OBSOLESCENCE RISKS & CONSUMER WASTE 24 JULY 2015
Bill Gates advised, “The only big companies that succeed will be those that obsolete their own products before someone else does.” As the U.S. & EU face economic meltdowns around the world & in their own backyards, it is time to reconsider the standard manufacturing procedure called “planned obsolescence”. The French govt. has outlawed manufacturers from intentionally making products that will have a planned obsolescence. The Euro. Eco. & Social Committee, which advises the EU, supports the idea of banning planned obsolescence in the EU. Such a ban in Europe may not be far off. One might well ask, What are the needs of the customer (notice I did not call him or her “the consumer”) ?? This post shares some thoughts about the waste of planned obsolescence in view of the economic meltdown.
3 FACTORS IN MANUFACTURING. The producer faces COSTS assoc. w/ creating & supporting what is made. The product also has FEATURES—how the item works…some of which are gimmicks—which are important to attract the customer. The final factor is QUALITY—how the item actually works for the customer. The Sherman tank was relatively cheap to make & maintain; it had lots of gadgets to make it attractive to the army (for instance, it could fire its main gun at full speed). However, the tankers who had to use it in battle against German tanks (which seemed superior) did not like it, and did not find many of its selling features, for instance, firing the gun at full speed, of any value. Quality is almost always neglected by American companies even if they say otherwise. In general: To design something fast & good will not be cheap…To design something fast & cheap will not produce a good product. Back to the example of the tank, one has many different competing design features: armament, speed, weight, maneuverability, ability to counter anti-tank weapons, etc. Improving one feature may reduce another. American companies produce products they know will soon fail, which will force the consumer to come back & replace the item. Kodak produced a new film technology that they broke down & released in 12 new & improved versions. Instead of a quantum leap in quality, the consumer got a dozen minor improvements. Will the global meltdown force producers to improve quality or speed up the obsolescence process? Customers obviously will want more dependable products, because they have less cash flow. Manufacturers will want faster obsolescence to stay in business. The govt. will want faster obsolescence to keep more people employed. Hmmm. Will the customer’s needs lose??
CONTRASTING SYSTEMS. This author has lived within the various extremes of change that a society can operate between: constant change vs. gradual or no change. This author grew up in Nepal in the 1960’s (a primitive country back then). Later, he was a member of the Old Order Amish, whose lifestyle is the opposite of consumerism & planned obsolescence. The author also got to visit Europe in the ‘60s & ‘70’s and see their methods vs. America. It is also disheartening to see hard working Americans purchase things designed to become junk—so that the toiler ends up with little of permanence to show for all his or her hard work. It is like they are running on a tread mill. My overall conclusion is this: while planned obsolescence can have benefits, by & large Americans are (in general) ignorant of the benefits of a stable society. There are benefits to constant change, but there are also costs associated with it. When Alvin Toffler wrote his book Future Shock, I found it interesting, & predictive of some of the costs that America would pay for its culture of rapid change. One of which is confusion. Amish society gains many benefits from their slow pace of change. The question is whether America can continue to afford the costs of consumerism driven by planned obsolescence. When Japanese car manufacturers sold cars to Americans that had longer lifespans, American manufacturers were forced to improve the lifespans of their cars. Would there be a market to the man in street during the coming hard times for dependable good quality goods??
OBSOLESCENCE RISKS. Companies in America must seriously study the technology/software that they invest in. It puts a lot of stress upon American companies to predict the future so that they can remain competitive & make investments that pay off. Buying proprietary software & then have the creating company go out of business could ruin the purchasing company, which will now be forced to buy more replacement software. Hardware needs to be replaced before it wears out. Past purchases of VCRs, landline telephones, film cameras, printing presses, and typewriters has placed companies & individuals in the position of discarding outdated equipment that is functional but unusable. The military has a big problem with maintaining production & servicing of their equipment because they generally want their equipment (like planes) to last several years, while industry is constantly changing, esp. computerized equipment. Creating programs to train pilots to operate planes is disrupted if types of planes are rapidly changed. For instance, let’s say your firm uses AutoCAD 2010, but you must now retrain every year and repurchase every year the new versions of AutoCAD to professionally function in your field. This not only places a large financial burden on you, but also takes substantial time to learn the new software. The 2014 AutoCAD will not work with the 2012 AutoCAD. It was designed that way.
FAR INTO THE FUTURE. It appears that the Great plans of the PTSNB expect a future time when the World is stabilized under their rigid control and technology will be standardized so that wild constant changes are stopped. If one thinks about it…luxury cars sold to the elite are sold with the concept that years later they will increase in value. Yes, well-designed, good quality, “luxury” products are made year after year for the elite—and they are designed to last! None of this planned obsolescence that accompanies what the rest of us are allowed to buy.
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