What is programmed obsolescence?

What is programmed obsolescence?

By carolc

Programmed obsolescence is the service life that a factory or company gives to a product, when this shelf life passes the product will become obsolete, useless.

Cell phones, computers, tablets, printers, washing machines, hair dryers, microwaves, refrigerators and screens are almost indispensable devices for daily life that often fail in the medium term and for no apparent reason. Sometimes it is too expensive to repair them, other times it is impossible to find the spare part or they were designed not to be disassembled.

This happens because manufacturers calculate and plan the lifetime of their products, with the aim of deliberately reducing their usefulness and thereby inciting people to buy a new one.

Scheduled obsolescence ensures high demand, so companies have more profits and continued supply. This greatly influences the development of the economy.

We have three types of obsolescence

  1. Function obsolescence, this type of obsolescence is given when a more advanced product is released, i.e. with new features.
  2. Quality obsolescence, in this type of obsolescence the product after having some time of use begins to present failures and malfunction.
  3. Obsolescence of desire, occurs when a more advanced product goes on sale and people change the one they already have, just for style or fashion reasons.

The programmed obsolescence affects consumers in various ways, economically and psychologically, we enter a cycle, buy, use, pull, buy, use, throw away and come to want products that we don’t need.

We can also find other forms of programmed obsolescence

Built-in obsolescence

The first could easily be considered a crime, as it causes economic harm to users who purchase the product with expectations of duration and availability. It is a source of controversy and is the most treated form in all sources of information.

Psychological obsolescence

A large number of appliances, especially those known as PAE (Little Appliance), do not last as long as in the past, and we all have recent experiences in this regard! In addition, manufacturers promote new products based on fashion and luxury, making previous models not attractive.

Psychological Obsolescence is common in the fashion industry, and increasingly, in consumer goods

Technological obsolescence

Another form of programmed obsolescence is the continuous and fast updating of products such as computers, entertainment, and mobile telephony.

Scheduled obsolescence generates replacement purchases and revenue for companies.

This phenomenon is part of the logic of the extract–manufacture-eliminate scheme from 20th and early 21st century consumer societies. In view of these approaches are concepts such as that of Circular Economy, already treated in echo intelligence and one of our favorites.

And let us not forget that the extent of the life of the product is the antithesis of programmed obsolescence. The offer of high durability product and complementary services related to the product for proper use, maintenance and repair is another key approach to a more sustainable use of the products we acquire.

In our hands as consumers this trend is changing.

Causes of programmed obsolescence

Programmed obsolescence isn’t as obvious as something exploding or burning.  We can find various causes that motivate it.

  • When the product stops working or an item fails. Cases such as the flexible tube of a vacuum cleaner or the battery of a Smartphone are some examples.
  • Absence of spare parts that prevent their repair. This happens with cars with a certain number of years for which there are no spare parts and whose only alternative is to locate them in the scrap metal.
  • Decatalogation, such as what happens to textbooks in school, to which changes are made from time to time so that they cannot move from one student to another.
  • Incompatibilities with new products, such as hardware and software or video games.
  • Psychological causes, produced by the continuous launch of new models and versions, seen, above all, in technology or clothing.
  • Expiration, commonly used in food products or medicinal products when a date on which to consume them preferably is introduced.

Programmed obsolescence and environment

If the products we buy were charged their ecological cost, it would be clear that it is not a cost-effective system in global terms. And this cycle of buying, throwing and buying again non-stop, has a catastrophic environmental impact and plays an important role in the climate change equation. We are talking about unnecessary and excessive consumption of raw materials – to produce products that are not needed – and energy – for production and also for transport, both products and waste generated by all this. Waste production is the other important part of the problem: in recent decades we have formed massive landfills that represent irreversible environmental degradation. More than 40 million tones of electronic products are produced each year and only 15.5% of them are recycled correctly

Advantages and disadvantages of programmed Obsolescence

Most of the advantages of programmed obsolescence are economic in nature, stimulating consumption. It creates an increase in sales wealth, but also the increase in product research and development requirements. This creates many more jobs and supposedly obsolescence helps users have better and more efficient products.

The disadvantages are loss of natural resources and a real problem in the management of pollution created by disposable products. Consumers also have to bear more spending. It can also be considered a consumer deception.

This poses the following ethical dilemma: while planned obsolescence can help accelerate innovation, economic growth and improve consumer well-being, it is true that it can also generate social costs for harming the environment.

Put pressure on us to frequently renew our products, we must be critical and act with responsibility. We are all involved in the sustainable maintenance of our living conditions.