IATE term of the week: Planned obsolescence

June 22, 2018 10:27 am

Have you ever wondered why that ultra-multifunctional kitchen apparatus that belongs to your grandmother is still working, while your brand new blender, toaster and boiler have to be replaced every two years? Or else, why your modern smartphone started showing bugs before it even celebrated its first birthday – coincidentally when the next on the genealogy (or the infamous `plus` upgrade) just starred on the advertisements? What is more, why can´t we even find those magic vintage machines (or some of their pieces) in the market? Our IATE term of the week offers an answer to that: planned obsolescence.

Indeed,  technology has not evolved backwards over the last century (after all, grandma´s machines didn´t know much about mobile calls, let alone screen touch, and internet). And yet, despite the seemingly evolution in production and functionality of goods – from clothing to electronics – they also seem to be designed to break. In an era that calls for sustainability, what could possibility explain such paradox?

‘Planned obsolescence’ is the idea that manufactures deliberately create products (or yet lines) with a shorter lifespan, meaning that they will have to be replaced earlier than they should. The strategy seem to historically date back to the 30`s as a consequence of the Great depression in America, with a quite simple logic behind it: the closest things are to be disposable, the more people will consume. And the more people consume, the more it is necessary to produce. Classical examples shown by research were light bulbs, nylon tights and fabrics that used to present a significant higher durability before the phenomena came to place.

While it seemed a smart strategy at the time, the question on whether planned obsolescence is still economically profitable nowadays is in order. Firstly, besides the costs of production – whether on material, energy and work – there is a considerable cost of their wastage. What is more, the idea swims strongly against the tide of circular economy and ecodesign. Wouldn`t spending more money on things that last longer or fixing them as they break be a smarter culture to be spread then?

May we therefore `replace` the concept with its opposite, and ensure that the idea of durability never goes out of fashion. With hope, just as it is unnecessary to print this article, it will become obsolete to even talk about these matters, for sustainability should become the norm.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/infographics/circulareconomy/public/index.html

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/economy/20170629STO78621/meps-call-for-measures-to-ensure-products-last-longer

http://www.eprs.sso.ep.parl.union.eu/eprs/auth/en/product_2.html?id=345833&ref_id=undefined&src=2&q=id%3A345833%2BAND%2Bsrc%3A2

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2016/573899/EPRS_BRI%282016%29573899_EN.pdf

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2017/603940/EPRS_BRI(2017)603940_EN.pdf

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2016/581999/EPRS_BRI%282016%29581999_EN.pdf

https://www.ecnmy.org/engage/your-iphone-is-literally-designed-to-break-and-its-not-just-your-iphone/

 

 

 

Written by Raquel Ferreira – Communication Study Visitor at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and a student of the Master Program in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. She holds a degree in Psychology and an MBA in Strategic Personnel Management from the Universidade Federal de Sao Joao Del Rei – Brazil. https://www.linkedin.com/in/raquel-gioconda-ferreira-69558539/ rferreira.int@gmail.com

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