10 July 2007

Planned Obsolescence

I haven't written much lately because my home computer has been acting up. It finally died this weekend, prompting me to take it to a repairperson. They person informed me that my 4 year old laptop could not be repaired because there are no longer any parts available for that model. A 4 year old computer. As a side note, I was telling someone just 2 weeks ago how great it was that my computer was still running very well at its "advanced" age. Irony is a bitch.

After scrambling my money around and purchasing a groovy new MacBook Pro, I was talking to my mother about my computer dyying. "Isn't that a new computer?" she asked. "Not really, it's 4 years old." "That sounds new to me." "You don't know a lot about computers, then." And on and on. But I got what she was really saying.

Things don't last anymore. TVs, computers, cellphones, coffee makers, major appliances, anything plastic, bras, shoes. Buying a quality item means that it will last for ten years instead of five, if you're lucky. This is planned obsolescence in action. Basically, manufacturers create goods that will last (or be supported) for a limited amount of time, after which the consumer is compelled to buy a new one. You never see TV repair shops around because the manufacturers don't want you to get your 15 year old set repaired. They want you to replace it with a newer model, which is supposedly better than your old one. The problem is that the newer model, which more technologically advanced, has more opportunities to malfunction, and warranties are only 1 year usually.

Not only is this frustrating for consumers like myself, who must have a home computer in order to fulfill my professional and academic responsibilities, but it is also bad for the environment. Think of all of the TVs, cellphones and dishwashers hanging out in landfills everywhere. Think of the toxicity running off into the water supply of the local town, which is usually an impoverished one without the political capital to fight against it.

I also think that, since Americans are raised to become good* consumers, we are conditioned to always want the newest and the best, even if our current product works fine. I have friends who buy new cellphones when a new one comes out, even though the one they have works just fine and still has a lot of the cool technological features. They just want to have the latest cellphone. Even I, in my purchase of my new laptop, was enamored with all the bells and whistles of the model I finally purchased. Although, it would have been nice if my old laptop could have held out for a couple more years.

Advertising plays the biggest part in this. I've often thought that advertisers are some of the smartest people in the world, if only because they know how to manipulate huge numbers of minds at once with just 30 second spots on TV. And they have done it, especially with new technology.

* Meaning, the more money spent the better, not necessarily responsible consumption.

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