Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My War Against Planned Obsolescence

"Use it up, wear it out, or make do without."    --Depression era saying.

Planned obsolescence, or "PO," is the intentional design of products to fail, even though the product might be designed differently so it lasts longer.  Manufacturers use PO to encourage product sales and stimulate new demand.  Products used to be designed to last as long as possible.  It was known early in the development of the light bulb, for example, that bulbs could be made which would last for a very long time.  Manufacturers found, however, that making the bulbs too reliable hurt sales because people wouldn't continue buying new bulbs.  Therefore, the makers of light bulbs got together and decided to make inferior bulbs and not compete against each other.  This conspiracy worked for a very long time.  It should be of no surprise that the light bulbs made by Edison over 100 years ago still work while a modern light bulb burns out after six months.

Another example would be cars.  Before Japanese competition in the late 1980's, American cars were designed for style, not reliability.  When Japanese auto makers started making vehicles which were twice as reliable, American manufacturers were forced to redesign their products to last longer.  The consequence has been that some American brands, such as Ford, are now more reliable than brands like Toyota.

Software is not immune.  Microsoft continues to produce new operating systems, each one larger and more bloated than the last.  As a consequence, your once fast computer is now slow.  Therefore, you feel the need to upgrade to a new computer as well.  This works out great for the computer manufacturers and the software makers.  Microsoft also produces new proprietary versions of Microsoft Word.  Wait long enough, and your computer will have difficulty reading an older version of a Word document.

If we lived in a world of infinite resources, then PO wouldn't be a problem.  It would be a way to stimulate the economy by purchasing new goods.  The problem is that the energy needed to build these products is non renewable.  Oil and coal aren't infinite resources.  One day they will be either used up or become so scarce that the production cycle will crash.  We are currently on a non sustainable path.  This may change with the introduction of highly efficient solar power and more efficient means of recycling.  Right now we aren't there yet.

My Fight


In 1999, I bought a 1996 Toyota Avalon.  It had 57,000 miles on it.  The engine went at 202,000 miles.  Instead of junking it, I had a used engine installed in 2007.  Since that time, I still own my Avalon and I plan on keeping it until this "new" engine goes.  Hopefully it won't be for another ten years.  Rebuilding a used car instead of replacing it with a new one every two years goes a long way to avoiding car payments and saving money.

I also have a 2002 Ford Escape.  It has 116,000 miles on it.  I plan on driving it until the engine goes.  Again, I am hoping this won't be for quite some time.  Considering the great shape of the body, I may just get a new engine put in this one as well.


My office computer is a Pentium 4 Alienware Computer.  I got it in 2002.  It is still my primary work computer.  It has no trouble surfing the Internet, doing research, editing Microsoft Word documents, checking email, and even watching Youtube videos.  Five years ago I had to replace the hard drive, which failed.  I replaced it myself.  One year ago the graphics card burned out.  I replaced this for $50.  So long as my computing needs are met, there is no reason for me to junk this computer.  The keyboard is 9 years old and still works great.

In 2006 I bought a Dell laptop for mobility.  Two years ago it began overheating and shutting down after using it for 20 minutes.  I almost threw it out the window in frustration.  Instead I put it in the freezer.  That bought me a bit of time for the both of us to cool down.  Considering this wasn't a long term solution, about six months ago I decided to see what could be done.  I found a Youtube video that explained how to take the laptop apart and clean the heat sink above the CPU.  I dismantled the computer and cleaned out the heat sink with my air compressor.  I cleaned the area with a microfiber cloth.  It worked.  My computer can now run for several days and it doesn't overheat.  For Christmas I received a laptop cooling mat, which also seems to help keep it cool.  No new laptops for me--at least for now.

One of my hobbies is fixing up old computers and installing lightweight versions of the GNU/Linux operating system on them.  This allows them to have new life as working machines.  Combined with my mini junkyard of computer parts, many computers can be repaired or upgraded for almost nothing.  Instead of filling landfills, these computers can then go to people who can use them.

Cell Phone

My wife and I refuse to pay for data plans and be subject to cell phone contracts.  So we use a regional carrier named Revol that charges $47 per month for unlimited text and telephone calls.  There is no contract. You have to buy your own phone.  Six years ago we both bought flip phones.  We are still using those same phones.  About two years ago my phone cracked and the hinge was about to come off.  Recently it got worse.  So I decided to get creative--I used Liquid Nails construction adhesive to glue the phone back together.  We both have been through about 3 batteries each over the years, but the phones keep going.  The more I can keep my monthly phone costs down, the better.


I also collect old Nikon photo equipment.  While I use digital much of the time, I also use my 35mm film cameras.  Combined with good lenses, these old cameras take beautiful photos and color slides.  There is no sense in getting rid of equipment that still has functional value.


I like to be in charge of my life and not be dependent upon manufacturers to meet my needs.  Being able to use products for a long time not only saves money and the environment, but it also is empowering.  You feel less alienated from the goods which are such a big part of your life.  Not having to worry about making extra credit card payments and car payments is kind of nice.  While getting new stuff is fun, the credit card statement that follows is also a hangover I would like to avoid.


  1. Thanks for your post. found it by googling "war on planned obsolescence." I've been a devote recycler and reuser by whole life, but had been ignorant of this concept until a recent article in onearth

    Thanks again!

    1. Thank you Clea. I enjoyed the link you shared. Thanks!