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Quality of Life vs Quantity of Life

Topics: Lifestyle & Culture | 2 CommentsBy admin | January 9, 2011

Do we really need a growth economy fueled by planned obsolescence? Or are we ready to start living better, rather than living bigger?

I’m no stranger to the emotionally dynamic world of new consumer products. We all know the feelings evoked when you decide you need a new camera, car, washing machine, or lawn mower, and start researching all the shiny new options and exciting innovations. You make your purchase, and there’s a palpable emotion being experienced as the money changes hands. A sense of achievement and ownership, and a childish excitement about getting your new toy home and opening the package, revealing its shiny pristine contents. Somewhere in the checkout process, you may experience a little buzzkill when the salesperson suggests you’d be foolish to not buy the extended service contract. But you’re a smart person. You opt not to buy it. You know they do testing with advanced algorithms that determine the EXACT DAY the product will fail, which will always be approximately 23 days after the the warranty expires. I jest a bit, but it’s well-established that most service contracts aren’t worth it, and for electronics stores, are one of their greatest sources of revenue, with margins that are nearly 18 times the margin on the goods themselves. So in any case, you get your new purchase home, and if you made smart decisions and spent enough money, you may actually be happy with the product for a while. With the emphasis on “a while”; odds are, especially if it’s an electronic device, there’s a store built right into your purchase, imploring you to buy more. Your mobile phone or computer suddenly needs apps and services you’d never dreamed of being essential to life itself until you started using it, and while a company like Apple makes very little on the sale of apps in these little built in shopping malls, they drive device sales, and a $200 iPod was only costing them 4 bucks each to produce once production was ramped up. The fact is, any buyers’ remorse you feel is the least of your worries, because your new toy will probably be your old toy within a year. Not because it suddenly doesn’t do exactly what you meant it to do, but because the maker has built in a dirty trick with some form of planned obsolescence. In the case of computers, this used to take the form of the Wintel duopoly (a partnership soon to be made obsolete itself by quadroid), in which Microsoft’s code bloat required ever more powerful processors from Intel, driving innovation that was arguably unnecessary otherwise. Does your desktop computer do anything it didn’t do five years ago? Probably not, unless you’re editing HD movies or crunching meteorological data in your home office. Other forms of obsolescence will come from products that failed from shoddy outsourced manufacturing, or in the case of the US obsession with SUV’s, a backtracking in fuel efficiency that makes vehicles more expensive to operate than they need to be, driving anxiety over peak oil, which leads to things like the BP gulf spill, as oil companies get careless in their pursuit of locating oil and maximizing margins. Lately I regularly question the current American model of capitalism, in which corporations have more rights than humans, it’s possible for 4 people to have more wealth than the world’s 57 poorest countries, and in America itself, the pie is divided in such a way that out of every hundred dollars, one person has 42 bucks, while most of the rest of us have about 9 cents each. Although you can find lengthy explanations both emotionally opposing and intellectually defending planned obsolescence as an underpinning of successful market-driven societies, I personally think we’ve entered a new paradigm, and with the world’s population growth slowing to a plateau where we will have seven billion people on the planet this year, it may be time to think about what we really need to live well, rather than what we need to do to keep fueling economic growth. Aside from individual greed, the only justification for growth-driven capitalism has been the fear of some Malthusian catastrophe, something that is an absurd projection in era when we produce so much food and technological innovation that we don’t know what to with either. What about you, have you had enough? Or do you still want more?

Read Comments

  1. Posted by Dojo Nick on 01.10.11 12:03 am

    Remember what Rutger Hauer said in Blade Runner … “I want more life, fucker!”

  2. Posted by admin on 01.10.11 7:16 am

    But Dojo Nick, it’s not nice to thumb people’s eyeballs out.