Planned Obsolescence In Electronics Essay

2151 words - 9 pages

Planned obsolescence, according to the Collins English Dictionary, is “the policy of deliberately limiting the life of a product in order to encourage the purchaser to replace it.” Planned obsolescence is the idea that a product is designed to fail, or fall out of style, rather than being designed for longevity and durability (Hindle; Landes). Planned obsolescence has occurred in many industries such as the textile and automobile industries (Hindle; Landes). Items such as dresswear and cars become stylistically obsolete, even though they still perform adequately for the task they are intended for (Hindle; Landes). Stylistic obsolescence is the primary reason that American decades are so easily identified by their distinctly stylized products. While planned obsolescence does occur in most industries, consumer electronics are a perfect example of the far reaching effects of such short-sighted practices.
The idea of planned obsolescence directly contradicts honest engineering principles and only considers the economic ‘benefits’ of an unstable growth-based economy. The resulting “throw-away” culture has led to various negative environmental and human rights situations. In the current system of waste management, the products have no use after their primary function has been surpassed, and then they are disposed of. If electronics manufacturing and design companies were to plan for the entire lifespan of their product rather than planning their product so that it becomes obsolete quickly, both the environment and humanity would benefit as a whole. This paper will analyze how planned obsolescence negatively affects life on earth, with a major focus on humans. Finally, it will demonstrate how these negative effects can be eventually corrected by embracing safe and sustainable practices.
Planned obsolescence begins with the design process. By producing designs that are driven by profit, companies manufacture technology that becomes obsolete quickly in order to force the consumer to buy marginally newer technology more often. For example, a consumer level inkjet printer not only requires print cartridges that are engineered not to last, but the printer itself is designed to fail. Inside of the printer is an EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) chip. This chip’s sole purpose is to count the number of pages that the printer has printed. After a certain manufacturer-determined number of pages, the printer’s functionality is interrupted by the EEPROM chip, rendering the printer useless. This forces the consumer to prematurely purchase another newer printer model. Former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says that “the only big companies that survive will be those that obsolete their own products before someone else does,” indicating the supposed economic importance of planned obsolescence in driving forward development (qtd. in Ward). A pertinent example of a company artificially shortening the lifespan of their product is found in the...

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