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What Is Planned Obsolescence?

Here at Phonebloks, our tagline is ’A Phone Worth Keeping’. This raises many questions: when is a phone not worth keeping? why would a phone not be worth keeping? setting value aside, why are we not keeping our phones? The reasons for not doing this are, unsurprisingly, not entirely straightforward.

First, there are basic economic reasons. As consumers, we may have the ability to buy a new phone whenever we want. And, producing companies economic turnover is dependent on all the time selling more (and new) products. Second, there are psychological reasons. Our tastes are connected to trends. We want to be the first to own whatever phone is new because minor changes in design and other small changes show the cutting edge of technological style. (This is made clear by many marketing campaigns.) Finally, practical reasons come into play: phones break, for whatever reason, and sometimes, for reasons not included under economical and psychological reasons, the design of the product gets outdated.

These reasons are far more complex then they appear and they are connected in even more complex ways. In future blogposts we will explore these reasons, one by one, and try to find out how they are connected. However, today we would like to talk a bit about the last one, the practical one, starting with the question: Why do phones brake or otherwise become outdated; what is planned obsolescence?

Planned obsolescence is not an everyday term, but it affects your everyday life. It is an industrial policy of developing and producing products that are, essentially, designed to fail or become obsolete. This can be aesthetically; the look and/or feel of the product becomes outdated, or functionally; the hardware and/or software of the product becomes outdated or just breaks. And this, within a limited timeframe.

Dave Hakkens, the founder of Phonebloks, came across planned obsolescence firsthand. Dave once had an old compact camera that stopped working. Trying to fix it, he took it apart and found only one piece, the lens motor, truly broken. The other pieces - display, flash, battery a.s.o. - were completely functional. Dave tried to find a spare part but could not get a hold of one locally, or elsewhere. The manufacturer advised he get an entirely new camera.

Planned obsolescence comes in different shapes. A manufacturer could use materials, or a way of putting the product together, that insures that the product has a limited life span. In the case of Dave´s camera, the manufacturer took advantage of another form of planned obsolescence. Making the product difficult or impossible to repair with spare parts, thereby forcing the customer to buy a whole new camera and in that giving the broken camera a limited life cycle.

Planned obsolescence is nothing new. It derives from the bike and car industries of 1920’s Canada and the United States when the idea to develop and produce a new model every year came about in order to increase sales. In America, in the 1930’s, ideas was put forward to use planned obsolescence on most, if not all, development and production of consumer products. This to help the nation out of its economical depression. However, it took until the 1950’s, before this method, or policy, was fully recognised. Then Brooks Stevens defined it as ”Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, and a little sooner.” After that, planned obsolescence really became one of the engines in the economy surrounding consumer goods to this day.

Why do we not hold onto our phones? Planned obsolescence might be one explanation. The phone slows down, becomes unfashionable or a component breaks and no one seems to want to provide a spare part.

Let’s end planned obsolescence within the mobile phone industry.
Let’s try to make phone worth keeping.

Team Phonebloks

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Inspired by Jason Silva, when he was riffing on the Extended Mind Thesis and mentioned The Vitruvian Man’s iPhone.
What is the best gadget/tool in the whole human history up until now? As it was ranked by Popular Mechanics: 101 Gadgets That Change The World; duct tape to the mobile or smartphone. Smartphones are “like our telepathic ability to connect with the rest of the word, while accessing the worlds information & also the ability to create technosocial worm-hole that fool time & space” - bak kata Abang Jason Silva.

Links:-
∞ The Vitruvian Man’s iPhone 

∞ 101 Gadgets That Change The World 

 
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