Planned Obsolescence’s odyssey
My background is primarily in engineering, so the concept of Planned Obsolescence was nothing new, since the industry — specifically the automotive industry — started the massive application of this strategy by the end of the First Industrial Revolution, almost 100 years ago.
Apart from being cause or consequence, what does this beautiful name on the outside and ugly on the inside mean? Planned Obsolescence is a market strategy in which companies intentionally develop products with failures or insufficient/inefficient resources so that it becomes obsolete quickly, and consequently, generates new purchases. It is a passive-aggressive trigger to consumerism.
For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to Planned Obsolescence as PO.
In engineering, we learn that one of the fundamental steps in product development is to determine the product’s life cycle, an estimation involving variables such as usability, predictive/preventive/corrective maintenance, anti-failure techniques, and so on, in order to maximize the product’s lifetime. However, in reality, the PO is a heartless thief, who pulls the theoretical carpet from everything that should be as it was supposed to be, at the expense of what suits the persona in evidence.
I do not want to pass an extremist and puritan idea against capitalism — absolutely not! — I love capitalism and enjoy it daily. But the Linear Economy is a brutal opposition to sustainability, and so needs to be subject to adaptation.
Surprisingly to my field, I am just moderately tech-addicted. My phone works just the way I need it, so I don’t feel the urge to change it to the latest model. But especially with the internet and social media’s boom, some coincidences literally force you to keep up with the movement.
I have personal examples for you:
- Malfunction: I have 2 brothers; back in 2012 a great device, one which I’ll not mention, was released, and we bought the SAME SMARTPHONE relatively at the SAME PERIOD, in DIFFERENT CITIES. Exactly 2 years later, surprisingly, our 3 devices started to fail in the same way. Yes, this was the first time I experienced the bitter taste of PO consciously (have you ever imagined how much we experienced it without even realize?).
- Storage: those who do not use the camera and apps extensively, will get me. What the hell is my phone full of? Why does it say storage full? Nothing you delete or uninstall will be enough, believe me. Hm, there’s something there. It is an invisible space that established itself in the device and won’t go away.
- Versions: apps and gadgets that only work on more “recent” versions of devices. But, hello? What’s “new” for you?
Okay Lidia, what you are saying is that we are more or less screwed because 50% of the problem is related to the supposed market manipulation and the other half, so to speak, is the result of the masses’ unconsciousness. Yes? Yes. But this is where a concept called Circular Economy appears, which is already being leveraged by fields such as Fashion (against fast-fashion), and the tendency is for it to spread as disruptive market practice. In the Circular Economy, there is simply no room for waste, and relevant players, such as SAP (which, by the way, partnered with Google Cloud last year posing a Circular Economy 2030 challenge to social entrepreneurs, having as the winner Topolytics, an app for real-time tracking of waste flows in the UK economy) are already aligned with this new mindset, changing the value chain.
Due to its disruptive nature, it will not be an easy job: from responsible supply and production, to the consumption and reuse of resources, major changes must happen. But as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, new technologies are facilitating the way we do business, such as augmented reality, driving new ways to create value in a Circular Economy.
Although it is still a gray area for this future, many things “happen happening”. I love that expression, I don’t know where it came from, maybe I even invented it. When I say this, I mean those things that, without even realizing it, are already happening; there are already people and companies talking and living that. So I end our conversation today with an invitation to research and reflect on Circular Economy and how it can transform your field, yourself, and our lives.