The consumer is perpetually targeted directly by corporations and various businesses to buy, wear/use products, and then swiftly discard them when they are no longer fashionable. This method is called “planned obsolescence.” Planned obsolescence is defined as “the conscious decision on the part of an agency to produce a consumer product that will become obsolete in a defined time frame.” This phrase was coined by an American industrialist named Brooks Stevens. The fashion industry, car industry, and even companies that produce razors for shaving are but a few types of businesses that practice and promote this wasteful method of production and eventual planned consumption.
The razor blade used for shaving is one of many ways that consumers have been seduced into buying and then discarding a still usable product. The first blade, the disposable razor for example, became immensely popular and prevented men from having to use the dreaded “straight razor” that their grandfathers had originally used. It conquered the market immediately and then was hailed as the best way to improve the condition of men’s skin. However razors soon became more “high tech” and the electric razor was introduced. It helped men avoid cutting their skin and all one had to do was plug it into the wall and there was no need to change blades repeatedly. The disposable blade was considered philistine and unfashionable. Soon however businessmen who worked in the razor industry though that it might be possible to stage a come-back for the little disposable blade, if it could be made to look different, classier. They reasoned rightly that if they charged more money and enhanced the design, people would see it as something to have. Given a stainless steel look the formerly blue plastic handled disposable blade made a huge comeback and has been going strong ever since. There are now also several versions of the basic electric razor as well, one being the Lady Remington brand.
Another perfect example of planned obsolescence is the car industry. Originally cars were manufactured in the twenties. The cars from before WWII were still driven in the streets of London in the Sixties, during this time Volkswagen also built a cheap, durable car until it flooded the entire market. If a person was able to afford a Rolls Royce then it was considered the best buy in the world with a large re-sale value. Unfortunately, executives realized that once sales stabilized people would no longer be willing or would need to buy a new car. It would have meant millions of workers laid off and a considerable drop in profits. For the next two or three decades, the ultimate purpose in the automotive industry would be not to produce cars, but to keep workers and manufacturers busy making cars, with the only real result being that tons of steel and billions of hours of work were spent to produce cars not meant to last for very long. The whole point of this was (and still is) to keep the customer coming back even before the previous obligations toward payment and maintenance of their currently owned car ended.
Nylon pantyhose are a fashion related example of a previously durable product that has been turned into something that can only be used a few times, discarded, and thus a new item must be purchased. It was during the Second World War when nylon first came into use. Troops were beginning to show their dislike for insubstantial cloth equipment that needed frequent mending and as a result nylon came into use for the parachutes the troops used. During the 1950’s nylons were thick and good for frequent and long term use. They were ugly and not stylish, but practical. Over the past few decades they have become more varied in color and yet thinner, good only for a few times to be worn and then disposed of. There is no way to effectively mend them so new ones must be purchased.
For quite some time telephones did not break because there was a huge market to be satisfied and, over decades, the companies that created the equipment would concentrate on improving real service and efficiency rather than issuing new designs and other unneeded extravagances. Over time though, it was realized that the technique had reached quasi-perfection, that there was little more left to be desired…and that the market was satisfied. To somehow convince the consumer that they were unhappy with their current model the companies began creating all sort of new gadgets and accessories to go with their phones. Cell phones are the perfect example, since before it had only the basic function of making and receiving calls. Now they can take pictures, send messages, and even access the internet. The original design and ever changing basic purpose and function of the cell phone from merely making calls to literally working as a miniature mobile office.
Another form of manipulation is that of the “counterculture” appeal. Certain products are advertised and pushed as an alternative to “mainstream” items. Ironically people who participate in this theory and lifestyle are creating a mainstream all their own that becomes just as conformist as the original “mainstream” trends, beliefs, and mannerisms.
The most recent development has been that of the Blue-Ray disc. The only real difference between the Blue-Ray disc and that of the DVD is that the Blue-Ray offers a more hi-fi view of the film and actors acting in it. It has no real new innovative, efficient technology that will benefit viewers in the long run. Blue-Ray is merely a much hyped minor visual improvement over still existing useful and viable technology.
There is a perverse symbiosis at work. The companies that develop these products rely on this type of fantastical waste in creation and consumption because it continues production and thus ensures a continued profit in an ever competitive workforce; a competitive workforce that is increasing in competition as time goes by. Manufacturers rely in planned obsolescence because it keeps sales moving or increasing at a steady pace. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if sales increase, quickly occur, or that the product is even really needed; the main idea and motivation is simply continuing to make things we really don’t need in the name of frivolousness and acquiring a new status symbol.
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