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DominicX's avatar

To what extent is planned obsolescence a reality?

Asked by DominicX (28782points) September 14th, 2011

Are products really designed to fail after a short amount of time? I’d hate to think something so awful is true, but sometimes I’ve been led to believe it is. We remodeled one of the bathrooms in our house and just now, four years later, many things in the bathroom are beginning to fail. Things that would’ve lasted for years had the bathroom been built decades ago…

It could just be that products aren’t made as well as they used to be, but sometimes I think that things are made to fail on purpose. My friend told me about the dryer in his house that failed after 5 years. I looked up the model online and apparently an electrical device fries in this dryer after about 5 years rendering it useless. If that doesn’t sound liked planned obsolescence, I don’t know what does…

Obviously all I have are “anecdotes”, but that’s what I’m looking for. What are your personal experiences that lead you to think planned obsolescence is real (or not)?

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14 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

I think it is real. And if it’s not planned, it’s definitely not made the best it could be intentionally, because the company want to release the 5th (newer, better) version to keep demand going.

You see this with a lot of stuff. The only difference between a 2010 and 2011 model car is the trim. Phones, and other electronics etc.

CWOTUS's avatar

It depends – seriously! – on how you shop. What are your primary criteria for selecting one product over another? If it’s primarily “price”, then planned obsolescence (although it’s not as premeditated and “planned” as a lay person thinks) is absolutely real.

When designers, engineers and manufacturers build products to compete in a “price is king” market – which means “most consumer commodities” – then they absolutely do create products that will barely outlive the warranty, if then. Because they know that the consumer who buys on a scale that values price above all else will already be used to a frequent repair / replace / update mentality already. (And buyers in the secondary market don’t get the benefit of most warranties, so producers who make products that are frequently resold as “used”, don’t even have to worry about honoring a non-transferable warranty.)

If you shop more carefully and look for “value” more than the much more obvious price tag, then it’s still possible – sometimes – to find real, lasting quality: in materials, engineering, selection of parts, design and style. (This is another reason why “planned obsolescence” works: Buyers who only want what is “fashionable” – this year’s model – don’t even care about obsolescence that only occurs years from now.)

Stop being part of “the consumer herd” and you don’t even have to consider planned obsolescence. It’s no longer a consideration.

tedd's avatar

Are you kidding me? Planned obsolescence is practically a business model in the world of today.

LuckyGuy's avatar

If it is an electronic device, you can expect the technology to change fast. The hot phone you just bought (yeah, you, the one who paid for the skin and ring tone) will be a fossil in 2 years. Why? Because there are people working on smaller, faster, lower power chips all the time. Is there any reason to build the phone like a tank if it will be obsolete in 2 years? Overdesigning to withstand 10 years of normal use is a waste of money, and world resources. The phone would be unnecessarily expensive. For best utilization of resources the ideal situation would have the battery, keyboard, and display, all fail on the same day the new chip set is available for commercial use.
Same with TVs, computers, iPads, readers, medical devices, military equipment….

The hammer in my tool box belonged to my dad and still works just as well as it did 70 years ago. That company is probably out of business. .

CWOTUS's avatar

This might help to put it in better context.

Even when you design “for the ages”, things wear out eventually. @worriedguy makes an excellent point as well.

wundayatta's avatar

According to the story of stuff planned obsolescence is predominant.

I try to buy stuff that will last, but I’m often unsuccessful. I’ve had problems with computer and peripherals and all kinds of other things breaking rapidly. Right now my smart phone, less than two years old, seems to have half the batter life it had at the beginning.

DominicX's avatar

I understand about SmartPhones and computers (I replace mine all the time anyway), but does it happen with other things like washers and dryers? Who cares about “the hottest model” of dryer?

wundayatta's avatar

Our washing machine lasted a dozen years before needing replacement. During that time, we had to replace the belt a couple of times. The dryer is of the same vintage and is still going. I think we’ve had to repair it twice. We were happy with that. Our furnace has lasted 20 years, and is still holding on. We’re happy with that. Our fridge is overdue for replacement—maybe fifteen years and it was only designed for ten.

Blackberry's avatar

I always learn something every time I go on Fluther. Thanks, everyone.

CWOTUS's avatar

@DominicX the concept of “fashion” may not apply so much to strictly utilitarian appliances such as washers and dryers. But “original design and value” still applies.

When I had a problem with my 10-year-old washer and called a repairman he asked for the brand and model before he even agreed to come to my house. When I told him what I had, he assured me – without even seeing the machine – that his visit would be worthwhile, because the machine was worth the repair. (It has a direct drive tub, rather than belt-driven, and he even knew which part had failed from the telephone conversation.) He even told me what to expect to pay for the repair (not “a guaranteed estimate”, but his expectation of what the problem was and how quickly he could fix it, assuming his analysis of failure was correct).

He came to the house, replaced the part he had anticipated (he showed me why the replacement part was a better design than the original part that failed, and why it had failed in the first place), and told me that I’d be good for another ten to fifteen years on that washing machine.

If I had had a machine of the same age, but lesser quality, he told me flat out that he would have recommended someone else (he is a “general” repair man, not related to the brand of washer that I had), or that I simply replace the machine.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Don’t forget the people (with too much money and not enough common sense) who watch HGTV for ideas – a follow every trend that comes along. The appliance color for this year is “Lilac” for its fresh, inviting look. Last year it was “stainless steel” for its clean, timeless look. Now SS is criticized for making the kitchen look too much like an obstetrician’s office. There are numskulls who actually care about this and not the durability of the appliance. We get what we pay for – and demand. .

Blackberry's avatar

@worriedguy Oh gawd, I dated a woman whose mother ordered stuff from HSN like it was a hobby. Sometimes the stuff would get to the house and she would just leave it in the corner still in the box. I even saw her ordering 1 thing on the phone, and another online at the same time…..

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Blackberry I’ve called it “Porn for Women” and I don’t think I am far from the truth. Very few men I know watch that show but women on the other hand… Heck, It’s why they got cable.

(Waiting for the onslaught – unless the show “Which overly expensive house will the young couple buy?” is on – then I’m safe.)

jerv's avatar

For electronics, they are designed to last a long as they are relevant but not much longer. It used to be different back when they thought that 66Mhz and 4MB of RAM was more than anybody would need and near the pinnacle of what was even possible.

For other items, it is merely cheaper to produce less durable stuff; the fact that they increase profits by selling replacements is merely a bonus. I don’t think it’s intentional though. More… Serendipitous.

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