why is everything falling apart
One day, my smartphone battery stopped charging. It would seem that nothing foreshadowed a problem, because even on the eve of its charge it was enough for about two days of work. But suddenly, in the middle of a working day, the phone began to run out of power. I was surprised and immediately connected it to the charger. After a while, after checking it, I was even more surprised – the charge level not only did not increase, but became even lower than it was before. The phone was draining faster than it was charging.
I will clarify that the battery and charging were branded – from the manufacturer, and the phone itself was one of the last “flagships” produced with a removable battery. Unfortunately, no dancing with a tambourine helped. The battery could not be revived, I had to urgently buy a new one.
We have become accustomed to the fact that our devices periodically break down. Especially if they have worked for many years. Thinking about this, I decided to check how long the battery in my smartphone worked. It was necessary to find out the date of the first inclusion of the device. There is nothing easier – in the store, just unpacking a new smartphone, I took a test photo. She was still stored in memory – it was enough to look at her date.
And you know what? The battery “died” exactly one year after the first inclusion. Not approximately, but right to the day – the day and month completely coincided. The next battery stopped charging in exactly the same way – exactly one year after the replacement. This fact might seem like a strange coincidence if we did not live in a plastic, short-lived world where planned obsolescence rules.
And we will cut the board imperceptibly
Unfortunately, we know that equipment breaks not by accident, but by design. Manufacturers don’t want their devices to last forever. We used the smartphone for a maximum of a year or two, and you will be welcome to buy a new model.
Mankind has come up with many ways to improve the reliability of equipment and parts. But a competent engineer who knows how to increase reliability has an excellent idea of how to artificially lower it. There are many ways to organize a small inconspicuous sabotage, which will lead to a breakdown immediately after the end of the warranty period for the product. A very cunning plan.
The most annoying thing is that in expensive equipment something very small and insignificant often breaks. Some kind of plastic piece. The manufacturer may be willing to replace this part, but at such a price that we involuntarily think: is it necessary to repair the old device, maybe it’s easier to buy a new one?
In the article “Electronics for one» here is a list of the main methods of organizing planned obsolescence:
Special microchips-counters that store the statistics of operations. For example, the number of pages printed on the printer. As soon as the counter reaches a predetermined threshold, the device suddenly “accidentally” fails.
Use of cheap unreliable materials. We choose some important mechanical part, without which the functioning of the device becomes impossible, and we make it from short-lived plastic. (I have one good lens in my closet that failed due to the breakage of a small plastic gear for opening the aperture).
Non-removable battery. (Indeed, if the battery in my phone was built-in, I would have no choice but to buy a new device).
Unbreakable body. There is just scope for imagination. For example, you can use glue or welding instead of screws. If there are still screws, then we will make them a unique head pattern so that they can only be unscrewed in a service center.
Incompatibility with new components. An interesting example from the same article: the connector on the motherboard for installing the first generation Intel Core processors has 1156 pins (LGA 1156), and the second generation Intel Core processors – 1155 (LGA 1155). Engineers proudly reported that they “optimized” the number of connectors, and users need to purchase a new motherboard to replace the processor.
Only the most common methods are listed here. Who knows what else the manufacturers have come up with? The main thing is that these methods should be imperceptible and non-obvious – consumers are unlikely to like the explicit limitation of the service life of the device they purchase.
First a joke, then a harsh reality
But there were times when, having bought, say, a gramophone, the consumer was sure that it would function for years. Things were made so reliable that more than one generation could use them. Surely you have such products of the last century that work and work without even thinking of breaking. Quality materials, reliable assembly, thoughtful design – all these are production standards that are a thing of the past in the modern world.
The idea of planned obsolescence was born at the beginning of the 20th century during the Great Depression. In 1932, Bernard London wrote the satirical pamphlet The End of the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence. He jokingly suggested obliging consumers to return goods to the manufacturer after a certain period of time. All this could revive the economy and provide income for many unemployed. In those days it seemed ridiculous, in our time it is already the norm – remember the state programs for the recycling of cars and other equipment.
In fact, Bernard London simply described a concept that many manufacturers had already thought of in those days. A well-known example is the so-called Phoebus cartel. In the 1920s, manufacturers of electronic equipment (Philips and General Electric included, for example) entered into a secret agreement to artificially reduce the life of incandescent lamps from 2500 to 1000 hours. Well, at the same time decided to raise their prices. Representatives of the cartel even conducted regular testing of lamps produced by its members. If the lamp did not accidentally burn out after the prescribed 1000 hours, then a fine was imposed on its manufacturer.
So the idea of intentionally manufacturing low-quality products was born a century ago. Companies that made reliable equipment in the old fashioned way gradually went bankrupt. Their place was taken by companies that realized in time that the consumer will not buy a new device while the old one works for him.
Nowadays, this idea has received a new round of development – if you properly organize a marketing company, then the consumer may want to buy a new model even if the old one is still quite functional: “What am I going to do like a sucker with last year’s iPhone ?!”
This music won’t last forever
So far, we have only talked about devices and technology. But it is not at all difficult to organize the planned obsolescence of an application or, for example, an operating system. What if the bugs and unreliability of our “hot favorite” OS are not just a consequence of poor-quality development?
In any operating system, you can organize an imperceptible accumulation of garbage, which will gradually slow down its work. You can always “forget” to delete unused objects in the registry or files on disk, “accidentally” leave old versions of components. But you never know what you can think of – the main thing is that it is invisible to the user. The system will gradually slow down and at some point the consumer will think about purchasing a new version of the system, hoping that all the shortcomings in it will magically disappear.
With the help of programs, you can also “help” the obsolescence of peripheral devices. You don’t even have to do anything here – just stop releasing driver updates for new versions of operating systems. With the change of the system, the user will also have to change the device – after all, without drivers, it will simply stop working. And not everyone can write a driver on their own.
In the same way, ordinary applications become obsolete. Although usually most applications continue to work in the new version of the operating system, sometimes there are programs that simply stop running. You have to run them in a virtual machine, and not all users are also capable of this.
We will proceed further
How can we restore the reliability of our technology, how can we force manufacturers to produce high-quality and durable devices again?
There are several ways to deal with planned obsolescence:
Legal. Many countries are now enacting laws that not only protect consumer rights, but clearly counteract planned breakdowns. In the US in 2003, a court not only ordered Apple to extend the warranty period for iPods to two years, but also to pay consumers compensation for a non-removable battery. In the UK, a special organization closely studies cases of mass failure of devices immediately after the end of their service life.
Development of healthy competition. It is believed that in a highly competitive market, it becomes unprofitable for manufacturers to produce short-lived things. After all, reliability is one of those factors that make consumers choose another brand. In the 60s of the XX century, Japanese car manufacturers entered the American market, which were famous for their high quality. American manufacturers were forced to urgently increase the life of their cars, otherwise they would simply lose out in the competition.
Ecological. Planned obsolescence is primarily mountains of obsolete equipment in landfills around the world. These devices could well continue to work if the manufacturers took care of simplifying and reducing the cost of their repair. In the modern world, it is easier for a consumer to buy a new smartphone than to repair a cracked screen. In some countries, manufacturers are already required to accept and dispose of old batteries and batteries. There are similar rules for the devices themselves. If the manufacturer is obliged to dispose of old equipment at his own expense, then he will think a hundred times whether he really needs the devices to break down faster.
Custom strategy. Finally, we can independently put pressure on the manufacturer. Feel free to use the warranty while it is still valid. Do not buy new devices until the old ones are out of order. Teach yourself to take care of equipment, repair old devices in case of minor breakdowns. Try to choose durable products. And, of course, to the best of their ability and ability to expose the tricks of manufacturers.
Heckl Wolfgang, author of New Life for Old Things, writes: “For many materials there is a rule: the more expensive, the more durable. Of course, it is not always possible for a consumer to buy quality products with a long service life, simply because they no longer exist or have become rare. However, the situation will change if we begin to value products whose durability justifies their high price.”
Perhaps someday our things and devices will stop falling apart and fail from the slightest impact. Someday instrument cases will again be made of durable metal, and not of brittle low-quality plastic. Someday, manufacturers will again try to increase the reliability of things, and not artificially reduce it. Someday warranty periods for complex equipment will be calculated in decades. Someday, the words “repairability”, “reliability” and “durability” will again appear in commercials for new gadgets. I really want to believe it.
The article was first published elsewhere on August 27, 2021.
What else to read on the topic: