• EnvironEarth Team

Insidious Breakdowns

Let’s face it. Some things are destined to be broken. Piñatas at birthday celebrations, awkward silences with your crush, and the glass ceiling that impedes every working woman. Unfortunately corporations take this idea a little too far when they accelerate the process of entropy in their products through something called planned obsolescence.


Obsolescence stems from the word obsolete - something that is no longer required or relevant (similar to homophobic jeers made by grandma at dinnertable). The inventor of the concept, Brooks Steven sums up Planned Obsolescence in the following line,


“Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary”


Corporations arm themselves with four sneaky strategies to introduce planned obsolescence in their products/services. Let's break them down one by one (no pun intended)


Contrived Durability

This is the most popular form of deceivery. This is when products are deliberately engineered to have a short lifespan (often utilising inferior components that will malfunction in critical areas) inducing customers to make repeat purchases in a short window of time.


Notice how that cute H&M crop top lost its vibrancy after single use? Or the toy you brought your little brother broke down after three hours? Congratulations, this is one of the few instances where it's actually not your fault. Substandard linen were deployed to mass produce the top while the gears in the toy consisted of extremely fragile plastic, meant to fall apart when subjected to even a little rough handling (they are TOYS GODDAMMIT NOT ANTIQUES)




Why? So corporations can increase their long-term sales volume, while lining their pockets with profit.


Solution

Minimise consumption of short-lived products and demand for durability.


When hardpressed amongst a dizzying array of choices that are identical in functionality, one is bound to choose the cheaper alternative. But this is because of the dearth of information available regarding durability. Well, lose the kimono. Revise consumer law to ensure clear labelling of life expectancy along information about repair services, spare parts and repair manuals. Infact, the European Commission aims to adopt these practises in their “Circular Economy Action Plan”. Others too should join the game.


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Sinister Software Updates

Far from keeping your smartphone abreast with new features and capabilities, these software updates can maliciously bog down your system. This would be fine if we lived in the world of dial-up connections, but in today’s world there are few things worse than facing the singular frustration of experiencing a lagging page.


It’s just not a coincidence that your current iPhone starts acting up, everytime a new model is launched. It's a deliberate attempt by the tech giant to sway you to shell out money for the new version, while the old one becomes unbearably slow. Infact, French prosecutors gunned after the company in 2018 for this very reason. Apple acknowledged that it intentionally slowed down iPhones with older batteries, but said the move was made to extend the life of its products. Hmmm, I’d leave it upto you if you believe that.

They were slapped with a fine of $27 million - a derisively small figure seeing that they earn this much in 3 hours. But it’s not only cell phones.


Functioning printers abruptly come to a stop when upgraded, because this upgrade is *code* for downloading an entirely new operating system that is not compatible with your printer. And yes, this is LEGAL.


Solution

Revision in consumer law. This is no different than its cousin, Contrived Durability, and must be charged equally. Call out companies who engage in these practises and demand accountability.


Thwarting attempts to repair

Apple again takes the lead by incorporating design features in mobiles that makes it almost impossible for consumers to repair them.The pentalobe screws requires specialised equipment to unscrew which (surprise surprise) very few of us own. Other electronic manufacturers add digital locks or copyrighted software to inhibit repair while some outright deny sharing repair manuals.


But if there’s one thing that unites them all, is the practise of going a mile to ensure repairing costs parallel those to simply upgrading. Why repair when you can buy new? Short answer: doing so would mean alleviating pressure on natural resources that are already finite and depleting while saving on energy consumption and CO2 emissions that accompany extraction and manufacturing processes. Also less e-waste goes to the landfill.





Solution: Products should not only last longer but be repairable by design. Fixing a product with a simple fault shouldn’t cost more than buying a new one. Spare parts and repair manuals should be accessible to everyone.(Right to Repair, 2018) The fairphone was designed to serve exactly that purpose.


European Union’s “Right to Repair” regulation ensures that all consumer electronics entering the EU market in 2021 must be designed to meet minimum repairability requirements aimed at extending their lifetime.


Perceived Obsolescence

This one, I believe, is the most malicious of all. Perceived obsolescence uses advertising tricks to convince you that you need an upgraded version of a product that works just fine. The car you bought last year? A newer model is releasing soon, that you just have to have in order to protect your social status. Fast-fashion industries use cycles of desirability or “fashion weeks” to target new aesthetics on audiences to keep demand high. Combined with tactics like contrived durability, these purchases suddenly become justified


The implications however go much deeper. Constant advertising propels consumerism; this idea that the things we buy define who we are. It's just not a statement, but our identity. That happiness and a good life come inclusive with consumption.The Pepsi ad on television not only promotes the soda, but also a vision of “people who live lives out loud, without worrying about other things”.


Solution: This one’s on you. This never-ending pursuit of cluttering our lives with non-essential goods must end. Stop getting swayed by the latest trends. Next time you make a purchase, think whether you actually need it or is just artificially induced FOMO. Can it be bought second-hand or be borrowed? Or perhaps can you make tweaks in what you already own to satisfy those needs.

Because ultimately, it’s your demand that sustains these practises. That means decoupling your sense of worth from your possessions.


To quote Tyler Durden

“You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You are not your f***ing khakis.”



Bibliography:


"The Battle Against Planned Obsolescence". 2020. Activesustainability.Com. https://www.activesustainability.com/sustainable-development/battle-against-planned-obsolescence/.


"8 Surprising Products Designed To Fail Early". 2010. Popular Mechanics. https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/g202/planned-obsolescence-460210/.


"New Circular Economy Strategy - Environment - European Commission". 2020. Ec.Europa.Eu. https://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/.


"Perceived Obsolescence - Fashion And Trends - Green Living Tips". 2009. Green Living Tips. https://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/perceived-obsolescence.html.

"Built To Fail: Is Planned Obsolescence Really Happening? - Consumers International". 2020. Consumersinternational.Org. https://www.consumersinternational.org/news-resources/blog/posts/built-to-fail-is-planned-obsolescence-really-happening/.