This documentary was on my list for a long time, but well, my list of documentaries I still want to see is endless anyway. The Light Bulb Conspiracy is a documentary of 52 minutes (short) about planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence, what? Planned obsolescence of products, it exists. Even though it sounds ridiculous, it really exists.
Planned obsolescence (I have said this word six times already, jeez) means that when companies make products, they make it so that the product breaks right after the warranty. And so, you have to buy a new product. It is mostly done in electrical products. There are two types of planned obsolescence. The first type is the most obvious. The product is assembled so that it breaks at a certain point (an example is a printer that has a hidden extra chip, after a certain number of prints, the machine shuts itself down). I think this is actually forbidden, but well, there are more things that are forbidden but ignored. The second type of planned obsolescence has to do with fashion. Maybe this sounds familiar to you. You buy the newest Iphone and it costs you a fortune. Yet, a year later they launch a new seemingly better model again. Frustrating, but you decide to keep the ‘old’ phone. Yet, everyone else has the new phone and so it makes you feel less cool (this is what marketing does, it makes you feel like you’re dumb, less cool, ugly, anything to make you buy a new product). And besides that, the software in that old phone doesn’t even work anymore at a certain point. You can’t update it (which is kind of alike the first type of planned obsolescence I described above). Trust me, I experience this with my Iphone 4. Eventually it is considered like a dinosaur. All this creates tonnes of waste, gross!
What to Do About Planned Obsolescence
We can all complain, yes, but what can be practically do about this problem?
- Try to use any product you have as long as you can. Check, still an Iphone 4 over here.
- Repairing is better than buying a new product. So when something breaks, try to get it repaired. Check, I’ve had to replace the screen a number of times already.
- Recycle. Recycling in general is not the solution of the entire problem. But it can be a part of it, when things do break to the point you can’t use them anymore. Check out Stichting Aap to recycle you old phone and do something good meanwhile.
- Buy only secondhand or refurbished. Most of the time you get a two-year warranty on those items too.
- Save up for something sustainable. If you really don’t want secondhand or refurbished, choose sustainable. Check out Fairphone if you’re looking for a sustainable phone to last forever.
- Sign this petition to force Apple to keep supporting older software. Check.
The Light Bulb Conspiracy
I wrote a little summary of The Light Bulb Conspiracy, which explains the concept of planned obsolescence: Planned obsolescence was founded already in the 1920’s. It was founded by a cartel named Phoebus. Phoebus existed of a group of companies who sold the most light bulbs around the globe (Philips was part of in The Netherlands). The first light bulb invented by Thomas Edison, had a lifespan of 1500 hours. This was later improved to 2500 hours, but the cartel wasn’t happy with this. The cartel then set up a plan to make sure that all light bulbs only had a lifespan of 1000 hours. Producers were constantly checked and fined if the lights had a longer lifespan. During the Great Depression Bernard London even had the idea to make planned obsolescence a law, so that consumers would keep buying and the economy would grow again. In 1950 there came a new kind of planned obsolescence. Consumers had to be seduced to buy the new product each time, it became a matter of fashion. Brooks Stevens was one of the first to do this with his products and he spread the idea. This is still done today, by companies like Apple (who were even sewed in 2003 because of this). The waste is mostly shipped to third world countries under the name of ‘secondhand goods’. The consequences are terrible. Waste is dumped everywhere and it creates dead zones. Overconsumption is one of the biggest challenges of our time.