Planned Disappointment

Planned obsolescence is a phrase I first encountered long ago (well, more than a decade ago, at least) when I got my first iPod.  I was obsessed with the little metal brick and its clean, white wheel to navigate the menus.  I took that iPod everywhere with me, and so I was understandably upset and a bit confused when, after taking as good care of it as a 10 year old can, I discovered the wheel no longer scrolled up, only down.  I was told by my dad that the device was simply too old, that it was bound to break eventually.  I remember this notion striking me as odd and even unfair, and I definitely did not understand right away why planned obsolescence existed.  My dad, being the cynic that he is, explained that it was largely for the corporation (Apple, in this case) to make money more regularly from their customers.  If your device that you love and become attached to breaks, you will not hesitate to spend another several hundred dollars to replace it.  Beyond this, its not even possible to repair your own device when it breaks without voiding the warranty, essentially making the device worthless if anything else does wrong.  I didn’t grapple with this notion as much, as I was young and not able to fix the device myself anyway.  With time, I either forgot about planned obsolescence or just grew comfortable with the concept.  Furthermore, I don’t know what say I have as an individual about the matter.

Reflecting more on that idea and that experience now, I realize that I was right to be upset, disappointed, angry even that we are not allowed to fix our devices when they break or even expect them to last more than a couple of years.  It is crazy that we spend thousands on computers and phones, hundreds on watches and other devices, none of which are designed, let alone can be expected, to work as planned for any significant period.  Jackson asks ‘how are human orders broken and restored (… and who does this work)?’ (223) The answer of course is people, but specifically the people who are involved in both the formation of the order, and those who are a part of its function.  Jackson also wonders ‘who fixes the devices and systems we “seamlessly” use?’ (222).  The answer, if you ask me, should be the same- that is, it should be both the corporations who are responsible for the formation of the devices and systems (because they are knowledgable and have the means) and the people who interact with the devices and systems everyday (because sometimes it is just easier, cheaper, and more simple to solve the problems as they arise, when they do).  It seems to me that once you purchase an item, it is yours and you should be free to at least follow preset instructions to try to fix it if and when it breaks.  Finally, it is ridiculous that we should allow products to be built specifically with their destruction date in mind.  This is a horrible waste of material resources, power, and time that could all be cut if devices were just made to last, and especially to be easily repairable.

If we could make cars in the 60s that were relatively fast, stylish, effective, cheap, and comfortable and they were easy to repair and keep running for at least 60 years, it seems just as possible to do so with our electronic and other devices.  If we can shift our way of thinking to this mindset that Jackson supports where we focus on the longevity and repairability of our things, we might just save a lot of trash, pollution, and energy while also improving customer satisfaction at the same time.

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