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Planned Obsolescence: Why 21st Century Products Seem Built to Fail

Is that cookware set’s non-stick coating already flaking off after less than 1 year of moderate use through no fault of your own? Does that phone seem to run slower shortly after a new model was released? Are you going bonkers because no repair shop in the country seem to carry that spare part for your beloved lawnmower? If the answer is yes many times over, you may be dealing with a case of planned obsolescence, a fancy word used to explain why today’s consumer products are no longer as resilient as Grandma’s.

What’s Planned Obsolescence?

Planned obsolescence is the deliberate practice of consumer goods makers to shorten the lifespan of a product so you are forced to upgrade to a new and “better” one in a few years (or even months.) The new model has usually more bells and whistles and is oftentimes more expensive than the one being replaced. 

The practice has been going on for years, but it only transpired to the public when a well-known tech giant was caught red-handed. A few years ago, Apple Inc. admitted, in the midst of a HUGE scandal, that they purposely throttled the batteries of older iPhones via software to force customers to upgrade to the newest models. In 2020, the tech giant agreed to pay $500 million to settle the ‘batterygate’ lawsuit. And the rest is an embarrassing history.

But planned obsolescence does not affect only electronics. Almost every product in the low- to mid-tier range seem to experience this issue, from frying pans and light bulbs to that CHEAP family tent and Junior’s trampoline.

Surprisingly, the idea of planned obsolescence is nothing new. Consumer goods makers have been having it on their minds for nearly a century. For instance, in 124 Phillips, General Electric and two other electronics makers agreed to cut their light bulbs’ lifespan short to 1,000 hours.

Planned Obsolescence: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good: Yes, planned obsolescence has a bright side, otherwise regulators wouldn’t be so secretive about it. It creates bottom lines, jobs, and is a steady stream of government revenue. In other words, if people replace their stuff frequently, you will need other people to produce those new products, which will keep many companies and middlemen afloat and governments well-fed through taxes, fees, and whatnots. 

In the U.S.A. alone, the tech industry contributed with more than $11 trillion dollars to the nation’s GDP. No wonder governments turn a blind eye to the practice.

The Bad: The biggest loser in this equation is the consumer. Consumers will have to shell out their hard-earned cash every couple of years or earlier to replace their defective or technologically obsolete earthly goods. That can take a big bite of the family budget pie or leave you with a heavy heart especially if you loved a particular older product. 

The Ugly: Planned obsolescence has an ugly side that many people refuse to admit: It is incredibly wasteful. Our piling mountain of e-waste is something taken from a horror show. Every year, we collectively produce more than 50 million tons of electronic waste, with less than 20 percent being recycled. The bulk of this garbage pile consisted of large consumer appliances, TVs, tablets, smartphones, and computers. 

But our planet’s landfills do not host only electronics, there are billions of tons of non-perishables that populate them. And the worst thing is that people are not aware of the problem and they mindlessly discard consumer goods at the tinniest inconvenience, as if all that plastic would magically disappear. 

What Can You Do About It?

As a consumer, there’s little you can do about planned obsolescence unless the shortening of the lifespan of a product is blatantly deliberate. And since there are no regulations set in place to outlaw the practice, you can only sue for compensation when you are personally affected by a faulty product. The best course of action would be to contact a law firm such as Pintas that has specialized product liability team and see what your odds of winning one such lawsuit are. 


One thought on “Planned Obsolescence: Why 21st Century Products Seem Built to Fail

  1. My Honda Civic is 21 years old….no sign of quitting…

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