A light bulb in Livermore, CA, has been on since 1901. The inventor is no longer among us, and the secret of the Centennial Light Bulb remains undiscovered. Is there an interest in revealing a secret of such a significant patent – a product that does not fail?
Planned obsolescence is the secret mechanism at the heart of our consumer society.
Although some may argue how this theory is dangerously approaching conspiracy, we have to admit there is, as Brooks Stevens clearly puts,
“… the desire on the part of the consumer to own something a little newer, a little sooner than is necessary.”
The idea to create the desire in the consumer, to seduce the client, was adopted in the fifties and has become the basis of marketing which was almost non-existent before that time. The consumer society created has become the foundation for growth, the Holy Grail of our economy.
Defenders of planned obsolescence argue how
“Without planned obsolescence these places (malls; a.c.) wouldn’t exist. There wouldn’t be any products; there wouldn’t be any industry; there wouldn’t be any designers, architects; there wouldn’t be any salespeople, cleaners; there wouldn’t be any security guards. All the jobs would go.”
While this might be true, I cannot help but wonder how do engineers feel about designing products to fail?
There is a further argument whether it is possible to imagine viable economy without planned obsolescence, and without its impact on the environment.
There is an interesting notion of the long life light bulb produced in the East Berlin and introduced in the 1981 International Fair. With fright for the future of economy, no one from the West was interested in purchasing the patent. And, as we know, the Berlin Wall fell, the East German factory was closed down, and the long life bulb can be seen in the museum, as a relic of days that seem further than they really are.
When the overall impact of the planned obsolescence is considered, one has to wonder whether it is really necessary. Yet, we are still reluctant to change it.
How is it possible that, with all the wisdom and wit, all the advances and progress, we are still unable to create the system that will be prosperous, yet will not be determined with growth?
I feel that the most appropriate closing of this meditation is citing John Thackara:
“Our role in life seems to be just to consume things with credit, to borrow money to buy things we don’t need.
That makes no real sense to me.”
For all of you questioning everything, this is a great documentary.
May it inspire you.