Why Do Good Products Die Early?

Buying a new computer, car, or any new product can generate a lot of good feelings. That usually lasts a few weeks and then the “New” feeling is gone. Isn’t it odd that the need to buy new things no longer have to be justified by the previous version being broken? Manufacturers have been practicing product obsolescence policies in order to sell more supplies. That means products are planned to break or become useless before they are created in the factories. The reason for intentionally making low quality products is based on economics, aesthetics and technology.

Businesses cannot sustain themselves when customers buy a certain product and never have to go back to the store. According to economist.com  “As the life cycle of products has increased—largely because of their greater technical excellence—firms have found that they need to plan for those products’ obsolescence more carefully. Take, for instance, the example of the automobile. Its greater durability has made consumers reluctant to change their models as frequently as they used to. As the useful life of the car has been extended, manufacturers have focused on shortening its fashionable life. By adding styling and cosmetic changes to their vehicles, they have subtly attempted to make their older models look outdated, thus persuading consumers to trade them in for new ones ( Planned Obsolescence 2009).

The more efficient products become the harder it is to sell this year’s model.

This is especially apparent in the garment industry “ Fashion of any sort is, by definition, deeply committed to built-in obsolescence. Last year’s skirts, for example, are designed to be replaced by this year’s new models ( Planned Obsolescence 2009).

The man who pioneered product obsolescence did so to spur economic progress after the great depression of 1929.

imageBernard London wrote a book called  “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence”. In it he wrote “ Modern technology and the whole adventure of applying creative science to business have so tremendously increased the productivity of our factories and our fields that the essential economic problem has become one of organizing buyers rather than of stimulating producers.  The essential and bitter irony of the present depression lies in the fact that millions of persons are deprived of a satisfactory standard of living at a time when the granaries and warehoused of the world are overstuffed” ( London, pg 3). Without demand for new products, the inflated production quantity that occurred during the industrial revolution called for a way to sell products faster. London describes the american attitude during that time “ People everywhere today are disobeying the law of obsolescence. They are using their old cars, their old tires, their old radios and their old clothing much longer than statisticians had expected on the basis of earlier experience. (London pg. 3)”. The habit of buying new things before the previous versions were broken was already ingrained in the American people. London pioneered planned obsolescence in order to ensure earnings for the federal government “ Briefly stated, the essence of my plan for accomplishing these much-to-be-desired ends is to chart the obsolescence of capital and consumption goods at the time of their production… New products would be constantly be pouring forth from the factories and marketplaces, to take the place of the obsolete, and the wheels of industry would be kept going and employment regularized and assured for the masses “ London Pg. 6). Following in the footsteps of the garment industry, Clifford Brooks Stevens utilized the aesthetic changes to his products and ushered in a new era of consumerism.

In 1933, Brooks started a business consulting business called Brooks Stevens, his mission was to “ help companies make their products newer, better, and sooner than their competition( Our History n.d)”.

Brooks Stevens worked on New products, Product redesigns, logos, and future concepts.

His talent for designing new products, pushed the need for “ New” products to a new level. He designed the Oscar Mayer wiener-mobile in 1958, several iconic car, and boat designs that stood out, redesigns to cookware, lawn gear, and totally new products like the first hybrid car in 1979 and the first car that could change into a watercraft. It was clear that Brooks was driven by his inert desire to present new products. The Brook Stevens slogan today reads “ Newer, Better, Sooner”. In Brooks case, innovation wasn’t always the main selling point. Planned obsolescence in the digital age has become digitized. The name of the game for spurring consumerism is Updates.

From an anecdotal perspective, I have come in contact with update obsolescence a number of times. My phone for example works very well, however constant updates increase memory. There is a restriction on changing apps from internal memory to an external memory card. So eventually 4GB of internal memory will be filled up by the stock apps built into the device. Computer drivers are so important in keeping computers running. They run everything from USB inputs to the mousepad, to the inner workings of an Operating system. Updates once again don’t happen forever and a driver out-of-date can break a computer. On an international level, according to Rippleshot.com: “ Today, roughly 420,000 out of the world’s 2.2 million ATMs are located in the U.S., that are still running the full version of Windows XP even as the end-of-life deadline draws near. ATMs that use an embedded version of Windows XP will still receive Microsoft’s support until early 2016, as Windows XP Embedded is less susceptible to malware and viruses when it’s features and abilities are compared to Windows XP ( Walker 2017)”. The main reason for updating OS is to combat security flaws. Right now most banks pay Microsoft for update on Windows Vista since their window of security updates has expired.  The cost of updating over a quarter of a million ATMs is not cheap either. “ Major banks could be looking at spending close to $100 million to extend Microsoft’s support and upgrade to the newest platform.”

Planned Obsolescence is alive and well. The economic need for it was justified over 50 years ago, and manufacturers have taken the reins to supply technological, and aesthetic updates to this year’s and next year’s products.

Works Cited

London, Bernard. Ending the depression through planned obsolescence. New York: Bernard London, 1932. Print.

“Our History.” Our History | Brooks Stevens. Brooks Stevens Inc, n.d. Web. 02 May 2017. <http://bsiproductdevelopment.com/our-history&gt;.

“Planned obsolescence.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 23 Mar. 2009. Web. 02 May 2017. <http://www.economist.com/node/13354332&gt;.

Walker, Zach. “Rippleshot Blog.” Windows XP is still running on 95 percent of ATMs in the world. N.p., 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 02 May 2017. .

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