Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Planned obsolescence in the kitchen

Today we are going to talk about planned obsolescence. If you are not familiar with this expression already, you should get real soon. Because it is one of the biggest way - perhaps THE biggest - that manufacturers of every consumer product in the world use to take advantage of you. 

We all had the feeling that that damned printer broke down for no reason after 2 years, right? Not to mention those smartphones that phone companies sell you with two-year contracts, to lock you in, and that MYSTERIOUSLY break down exactly after two years from the purchase. So that you are locked in again for an additional two years, if you want to buy another one…Were you really so stupid to think this was all coincidence?

Why am I talking about this here? Because planned obsolescence - like the Matrix - is all around us, even in your kitchen. If you'd like to continue to think that you are in control of your buying decisions as a consumer, then take the blue pill, close this browser and move on with your life. But if you want to know the truth, take the red pill...and let's see how deep the hole goes. 

I bought a wooden spoon. Actually, I bought four wooden spoons over the past 6 months. I even paid 12$ for one of these wooden spoons, because I am stupid and because I thought that 12$ would guarantee me many years of service. Alas, I was wrong: each and every single one of these wooded spoons, of different brands, has started to crack after only a few weeks of service, irrespective of the woods and of the construction (single piece or assembled). 

Now, I also have older wooden spoons. In particular, I have one that I have continuously used to cook for the past 9 years. I inherited it from my mother's kitchen, so I have no idea how old it is. And yet it is still there. 

All this brings me to planned obsolescence: in a nutshell, planned obsolescence means that all of the products you buy, from a lightbulb to a printer, from a fridge to a stereo, from an ipod to a TV, from a wooden spoon to a microwave, are designed to fail and break down after a certain amount of time. 

Yes, you got that right: products are designed and manufactured to fail.

Wikipedia has a very long and exhaustive page about planned obsolescence, that is defined as follows: 

Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design is a policy of deliberately planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete or nonfunctional after a certain period of time. Planned obsolescence has potential benefits for a producer because to obtain continuing use of the product the consumer is under pressure to purchase again, whether from the same manufacturer (a replacement part or a newer model), or from a competitor which might also rely on planned obsolescence.”

Again, in simpler words: the products that you buy every day are DELIBERATELY DESIGNED by manufacturers so as to FAIL within a LIMITED amount of time, forcing you to BUY them again. Products are purportedly engineered BELOW the current achievable standards, so as to force consumers to replace them sooner than technology would allow. 

If you think I am joking, you should watch this documentary, which is extremely detailed and well done. If you don't have the time, then simply think about these very simple examples of planned obsolescence in your life: 
  • Lightbulbs: there is a lightbulb in California that was switched on for the first time in 1901 (yes: 111 years ago), and it is still working. Check it out for yourself. Now you tell me: how often do you have to change your lightbulbs? Do you really think we do not have the technology to make lightbulbs last longer? The technology to manufacture lightbulbs that last tens of years existed already 110 years ago. We have proof of that! When lightbulbs manufacturers realized what they had done - i.e. they had created a perfect, durable product, that consumers would only need to buy perhaps once every 20-30 years - they realized they were shooting themselves in the foot. So they got together and agreed among themselves to manufacture and market products BELOW the technical standards of the time: the life of a lightbulbs was reduced by designed from thousands and thousands of hours, to only a few hundreds. This is not some crazy conspiracy theory: it is a historically proven fact. Of course you don't hear it in our schools, and I really wonder why (sarcasm). 
  • MP3 players. The most famous is Apple’s ipod/iphone, which comes with a sealed-in battery that you cannot replace yourself. Surprise: the battery fails well before the product does, forcing you to either buy a new ipod, or to send the ipod to Cupertino for an expensive replacement. Do you really think that Apple - or Sony, or any other - can’t make batteries that last more than 2 years? Do you think that there isn’t the technology to do that? Also: do you really think that the new Iphone5 could have not been charged with the previous chargers? Do you think there is a technological need to redesign the jacks forcing you to throw away all the previous chargers? PLEAAAAAAZE.
  • Home printers: there is a chip in most home printers that, after a certain amount of printed pages, will activate a switch that will block your printer. In other words: the company manufacturing the printers decides after how many pages your printers will stop functioning, so that you will be forced to replace it. Beware: I didn’t say the printer will break, because it won’t. The printer will do exactly what it is supposed to do: the chip will activate and the  printer will stop printing, even if all its components are perfectly functioning. You may object that the printer’s manufacturer may not benefit from it, because you may end up buying a printer from a different brand. But you are missing the big picture, my friend: ALL MANUFACTURERS do exactly the same, this is a sort of industry agreement. The industry as such will benefit. 
  • My wooden spoons: do you think that 21st century men lack the technology to build a freaking wood spoon that lasts more than 4 months and doesn't dissolve in the soups that it is supposed to stir? Seriously now. 
Governments, corporations and green fascists will tell you that planned obsolescence is necessary to upgrade products and make them safer and more environmentally friendly (think about the lightbulbs, again: we are told that everything is good for the environment...). This is bullshit. They are all in on this. They all want your money, they all want you to believe the lies they tell you. Start thinking for yourself. Open your eyes. 

Gosh, am I not mad for those wooden spoons...


Avvinare said...

This was quite an interesting piece on a night when my printer, computer and phone seem to be failing me. Luckily my wooden spoons have stood the test of time and product development.

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

Don't fret, Avvinare: I am sure THE MAN will be happy to sell you more printers, computers and phones...

Trobairitz said...

I've noticed this for years, but didn't know there was a name for it. We always say they don't make things like they used to and we are right.

I have two things bought 20 years ago that i still use in the kitchen - my KitchenAid Mixer and a melamine stir spoon. My mom still has her KitchenAid mixer from over 40 years ago. We'll see if mine lasts that long.

On the other hand there are so many gadgets and gizmos around our house that break way too soon and I completely agree that this is planned. The manufacturers don't want to make a product that lasts because they want you to buy more, more and more.

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

If you watch the video that I linked, you'll see a couple of interesting examples. In Soviet Germany, for instance - where consumerism was definitely not an issue - refrigerators would last 30-40 years. There are refrigerators built in that period that still works. My GE microwave - 3 years old - has one of the buttons that stopped working, and my stove - still GE - had to had the ignition system changed twice, still 3 years old.

I am not defending the Soviet system, obviously. This is not my point: my point is that the technology to make things that last a long time (forever?) exists, but manufacturers (and Governments) are explicitly choosing not to do it.

Anonymous said...

MMM-you are going off the deep end here. I am sure your blog is now being monitored! YMW

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

MMW, we are all under control anyway. Sedated, hypnotized, mind controlled. What's the difference?


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