Planned obsolescence

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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. 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.

For an industry, planned obsolescence stimulates demand by encouraging purchasers to buy sooner if they still want a functioning product. Built-in obsolescence is used in many different products, from vehicles to light bulbs, from buildings to proprietary software. There is, however, the potential backlash of consumers who learn that the manufacturer invested money to make the product obsolete faster; such consumers might turn to a producer (if any exists) that offers a more durable alternative.

Planned obsolescence was first developed in the 1920s and 1930s when mass production had opened every minute aspect of the production process to exacting analysis.

Estimates of planned obsolescence can influence a company's decisions about product engineering. Therefore the company can use the least expensive components that satisfy product lifetime projections. Such decisions are part of a broader discipline known as value engineering.

The alternatives to inevitable consumption is a practice of dumpster diving (finding what is discarded) and reuse (fixing broken stuff).

Media on planned obsolescence

The light bulb conspiracy

Pyramids of Waste (2010, 53 minutes), also known as The light bulb conspiracy, is a documentary about how our economic system - based largely on consumerism - is really breaking our planet down.

Full movie in English can be watched here:


or in French here:

2 Minutes trailer:

See also:

Radio programmes

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