Planned Obsolescence And Consumer Manipulation

Planned obsolescence and consumer manipulation

In 1901, a lamp was installed in a fire station in Livermore, California, USA. They lit the lamp and never turned it off. More than a hundred years have passed. The lamp still shines just like on the first day. This lamp reflects a phenomenon known as  planned obsolescence .

What is so special about this particular lamp?  The truth is, he has nothing special. The lamp is similar to the lamps designed by Thomas Alva Edison in 1881. They burned for 1,500 hours. The centenary lamp is only an improved model.

The obvious question then is, why have some earlier technologies withstood the test of time more successfully? We know that modern media and technology are supposedly more advanced. Wouldn’t it make sense that the current lamps are better? And not exactly the opposite?

This is even more mysterious when we look at other modern devices. Old television sets lasted longer than modern ones. The same applies to almost all household appliances. Why? The answer is very simple. In 1924 an agreement was made. It inaugurated the concept of planned obsolescence for the whole world.

“Consumerism is not just an economy of excess and waste. It is also, and for the very same reason, an economy of deception. It focuses on the irrational behavior of consumers and not on their well-considered decisions. It focuses on evoking consumer emotion and not developing common sense.”

-Zygmunt Bauman-

What is Planned Obsolescence

What is Planned Obsolescence?

This is the practice of artificially and consciously limiting the durability of products. It means that manufacturers make the items in such a way that they stop working after a certain time  It is therefore not the case that these products cannot be made in a different way. However, they are made this way so that consumerism rises.

If someone buys an item that will last for a long time, then that person won’t have to replace it for many years. If, on the other hand, the item or product wears out reasonably quickly, the consumer will have to replace it regularly. The manufacturers will therefore have a higher turnover.

Lamps are not the only example of planned obsolescence. Nylon stockings are yet another example. Initially, they remained usable for more than a year. Today, women can rarely wear them more than twice.

A conspiracy and other forms of planned obsolescence

There is much evidence pointing to a powerful group of industrialists. On Christmas 1924 they met in Geneva, Switzerland. That group was known as the ‘ Phoebus Cartel’. One of their first treaties was to ban a patented lamp that stayed on for 100,000 hours. They also signed a treaty to impose planned obsolescence on many other products.

Today there are many common forms of planned obsolescence. We give you some examples:

  • Aging of performance – The effectiveness of a product is gradually increased so that the consumer has to buy the newer products.
  • Planned Quality Obsolescence – After a certain amount of time or after a certain number of uses, items stop working properly.
  • Aging of Desirability – Fashion and trends are manipulated so that the product is no longer desirable. The design improves or adds details that motivate the consumer to ‘ update’.

Currently, we mainly connect planned obsolescence with emotions. Especially when it comes to technological devices, conscious planning is used to ensure that people constantly adjust their purchases. This creates the desire to purchase the latest model of a product, even if it doesn’t really have significant improvements.

Recycling is a form of freedom

The ultimate goal of all this consuming is to maintain high sales figures. Planned obsolescence is a strategy to achieve this. The problem is that now people don’t even pay attention to the quality or usefulness of a product. There is simply a very strong desire to continue to consume.

What used to be a form of market manipulation is now a craving. Humans have internalized planned obsolescence. Today, they want to quickly throw out their used items and replace them with new ones. Many people derive a sense of contentment, control and even power from this.

So we were confronted with these forms of manipulation that became self-evident to a greater extent. This led to the trend to recycle. This approach aims to develop a culture of reuse. The aim is not only to limit rampant consumerism. People also want to protect the environment.

Recycling is a form of freedom

Finally, recycling also has a psychological influence. It promotes an attitude that focuses on recovery rather than discarding. By recycling, we admit that things can’t be perfect but still be useful and valuable.

Perhaps we can translate this into a more constructive and humane attitude in other areas as well. After all, we can also apply this when we are confronted with the many intangible realities that we put aside when we find them problematic.

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