There’s a term used by product manufacturers and retailers called “planned obsolescence”. What this is in a nutshell is the understanding that creating products that last isn’t smart from a business standpoint, and this is the concept that drives modern commercialism.
Yet to convince people to buy their products there has to be some assurance and quality and longevity, so while consumers arguably make products that are as good as they’ve ever been quality wise, it’s the concept and marketing behind those products that leaves their shelf life limited.
Video games are just one example. The technology has developed so rapidly that playing on old games on old hardware makes you feel, well old. You feel like you’re missing the next great thing. But aside from the technology, the concept itself behind gaming has changed. Gaming used to be centered around high scores, games that often had no end, or at least no realistically achieved end, therefore allowing players almost limitless amounts of playtime as they endlessly sought to beat their record score.
Game developers quickly realized that this business model was not sound. If they already had a great game that they still had reason to play, it would limit their desire to buy new games. So games began being made with a definite beginning and end. Games also became easier so that end would be more easily and quickly achieved. Once you’ve beaten the game, there’s little else to do. Even if the game is great and would be enjoyable to play through again, there isn’t much incentive to do so without anything driving you on, like a high score to beat. Through this simple switch in business model, games went from having potentially limitless life spans to having less than 20 hours of playtime in them in most cases.
Cell phones are an obvious choice to consider as well, also from a design standpoint, but also from a marketing standpoint. The technology is also there like it is with videogames, constantly improving reception quality, image taking capability, size, etc. As insignificant as some of these things may seem, the advertising and to a lesser extent the pressure that is put on us from others and from ourselves drives us to buy these new products even when the old ones still work fine. If you don’t have the thinnest, slimmest and hippest phones with all the latest gadgets, you’re just not cool, and the advertising lets us know this, or at least, makes us think this.
Some manufacturers take the real easy route, and that is by building things of exceedingly poor quality so that they quickly become unusable. This saves costs on manufacturing and also ensures that that customer will be back on the market for a similar item in the future, though why they would buy it from that same manufacturer is unknown. This strategy doesn’t seem to make much sense from a company’s standpoint, but this is the way of some companies regardless.
Not only is this throw-away society hurting our wallets (with the average household in America now $8,000-$9,000 in debt, it’s also been hurting our environment. The manufacturing of these often unnecessary goods throw tons of pollution into the air, while the still fully functioning old products are tossed into the gargantuan landfills of valuable space.
Combating this “planned obsolescence” may be difficult depending on your personality. If you’re a person who values quality and durability over style, you’re probably already doing well to fight this consumerism and carry a low APR rate on your on credit cards. If you’re the opposite, it may take a concerted effort on your part to realize how you’re being sucked into buying things you don’t need. Don’t worry about what other people have, let them fall victim to the siren song of ego stroking that new brings them, just worry about your own affairs and what you need to get buy. You’ll be doing yourself and the environment a favor.