.” – Apple Dictionary version 2.2.1

The documentary, The Light Bulb Conspiracy: The Untold Story of Planned Obsolescence reveals the many ways that products are designed to last a shorter time which forces people to buy new products sooner than necessary and the effect that has on everything.

“If the consumer does not purchase, the economy is not going to grow” and that’s a huge problem, since the entire system is based on non-stop growth. However, incessant growth is not a balanced healthy plan, as it’s completely unsustainable.

Since the 1920’s, “manufacturers started shortening the lives of products to increase consumer demand”, such as making light bulbs more fragile and lighting for far fewer hours.

Thomas Edison’s first bulbs lasted a whopping 1500 hours. Even better, in 1924 the advertised longevity of bulbs was 2500 hours, but the documentary shows evidence that the world-wide Phoebus (or “International Energy”) cartel of light bulb manufacturers reduced the average lifespan to a mere 1000 hours within a matter of a few years.

Dozens of patents were filed in the following decades, to improve upon the light bulb, including one made to last 100,000 hours, but none made it to market. Shockingly, a lightbulb exists that has been burning continuously since 1901. (That’s well over 100 years!) There’s even a webcam to track the bulb’s amazing longevity. Gizmodo wrote a great post about it here.

However, “An article that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business.” – Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers, 1928

In the mid 1920’s, the combination of mass production, falling prices, and a booming economy saw people shopping for fun rather than need.  Then in 1929 the US wall street stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. In 1933, a quarter of the labour force was unemployed.

Bernard London, a prominent real estate broker in New York, wrote a book entitled, “The New  Prosperity”. In the first chapter he proposed,“Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence”, and for it to be made compulsory by law. (it was not enacted) All products were to be given a set expiry date. The idea was to keep people consuming and employed in factories to fill the incessant demands of those consumers. This is why I often think of business as busy-ness… keeping the masses occupied, distracted, tired and fearful.

By the 1950’s the idea had evolved from legal forcing, to psychologically seducing the public into accepting planned obsolescence.

Brooks Stevens, an industrial designer of appliances, cars and trains, was an American advocate of planned obsolescence. 

Unlike the European approach of the past where they tried to make the very best product and make it last forever; meaning you bought such a fine suit of clothes that you were married in it and then buried in it, and never a chance to renew it; the approach in America is  one of making the American consumer unhappy with the product that he has enjoyed the use of for a period, have him pass it on to the second hand market and obtain the newest product with the newest possible look. – Brooks Stevens

After decades of mass marketing to persuade people to always crave the latest model, the ‘American Dream’ became the goal of attaining freedom and happiness through unlimited consumption…

 Read more…

Less Stuff More Abundance

Make a budget and record all income & expenses

Keeping close track of where your money is being spent significantly changes your position from unwitting victim, to money mastermind. Rather than wondering where it all went, you become the director of the movie of your life.

Being a bookkeeper may seem complicated, but the process of tracking your wealth can be made extremely simple.

Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. One side is income, and the other is spending. List your normal monthly expenses (food, housing, transportation, utilities, entertainment, etc.) then record how much you spend beside each item. On the income side, list all forms of income, not only your job income. If you find 20 bucks on the ground, or are given a gift of cash, or win something, or get money from anywhere, write it down. At the end of each month, tally up both sides and track the totals. Start a new page each month. From there you can easily see where the money is coming and going and adjust your budgeting plans going forward. The key is to consistently record everything. Diligence in this area pays off big time!

Take a closer look at the stuff you buy in each category

A great example is the category of  entertainment. Some people say they are strapped for cash (or in debt), yet they spend about half as much as they spend on rent on frivolous entertainment.

Do you really need entertainment? No – especially if it means you feel stressed, overwhelmed and are in debt. If that’s the case, cancel your cable T.V. – you won’t die without it. I’ve never paid for that and am doing just fine.

If you don’t work online from home, you could disconnect your internet too until you get your savings into an acceptable condition. Some people who do work online from home disconnect anyway, such as Joshua Fields Millburn. The bonus (as if being debt free isn’t enough) is that you may be surprised how much gets done around your home without the constant allure and distraction of TV and internet. My partner and I chose to live without TV, phone, or internet for 3 years.

Who knows, you may surprise yourself by choosing to keep it that way once your finances are in order.

I wish you all of the Abundant Minimalism in the world, as well as joy, peace, and debt-free awesomeness.

Less Stuff More Money

I just read an article revealing that, “47% of Americans would have to borrow or sell something to cover an unexpected expense of $400” !!!  That is some seriously alarming information. If that wasn’t disturbing enough, the number of people who are unprepared for a sudden expense is actually higher, because the article stated that of those who said they could cover the cost, some were actually planning to use a credit card, which is also a form of borrowing. It means that about half of all Americans have no savings at all! Scary. Stressful. Sad. Unnecessary.

Minimalists retain more money

This article is a reminder that the less irrelevant stuff we buy, the more liquid capital we have available to cover unexpected expenses, or anything else we deem important to us. Less stuff more money.

The Abundant half of Abundant minimalism

When people think of the word “abundance”, they may envision a pile of material stuff, but abundance can come in many forms. We thrive when we have an abundance of options, an abundance of freedom, and an abundance of resources.

Those resources may consist of money, and they may also come in the form of other assets that are less tangible, but equally important, such as your skill sets, your good health, and don’t overlook the resource of those helpful people that care about you – your friends and family. A strong support system is a huge factor in your sense of abundance as well.

Remembering the difference between wants vs needs

If you can relate to the situation of being extremely strapped for cash, now is a perfect time to take a much closer look at your wants and needs. Thoughtfully consider each thing that you already have, as well as those items you decide to buy. Selling some extra stuff you don’t need online could clear some space in your home and put some moolah back in your pocket. Less stuff more money.

Begin to be more methodical in your process of shopping

Make lists and stick to them. Be less impulsive. Consider if you truly need it, or if it’s a transient wish. For example, you need food, but you can choose to cook an inexpensive, healthy meal at home, or impulsively grab some fast food that is not only worse for your body, but also worse for your bank account.

If you’re out and about and see an awesome outfit that you’d love to have, yet your closet back home is stuffed to overflowing, for heavens sakes stop yourself! Take 10 slow deep breaths and then walk away. If you truly need a new outfit, then it’s not an emotional and reckless urge, so you can take the time to carefully shop around. Perhaps a thrift store has the exact item you need for one tenth of the price. Perhaps you could sell some of your nice clothes that you don’t use at a consignment shop. Less stuff more money.

Making many seemingly small but wise choices like that will change your bottom line significantly.

For the second half of this discussion see Less Stuff More Abundance