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Invention of Planned Obsolescence

Invention of Planned Obsolescence

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Excluding style obsolescence or any type of advertising, when was the first form of planned obsolescence concerning shortening the life of a product by making it break sooner or forcing a consumer to purchase a replacement sooner due to the design of the product invented and by who?

If you prefer your Bible straight-up and neat, the that would be Tubal Cain, first artificer in metals (Genesis 4:22); if you prefer it with a grain of salt then take your pick from Imhotep (c. 2250 B.C.), Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (born c. 80-70 BC) or numerous others.

Merriam-Webster Online gives the definition of Engineering as:

1: the activities or function of an engineer
a :
the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people
b : the design and manufacture of complex products

3: calculated manipulation or direction (as of behavior) - compare genetic engineering

Nothing so unites the disciples of Engineering and Economics as the recognition that the most fundamental principle of design is the trade-off between price, quality, and lifetime of the product, and survival of the manufacturer. Every design decision made by an engineer affects the balance between these four attributes, and the most skilled engineers design products that are affordable, useable, durable, and yet wear out fast enough to perpetuate demand for the product.

Any product that wears out, (becomes obsolescent) much faster than consumers regard as reasonable for the price paid, will soon be ousted from the market by a competitive product with longer lifetime. Any product that lasts much longer will also be ousted as the manufacturer satiates the market and goes out of business.

No-one invented these basic facts, they are simple and obvious consequences of the interaction between market economics and engineering. Modern tools and modelling techniques allow the design trade-offs to be made faster, more reliably, and with greater precision, but that again is a direct consequence of the technological advances that have fueled the modern innovation of products. At the most fundamental level they are a consequence of the Laws of Thermodynamics, colloquially stated as:

  1. Energy is Conserved;
  2. Entropy cannot decrease;
  3. No heat sinks at Absolute Zero.

Or in the Gambler's version:

  1. You cannot win;
  2. You cannot tie;
  3. You must play the game.

Thomas Midgley, The Most Harmful Inventor in History

There are countless inventions that have improved people’s lives and advanced civilisation, but there are also some that were initially hailed as great advances and then turned out to have a dark side. DDT, for example, is a miraculous insecticide that was found to cause serious environmental problems, or plastic packaging, which is polluting our planet from the depths of the oceans to the highest mountain peaks. However, it is difficult to surpass the magnitude of the damage caused (to both human and planetary health) by two particular inventions: leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Curiously, both were created by the same man, a bespectacled chemical engineer from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania named Thomas Midgley Jr.

The gasoline of the early 20th century was of poor quality and caused engine knocking , which reduced both power and fuel efficiency and led to breakdowns. So in 1916, Charles Kettering—the inventor of the electric starter—asked one of his employees, 27-year-old Thomas Midgley (18 May 1889 – 2 November 1944) to find a petrol additive that would make car engines run more smoothly. Midgley set to work testing hundreds of different substances and eventually came up with ethanol (the same ethyl alcohol found in wines and spirits). In February 1920, Midgley filed a patent application for a mixture of alcohol and gasoline as an anti-knock fuel.

Midgley and Kettering would enthusiastically promote ethanol as the “fuel of the future,” but the production of ethanol itself could not be patented and therefore could never generate much profit. What’s more, farmers could produce ethanol easily from grain, and with Prohibition now the law in the US, more and more people were distilling their own alcohol at home. And, of course, since ethanol was also a fuel it was hated by the oil companies, with whom the fledgling automakers were developing a beneficial relationship they were loath to jeopardise.

Planned Obsolescence

iMac G3. Image via Cult of Mac.

If you’re reading this article on your phone or computer (or even if you’re a psycho and printed it out), you’re familiar to some degree with planned obsolescence. Notice how your devices don’t hold a charge like they used to? Or how your printer cartridges seem to run out of ink before they ought to? That’s planned obsolescence, baby.

Planned or built-in obsolescence is the controversial practice of designing consumer goods with a certain lifespan, typically to promote sales and keep consumers from holding onto a product indefinitely. Obsolescence has many facets, some of which are hard to control, sometimes a product is considered obsolete because it has broken down and no longer operates, but other times, consumers might consider a product obsolete because it’s no longer fashionable. In other cases, manufacturers like Apple, make a product that is nearly impossible to repair, or make repairs so inconvenient and expensive that you’re forced to upgrade to a newer model, even if your previous device had plenty of life.

Planned Obsolescence

Tiffany M. Rodgers Philosophy 4. 26. 2012 Doomed Design Although the revolutionary system of planned obsolescence is meant to stimulate demand and sales, its wasteful modern-day results damage the intellectual progress of the society by misleading consumers, manipulating the population’s view of real modern advancements and the reality of the production process, allowing industrial designers to become progressively unproductive and uneconomical.

Planned obsolescence, present in industrial design, is a policy of deliberately planning and manufacturing a product with a limited useful life so that after a certain period of time or wear it becomes obsolete or nonfunctional.

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Planned obsolescence is applied globally in every area of design and production. It is a tool used by companies to meet objectives and increase profit. Deriving from an economy depressed America, planned obsolescence has undoubtedly become the traditional norm of society.

Over the course of the twentieth century planned obsolescence has become an essential factor of production. Industrial design as a profession began in America during the 1930s which became possible as a result of applied styling and planned obsolescence. Associated originally with advertising and the development of consumer culture in America, the movement’s purpose was directed towards America buying its own way out of a deepening depression.

Automotive company General Motors led the way by initiating annual design styles that included slight technical updates.

As the trend spread to all means of production in the 1950s the ever present mode of built-in obsolescence became clearly known. Perhaps firstly recognized by its current label, a 1955 Business Weekly edition referenced to the movement as a permanent edition to America’s culture “planned obsolescence is here to stay in the auto industry and it is moving into more and more fields”(Harmer). Fashion, music, decor, architecture, educational tools and techniques, film, emerging technologies, and even food became products of planned obsolescence. The concept of seasonal trends is solely a result of this transition. As the presence of planned obsolescence became overtly obvious along with psychological and cultural trends of the 1970s, awareness sprouted the beginnings of negative overviews regarding the phenomenon.

Environmental concerns were front running issues. Planned obsolescence persisted throughout the 1980s and 1990s as popularized and widely available technological advances continued down a fast paced route. However the OPEC oil crisis kept the environmental movement influential. Global-minded cognizance led to the examination of industrial design and production where social and environmental irresponsibility were found and scrutinized.

Victor Papanek wrote the book ‘Design for the Real World’ in 1985, the same year of the oil crisis, in which he accusing industries of “creating whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink, designers have become a dangerous breed” (Harmer). As a designer himself he criticized the discipline as a whole “When we design and plan things to be discarded we exercise insufficient care in design, in considering safety factors, or thinking about worker/user alienation from ephemeral trivia.

(Harmer) The majority of modern day consumers have not experience a market unaffected by planned obsolescence. However, as a result of a recessive economy purchasers have become more educated, aware, and selective. The desire for durable, lasting, safe and healthy products has risen within a country torn by financial, environmental, and wartime impasse. This knowledgeable consciousness has formed new trends within production. Revolutions that still involve planned obsolescence but whose purposes are geared, once again, towards accelerating the economy with the consumers’ actual needs in mind.

Although this seems to be an improvement, in actuality it is simply another form of planned obsolescence.

There are several forms of this revolutionary idea of planned obsolescence technical or functional obsolescence, proprietary obsolescence, systematic obsolescence, and style obsolescence (Slade). A product may cease to function technically after a designated amount of uses or after a certain time frame. A product’s proprietor could choose to discontinue or create a newer version of some good or product.

Profitable software, entertainment, educational programs and systems are altered or updated systematically along with the harboring hardware. Also, daily use systems such as batteries, light bulbs, water filers, heating or cooling systems eventually and systematically need replenishment, repair or replacement modernly and “conveniently” these systems now notify the user as directed or suggested. Finally styles, colors, patterns, and shapes are made popularly fashionable allowing producers to constantly create new aesthetically pleasing products (Slade).

Wholly, the purpose of obsolescence is to promote and urge buyers to repurchase.

Firms who initialize this strategy calculate additional costs of research and development and opportunity cost profitability offset the existing product line cannibalization expense. These types of Obsolescence are used constantly and consciously by all producers. Latest versions of personal computers, notebooks, and mobile cellular devices are produced at an alarmingly frequent rate. However, most of these updates are simple alterations rather than practical genuine new technological advancements prime current example and perhaps most popularly well-known are Apple Inc. ‘s iPhones.

Soon to be the largest company in the world, Apple Inc. ‘s Macintosh collection is undisputedly successful. It is widely known that through a hacking process known as ‘jail-breaking’, the 3rd generation of iPhone can allow users to video chat live and tether mobile 3G internet by replacing Apple’s restricting software with personalize-able programs. Other features like an advanced high quality screen and flash photography are built-in updates which, if manufactured, could have been available at the time of the 3GS release.

However none of the aspects or features were endorsed or made available until the release of the iPhone 4. an entirely new line and style sold for a significantly higher price. A New York Times article addressing the latest planned obsolescent technological trends “In today’s topsy-turvy world of personal computers, obsolescence is not only planned, it is extolled by marketers as the principal virtue of machines designed to save labor and entertain. And until recently there has been hardly a peep from consumers, who dutifully line up to buy each new generation of faster, more powerful machines, eager to embrace the promise of simpler, happier and more productive lives” (Markoff).

Because it has helped support and build the economy during one of America’s most devastating hardships and defining moments (the Great Depression), planned obsolescence and materialism has consequentially and seamlessly factored its way into the American culture.

Designers have become innovatively lackadaisical. Rather than new, practical, and useful products, “ultimately, what is being sold is style and image, which is fleeting. Everyone wants to project the right image and that image needs constant updating” (Irwin).

On a sociological level this trend negatively affects the intellectual and productive progress. Industrial designers no longer depend on real, insightful, and swift invention.

Newly designed and aesthetically appealing forms of existing technology are made with monetary profit in mind. Therefore, the production process is made to produce quickly and cheaply, massively tolling the environment. Victor Papanek advises his fellow designers”become an innovative, highly creative, cross disciplinary tool responsive to the true needs of men.

It must be more research oriented, and we must stop defiling the earth itself with poorly designed objects and structures”(Harmer). Although Planned obsolescence began as an economy stimulator, the effects will dampen future endeavors.

Clearly resources are wasted through the viciously rapid cycle of production to obsolescence. Also, sound and economically progressive forms of manufacturing are not being created or assembled due to a culture driven by fast paced trendiness. Planned Obsolescent driven trends result in spending which diminishes the economy’s saving power.

The power of saving and investment absolutely improves economic status. The largest waste is clearly natural resources which are used to manufacture products that are made and sold cheaply, then quickly become trash. A society must successfully advance technologically as compared to the rest of the world in order to progress globally.

Because planned obsolescence blocks the ability to think, design, and produce innovatively on an intellectual, practical, progressive scale, if a society desires long-term success a transition must be made away from this old revolutionary idea.

The astounding impact of neglected design, resulting in trash, chemical landfill mountains and poorly made machine which pollute the air, land, and water, damages every aspect of the world in which we live. According to the creator of the film ‘Story of Stuff’ and international sustainability expert Annie Leonard’ “the amount of products that remain in use six months after purchase is a pitiful one per cent” (Kettles). Planned Obsolescence has certainly led to a disregard for environmental issues surrounding the human production process and the commodities which are produced. Power tools are a good example,’ explains John Thackara.

“‘The average consumer power tool is used for 10 minutes in its entire life – but it takes hundreds of times its own weight to manufacture such an object” (Kettles). Methods and mind-sets can be initiated to prevent such wastefulness. Strategies to improve recycling methods, trash disposal, and economical production must be taken in order to advance as a society. It is impractical to cease production or ban certain products because, in-fact, no manufactured or transported good is truly ‘green’.

Michael Braungart addresses this by saying, “The notion of sustainability is boring and bland it’s about good design, and design is not good when it’s toxic or it stinks.

There’s no such thing as green design it’s either good or bad” (Kettles). Everything begins with design. Therefore, it is this initial step which critically needs adjustment requiring intelligent and mind-full research and development. Planned Obsolesce has revolutionized American culture and influences the entire world. Built-in product obsolescence initially led to a stimulated economy, but its long-term results negatively affect the environment and progressive-thinking.

Planned Obsolescence begins with design therefore, “by applying so-called ‘design thinking’ -which, unlike critical thinking, provides a process for ‘practical, creative resolution of problems or issues’ – designers can help address strategic social and economic challenges, and not just for the developed world of monied consumers” (Kettles). Resourcefulness, recycling, and global awareness must become priorities within the consumer population. The economy will profit while organic resources and financial expenses are saved.

Planned obsolescence has become, in itself, obsolete.

A. “ORGANIZED WASTE – THE HISTORY OF PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE FROM THE 1930’s TO THE PRESENT DAY. ” Waste: The Social Context (2005): pg. 257-60 Kettles, Nick and Irwin Terry. “Designing for Destruction. ” Ecologist 38.

6 (2008): 47-51. Slade, Giles. “Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. ” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (2006): 336.

Markoff, Kohn. “Ideas &amp Trends Is Planned Obsolescence Obsolete? ” New York Times (2010)



When empire (in this case globalism) expands and begins to subsume all forms of media, entertainment and education, a carefully managed narrative echo-chamber is the result, soon having an unsuspecting public mistaking repetition for reality. There’s no question the world has some serious problems, and as many a dedicated reality miner can tell you, those parading themselves as our saviors to those problems, quite often, are anything but.

This tightly controlled circular madness is designed to prevent (and even punish or censor) thoughts and ideas that are heretical to empire’s agenda. This allows for empire to constantly reinforce specific lines of thought that a more critical analysis would almost immediately find to be absurd. You are not supposed to see beyond the problems THEY have presented to you, nor are you supposed to see beyond the solutions THEY are pushing as the answer to those problems.


In my pursuit of a more accurate reality model, an interesting phenomenon generally prevails: the answer is almost always behind door number three, and door number three is simultaneously the most forbidden to enter and difficult to find. The “third option” is almost always where it’s at, and is also the antithesis to the ‘Either/Or’ mental trap constantly being laid for us. A perfect example of this in my view, is the either/or mental trap surrounding 9/11: it’s EITHER directed energy weapons OR thermite. This author was fortunate enough to be pointed to door number three in that regard, provided in great detail by Dimitri Khalezov, and ironically (or not), that material is literally called The Third Truth . You can learn more about that in a previous post HERE , and I encourage reality miners to consider the level of reality revisionism surrounding that event, in the way Dimitri especially points to it, which includes changing the definition of ‘ground zero’ in EVERY dictionary after that event took place—they were even back-dated. Rarely does reality revisionism get more obvious than that.

Would they really do that? They have, and they are. Continually. This too was discussed during the 2016 FreemanTV interview linked to at the top. As a more recent example, because i’m convinced the public is being lied to about true global population numbers (almost all of which are now provided by the UN), my recent attempts to acquire used high school geography books from the 1990’s or earlier, where frustrating to say the least. The task proved impossible. They’ve all been removed from circulation, and this is done because they are anchors to a pre-revised version of reality.


While we’ve all been living in a seemingly endless (and heretofore unnoticed) episode of “social engineering gone wild,” with psychology becoming increasingly mired in and corrupted by agenda, the public was eventually and repeatedly bombarded with the bizarre notion that people can’t cope well with any more than two choices at a time—they just get too confused.

Numerous psychology papers, carefully and dutifully repackaged and marketed to the public by the media, were filled with phrases like, “having too many choices can cause contradictory behavior or results,” or “too many choices leads to an increase in regrets,” or “anxiety” or “option confusion“. This is exactly the kind of rhetoric (to put it mildly) a society should expect from a corrupt officialdom working overtime to carefully direct and manage thought processes, keeping the public trapped in things like left/right and either/or thought loops. People won’t make choices they don’t know they have, which is the entire point of the false (two) choice paradigm. This of course is also the reason the establishment and their lapdog media will mock, slander, and refuse to give air time to, third party candidates in Presidential elections. Door number three is verboten.

It never ceases to amaze me how these social psychology studies virtually always support the concurrent globalist agenda or narrative, making ludicrous claims like, “ eating healthy is a mental disorder ,” or “ refusing to wear a mask might be a sign of a serious personality disorder . In particular, in the years leading up to the overt push towards Communism, it isn’t all that surprising to find these ‘option confusion’ articles began to stray into the supermarket space–too many choices at the store isn’t a good thing. Funny thing that, considering it was precisely that scenario that caused well-known Soviet officials to abandon Communism—when they saw how many choices there were in an American grocery store. Maybe the Handmaiden’s Tale and the Hunger Games aren’t the best foundations for a “Great Reset” after all:

Soviet Leader Abandoned Communism After Walking Into a US Grocery Store:

In 1989, then-Communist Party of the Soviet Union member Boris Yeltsin traveled to the United States to visit the Johnson Space Center in Texas, according to the Houston Chronicle.

While in Houston for the visit, he also stopped by a Randalls grocery store, where he “roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement,” according to an account of the visit written by then-Chronicle reporter Stefanie Asin.

He further told his fellow comrades who followed him to America for the visit that if the lines of starving men, women and children in Russia were to see the conditions of America’s supermarkets, “there would be a revolution.”

In photos of the visit reportedly taken by the Chronicle, Yeltsin could be seen “marveling at the produce section, the fresh fish market, and the checkout counter. He looked especially excited about frozen pudding pops.”

“Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” he himself reportedly said, referring to the then-president of the Soviet Union.

“‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence. On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the ‘pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments.’”

Two years later, he reportedly left the Communist Party and “began making reforms to turn the economic tide in Russia,” according to the Chronicle.’


Whenever I write about these topics, the same Voltaire quote always comes floating back to me, “they who can make you believe in absurdities, can make you commit atrocities,” and I think the following example perfectly sums that up. There are few (if any) veteran reality miners out there who haven’t seen Bill Gates, on television, discussing both the use of vaccines to lower the population and the “death panels”. Regarding the latter, in typical fashion, Gates was mis-representing a problem here, for the sole purpose of mis-representing the solution, in this case, the need to kill off Granny because it was the only way to prevent firing teachers due to some kind of nebulous financial crisis he deceptively danced around at the same time. Gates also made sure to emotionally tug on our heart strings by coloring the issue with an almost dire sense of urgency, which further primed listeners to take his ‘death panel’ suggestion more seriously, rather than look for other, less genocidal solutions. For eugenists masquerading as philanthropists, the false choice paradigm being presented to the public over issues like this is EITHER to destroy the middle class, OR kill off the wisest and perhaps most reality literate segment of our population.

Those would be door number one and door number two. NO OTHER OPTIONS are supposed to become part of that conversation, which is why no other options were introduced during the discussion. In other words, to be clear, the solutions they present, is the course THEY have already chosen for the human race, and are now trying to sell it to the rest of us as the only viable answer. But what about door number three? Surely there’s a better solution.

It’s both dangerous and naive, in this author’s opinion, to believe that at no point did Gates, his backers, scientists, sycophants or think tanks know—or even consider—that a much better way to get money for more teachers would be to end the $500 BILLION DOLLAR PER YEAR TRADE DEFECIT WITH CHINA, or stopping the $60 BILLION DOLLAR Medicare Fraud Industry, or stopping the $100 BILLION DOLLAR PER YEAR Medicaid Fraud Industry. That the face of philanthropy everywhere went straight to senocide/gerocide (genocide of the elderly) to fix the problem should, at the very least, have the public wondering who, really, in our society, has a genuine problem with “option confusion”.

I feel compelled to remind readers that this author has been writing and speaking for years about globalist reality revisionism’s need to get rid of the elderly, simply because their very existence and knowledge base—acquired from decades of having seen, experienced and lived through a pre-revised version of reality—makes them anchors to, and reminders of, a previous version of reality that empire wants buried and forgotten. A successful reality revision requires the elimination of all competing realities, even if that means people.

Readers can certainly imagine my disdain then, for globalist Mayors like Andrew Cuomo (New York), whom I watched in disgust as they actually carried out senocide/gerocide in their states by shoving covid infected people into nursing homes (killing thousands of elderly), instead of sending them to the two large naval ships ‘Comfort’ and ‘Mercy’ President Trump provided. Moreover, in what seems standard globalist protocol in rewarding loyalists, Fauci went on television and praised Cuomo for his efforts claiming ‘he did it right’, which was followed up by Cuomo being further rewarded with an Emmy for his “COVID-19 pandemic ‘leadership” and a five million dollar book deal “to write on Covid-19, leadership.” And let’s not forget, Biden’s Assistant HHS Secretary Pick Moved Mother Out of Nursing Home After Ordering Them to Accept COVID Patients . Never has it been more obvious that the only interest globalists have in ‘mercy and comfort’, is in applying it to themselves and their own families.

Listeners familiar with the 2016 FreemanTV episode, in which vestatio was also discussed, may have made an interesting connection in terms of city leaders proving their loyalty to nefarious entities and causes, by destroying their own cities and citizens. We’ve seen darker and more prevalent shades of this in states and cities with leadership loyal to globalism, like California, Portland and Chicago, but this is the first time I’ve seen one of them be so richly and publicly rewarded for that loyalty.

Greater sums of money could be reaped, companies figured, by making bulbs disposable

The business model changed, however, as the light bulb customer base grew more mass-market. Greater sums of money could be reaped, companies figured, by making bulbs disposable and putting replacement costs onto customers. Thus was born the infamous “Phoebus cartel” in the 1920s, wherein representatives from top light bulb manufacturers worldwide, such as Germany’s Osram, the United Kingdom’s Associated Electrical Industries, and General Electric (GE) in the United States (via a British subsidiary), colluded to artificially reduce bulbs’ lifetimes to 1,000 hours. The details of the scam emerged decades later in governmental and journalistic investigations.

“This cartel is the most obvious example” of planned obsolescence’s origins “because those papers have been found,” says Giles Slade, author of the book Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America, a history of the strategy and its consequences.

The practice cropped up in all sorts of other industries, too. For instance, competition between General Motors and Ford in the fledging 1920s auto market led the former to introduce the now-familiar model year changes in its vehicles. GM had pioneered a way to entice customers to splurge on the latest, greatest car, to satisfy themselves and impress those in their social circles. “It was a model for all industry,” says Slade.

Although the term “planned obsolescence” didn’t enter common usage until the 1950s, the strategy had by then permeated consumerist societies.

Alive and well

In various forms, from subtle to unsubtle, planned obsolescence still very much exists nowadays. From so-called contrived durability, where brittle parts give out, to having repairs cost more than replacement products, to aesthetic upgrades that frame older product versions as less stylish – goods makers have no shortage of ruses to keep opening customers’ wallets.

Smartphones need replacing every couple of years, as battery life fades and software updates change (Credit: iStock)

For a fully modern example, consider smartphones. These handsets often get discarded after a mere couple years’ use. Screens or buttons break, batteries die, or their operating systems, apps, and so on can suddenly no longer be upgraded. Yet a solution is always near at hand: brand new handset models, pumped out every year or so, and touted as “the best ever”.

As another example of seemingly blatant planned obsolescence, Slade mentions printer cartridges. Microchips, light sensors or batteries can disable a cartridge well before all its ink is actually used up, forcing owners to go buy entirely new, not-at-all-cheap units. “There’s no real reason for that,” Slade says. “I don’t know why you can’t just go get a bottle of cyan or black [ink] and, you know, squirt it into a reservoir.”

Taken this way, planned obsolescence looks wasteful. According to Cartridge World, a company that recycles printer cartridges and offers cheaper replacements, in North America alone, 350 million (not even empty) cartridges end up in landfills annually. Beyond waste, all that extra manufacturing can degrade the environment too.

A nuanced view

Though some of these examples of planned obsolescence are egregious, it’s overly simplistic to condemn the practice as wrong. On a macroeconomic scale, the rapid turnover of goods powers growth and creates reams of jobs – just think of the money people earn by manufacturing and selling, for instance, millions of smartphone cases. Furthermore, the continuous introduction of new widgets to earn (or re-earn) new and old customers’ dough alike will tend to promote innovation and improve the quality of products.

As a result of this vicious, yet virtuous cycle, industry has made countless goods cheap and thus available to nearly anyone in wealthy Western countries, the Far East, and increasingly so in the developed world. Many of us indulge in creature comforts unimaginable a century ago.

Cars now have a longer lifespan than they did decades ago (Credit: iStock)

“There’s no doubt about it,” says Slade, “more people have had a better quality of life as a result of our consumer model than at any other time in history. Unfortunately, it’s also responsible for global warming and toxic waste.”

Written by Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers is editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

Unplanned Obsolescence

“I BELIEVE THAT I HAVE solved the problem of cheap as well as simple automobile construction. … The general public is interested only in the knowledge that a serviceable machine can be constructed at a price within the reach of many.” With these words Henry Ford boasted to reporters about his new design triumph. It was January 4, 1906, and the car in question was not the legendary Model T but its predecessor, the Model N.

The N was a sensation from its introduction at the automo—I bile shows in 1906. Earlier low-priced cars had been underpowered motorized horse buggies equipped with one-cylinder engines under the seat or in back, such as the 1901-6 curveddash Oldsmobile. Multicylinder cars with frontmounted engines could cost as much as ten times the annual income of a middle-class family. From the outset of his automotive career a decade before, Ford had been committed to developing a light car powerful for its weight. But despite mechanical excellence and a low price, the Model N had a grave shortcoming as a family car: It was a two-passenger runabout with a boattail rear deck ill suited to the addition of a tonneau to accommodate two more passengers. It was a reliable, affordable car for a country doctor making his rounds, but it was not the “farmer’s car” that Henry Ford envisioned building for a nation of farm families.

So even while he was deluged with orders for the N, Ford planned to replace it with an even better, more versatile “car for the great multitude,” the Model T. Then, once he had that legendary car, he remained intransigently committed to it—long after it started faltering in sales. On the eve of instituting its mass production at his Highland Park plant, in a January 27, 1913, interview with the Detroit Free Press , Ford called the T “the acme of motor car perfection.” He stubbornly clung to that belief until the late 1920s.

Ford’s inspiration for both the N and the T came after he learned about the possibilities of vanadium steel. The cornerstone of both the N’s and the T’s designs became the extensive use of vanadium steel in three tensile strengths, as necessitated by various components. It resisted shock and fatigue far better than the nickel steel it replaced and was easier to machine. Ford spokesmen claimed that “only vanadium steel was able to withstand the strain imposed by bad American roads.” And while increasing strength, it reduced weight.

THE MODEL T WAS FIRST made available to Ford dealers on October 1, 1908, and it was an immediate hit. No other car of its day offered so many advanced features. Among these were a novel three-point suspension of the engine, improved arc springs, an enclosed power plant and transmission, and a detachable cylinder head. New methods of casting parts, especially block casting of the engine, kept the price of the T below $1,000, well within the reach of middle-class purchasers. Ford’s advertising boast was essentially correct: “No car under $2,000 offers more, and no car over $2,000 offers more except in trimmings.” Yet the T already was no longer state-of-the-art by the time it went into mass production in 1913-14, and many of the changes that were made over time in the supposedly changeless car were not improvements.

Compared with its predecessor, the sportylooking Model N, the T appeared ungainly. The 100-inch-wheelbase automobile had a 56-inch front and a 60-inch rear tread (the distance between tires) and stood about seven feet tall with its top up. Its chassis was built high to clear the inevitable ruts and stumps of the rural roads of the day.

Not all T’s looked alike. Unlike the N, which came only as a runabout, the T was the “Universal Car,” by which Ford meant that a number of body types could be fitted to its chassis. Initially it was offered in a two-passenger runabout, a five-passenger touring car, a two-passenger closed coupe, and a seven-passenger semiclosed town car and landaulet, with prices ranging from $825 to $1,000. From 1910 through 1912 a Torpedo Roadster was available with slightly lower lines, achieved by changing the gas tank from a flat one under the driver’s seat to a circular one behind it. In 1915 a sedan was introduced, with two central doors that gave easy access to both the front and rear seats, and from 1915 through 1918 a two-passenger convertible coupelet was offered. In 1923 four-passenger two-door and four-door sedans—called Tudor and Fordor by Ford—replaced the central-doored sedan. And from 1910 on, customers whose needs were not met by the available production bodies could buy a bare Model T chassis, or after 1917 a Model TT truck chassis, and add a custom body of their own. This adaptability was a major source of the T’s universal appeal.

Nor did all T’s perform alike. In horsepower-to-weight ratio, the original T was no better than the N, and the T’s performance got worse into the 1920s. The N engine generated 15 brake horsepower (bhp) to drive an 800-pound two-passenger runabout the initial T engine put out 22 bhp for a 1,200-pound, five-passenger touring car. The T’s power-to-weight ratio deteriorated over time as the engine was modified and the weight of the car increased. The chassis alone grew from 900 pounds in 1909 to 1,272 pounds by the time the T was withdrawn from the market in 1927. This was mostly due to the use of heavier steels. And the initial T’s compression ratio, high for its day, at about 4.5 to 1, was decreased in 1917 to 3.98 to 1, bringing the horsepower down to 20 bhp because of a lowering of gasoline quality.

Furthermore, after mid-April 1909 the centrifugal water pump and fan of the original T were abandoned for far less efficient “thermosyphon” cooling. This led to a shorter engine block and crankshaft and a lower cylinder head. Les Henry, a Model T authority, points out that Ford himself said the initial Model T lasted only into 1909 because so many later changes were deleterious, the 1910 Torpedo Roadster “had undoubtedly the best performance and greatest speed of all Model T Fords ever produced.”

In contrast with the overall excellence and several advanced features of the Model T design, the car’s electrical system, planetary transmission, and braking were obsolete or soon to be obsolete even at its introduction. Yet Ford stuck with them while instituting the mass-production techniques at his Highland Park plant in 1913 and 1914 that made fundamental design changes extremely difficult. Thus these antiquated features were frozen into the T’s design for the life of the model’s nineteen-year production run.

LIKE MANY OTHER AMERICAN CARS IN 1908, THE Model T depended on a magneto ignition, and like all cars of the time, it had to be hand-cranked to start. Its standard lighting equipment was three oil lamps—one at the tail and two on the sides. Headlights powered by Prestolite tanks on the running boards were an option before 1910, as were the windshield, horn, and folding top. None of this was unusual on cars of the century’s first decade.

On the other hand, Charles Kettering’s total electrical system for starting, ignition, and lighting was introduced in the 1912 Cadillac, and by 1916 it was a feature on almost all American cars, the Model T being the notable exception. By 1915 electric headlamps were standard on the T, but because of the variable voltage generated by the magneto, they were dim at low speeds and so bright they burned out at high speeds. An electric horn powered by the magneto became standard in 1917, but electric self-starting did not become available even as an option until 1919 and was not standard on all Model T’s until 1926.

Model T’s were initially equipped with two pedals and two hand levers on the driver’s left side to operate the transmission and the brakes. (The throttle was operated with a small lever on the steering column.) The left-hand pedal was the clutch it put the car into low speed when depressed, into neutral when halfway depressed, and into high when released. The other pedal operated a contractingband brake on the drive shaft. One lever put the car into reverse the other lever operated internal expanding emergency drum brakes on the rear wheels. The reverse lever was abandoned for a third pedal, between the clutch and the brake, after the first 800 units.

After 1910, as speeds over 20 miles per hour became common, most American cars switched to a pedal to operate mechanical brakes on the rear wheels and a lever to operate a contracting-band brake on the drive shaft, reversing the Model T’s arrangement. Then in 1918 Malcolm Loughead (who later changed his name to Lockheed and became famous in aviation) introduced four-wheel hydraulic brakes, a revolutionary improvement first used on the 1920 Duesenberg. Ford saw no need for them on the T.

BEFORE THE INTRODUCTION OF SYNCHROMESH IN the 1929 Cadillac, shifting without clashing gears on a sliding-gear transmission required learning the fine art of double declutching, which was quite difficult for the average driver. In contrast, the T’s planetary transmission simply required the driver to depress and release the clutch pedal. But the planetary was more complex and expensive to build than the sliding gear, and it was limited to two gears at the time, which meant that the engine had to be geared down so that moderate grades could be negotiated on the higher gear. Consequently, as Philip G. Gott reports in his study of the automotive transmission, “in 1909, 24 automobile models of the 292 made that year used a planetary gearing system. By 1913, Ford stood alone.”

Still another design anomaly was that until 1925 T’s were equipped with slightly different-size front and rear wheels and tires: 30” x 3½” on the front and 30” x 33½” on the rear. This served no purpose except to make motorists carry two different sets of spares, in a day when tires had to be changed quite often. In the 1925 model year 30” x 33½” tires became standard equipment all around (they had been available as an option since 1919). In the American automobile industry as a whole, Model T-style clincher rims were quickly displaced after 1919 by straight-side rims the 1927 Model T was the last new car to be equipped with clincher rims.

On the other hand, Ford was the first large auto manufacturer to place an order for the low-pressure “balloon” tires developed by Firestone in 1922. Balloon tires had thinner walls than earlier ones, a lower, fatter profile, and lower pressure, and they made possible more sensitive steering. Late in the 1925 model year, balloon tires on demountable-rim wooden wheels were offered as an option for the T, and by early 1926 they were standard on all T body types. Unaccountably, however, especially given Ford’s obsessions with simplicity in design and reducing production costs, the functionally superior and much cheaper stamped-out steel disc wheels developed by the Budd Manufacturing Company as early as 1913 were never adopted.

Ford was devoted to vanadium steel as the material for his chassis, yet the bodies of the early T’s were made of wood paneling over wood framing, with steel used only for the flat-topped fenders. This weakness was corrected by 1911, when sheet-steel panels over a wood frame became standard for T bodies. A few aluminum-paneled T’s were also produced over the years, and in 1924 the doors on the closed cars came to be fabricated entirely of steel. But even before the Model T went into mass production, the all-steel open car body had been developed by the Budd Manufacturing Company and had made an appearance in the 1912 Oakland and Hupmobile.

Les Henry gives the best brief account of “the seeming paradox of change in the changeless Model T.” He observes that “no generalization concerning the Model T is ever safe too many minute changes were constantly being worked upon it for the purposes of speeding production, cutting costs, or—to a very limited degree—customer appeal. … Actually, Model T cars [even] during a given production year did vary in many points and were not so much alike as ‘peas in a pod’ as legend would have us believe.” Some of the variation resulted simply from Ford’s dependence until the 1920s on outside suppliers for certain parts. Model T’s were still further individualized by their owners, as businesses producing some 5,000 accessories to upgrade the T mushroomed with the car’s popularity.

Although the T’s fenders were, as legend states, always finished in black, initially the runabout came primarily in pearl gray, the touring car in red, and the town car and landaulet in green. In 1910 dark green became standard for all body types it was followed by dark blue from 1911 through 1913. Black was not even listed as an option until it became the standard color for all T’s in 1914. The reason was that only black japanned enamel dried fast enough for the newly instituted system of mass production. Mass-produced cars of all hues and shades of the rainbow became possible only with the development of Duco lacquer, which debuted in the “True Blue” of the 1924 Oakland. In 1926 the standard Model T colors became dark green for the Tudor and dark maroon for the Fordor.

Through 1912 the Model T’s upholstery was all leather, and extensive use was made of brass brightwork—all-brass side and head lamps, a brass radiator shell, a brass bulb horn, and a brassbound windshield with brass braces. The leather and brass trim became casualties of mass production. Beginning in 1913, the side and head lamps were made of steel painted black, brass was removed from the bulb horn and windshield, and artificial leather was used in the door panels and seat backs. The small brass radiator was replaced by a larger black-painted steel one in 1917 as part of a distinctive “new look” in T styling.

The 1914 model year was the last in which the Ford really looked antique. The 1909 T’s low, aluminum-covered, box-like hood butted abruptly against its high vertical windshield and cherrywood dash. It had no front doors. Its seats were perched far above the line of the hood and the straight belt line of the body, which ran from the back of the front seat to the severe inwardtapering line of the rear end of the car. In 1913 the bodies became smooth-sided, and front doors were added—with the “door” on the driver’s side unaccountably a dummy panel.

The “modernization” of the T in 1917, after transitional changes in 1915 and 1916, meant a much higher pressedsteel radiator and rounded pressed-steel hood, contoured up to join the windshield with a metal cowl replacing the flat wood dash. The fenders were now contoured and crowned as well, and nickel plating replaced what little brass trim was left. Further modernization followed in the 1920s, when the radiator was raised and bodies were lowered to their practical limits. In 1926 the T chassis was lowered, the fenders enlarged, and the radiator shell nickel-plated. The Model T was essentially a different-looking car after 1917 and then again by the end of its production a decade later.

THE FORD MODEL T WAS THE ARCHETYPICAL AMER ican car made for American conditions. It was designed to be easy to drive and repair, high enough to clear wretched rural roads, and powerful enough to pull itself out of the mud and serve as a workhorse around the farm. Its tough large-bore, shortstroke engine stood in contrast with the small-bore, longstroke British engine, designed for fuel economy. Europe’s low-priced, light cars were underpowered bantams the T could carry a farm family to town on Saturday with several crates of poultry or produce lashed to its sides. No wonder the T sold well all over the world, especially in countries of the British Empire, where driving conditions were like those in the United States. By the time it ceased production, on May 27, 1927, more than fifteen million had been built, a record surpassed only by the Volkswagen Beetle in a much larger post-World War II market.

This phenomenal success was due less to the excellence of the T’s design than to the progressive lowering of its price, from an initial $825 to a mere $260 in 1927 for the runabout, made possible by the moving assembly line. Indeed, price alone accounted for the T’s continuing domination of the low-priced-auto market into the 1920s. For as we have seen, the car was already technologically obsolete by the time its creator introduced modern mass production.

Innovation Versus Preservation

Written by Ernie Smith on Sep 03, 2019

Today in Tedium: The world of technology has a problem, and it’s not something that we’re talking about nearly enough. That problem? We keep making old stuff significantly less useful in the modern day, sometimes by force. We cite problems such as security, maintenance, and a devotion to constant evolution as reasons for allowing this to happen. But the net effect is that we are making it impossible to continue using otherwise useful things after even a medium amount of time. I’m not even exclusively talking about things that are decades old. Sometimes, just a few years does the trick. Today’s Tedium ponders planned obsolescence and how it theatens preservation. — Ernie @ Tedium

Today’s Tedium is sponsored by Numlock News. More from them in a sec.

“P.S.A. To all vintage computer Tweeps: Go through your collections and GET THE DAMN BATTERIES OUT! Now! Don’t wait! Seriously, put down the phone, go to your collection and take out all the batteries. Right now! Even if they look ‘okay’ they are NOT SAFE after this much time.”

— Josh Malone, a vintage computer enthusiast, making the argument that old computers must have their batteries removed, in part because of how easily they get corroded and damaged, thereby further damaging the components inside of the machine. Even with changes in technology, with batteries more deeply embedded in the phones and laptops we buy, it‘s inevitable that this problem will only worsen over time.

We create devices that have batteries built to die

I have a lot of old gadgets floating around my house these days, partly out of personal interest in testing things out, out of hope of writing stories about the things that I find. Some of this stuff is on loan and requires extra research that simply takes time due to the huge amount of complexity involved. Other times, it’s just an artifact that I think allows for telling an interesting story. I still make my weekly trips to Goodwill hoping to find the next interesting story in a random piece of what some might call junk.

But one issue keeps cropping up that I think is going to become even more prevalent in the years to come: Non-functional batteries.

Battery technology and the circuitry that connects to it varies wildly, and it creates issues that prevent gadgets from living their best lives, in a huge part due to the slow decay of lithium-ion batteries.

A prominent example of this, of course, are AirPods, highly attractive and functional tools that will slowly become less useful over time as their batteries go through hundreds of cycles and start to lose steam. But at the same time, AirPods are just a prominent example of what is destined to happen to basically every set of Bluetooth headphones over time: The lithium-ion batteries driving them will slowly decay and turn a once-useful product into an object that must be continually replaced because a single part, the battery, cannot be replaced.

Older devices I’ve been testing out have batteries so old that I cannot find replacements for them. (You’ve not lived until you’ve typed in a serial code for an old battery and found out that the only search result for that serial code goes to a museum’s website.) But newer batteries, despite being reliant on basically the same technology year after year, can’t be easily replaced, leading these old batteries to decay with little room for user recourse.

One example I’d like to bring to light in this context is the HP TouchPad, the WebOS-based tablet the company briefly sold during a period that it cared about the fate of WebOS. It’s an interesting story, full of intrigue and even present-day Android updates, that I plan to tell in full soon, but I just want to highlight a problem that runs rampant with these devices, which in the grand scheme of things aren’t that old.

Simply put: Many of them will not charge up after being set aside for a while. Including mine. I knew this going in, but I thought it would be fun to see if I could pull off a desperate challenge.

But even though the device can be detected by another computer—plugging it into a Linux machine and running a few Terminal commands makes it clear that the device is not only detected, but capable of being reimaged—HP made some mistakes with its design of the battery on the TouchPad, and now if a device has been left uncharged for even a modestly extended period, the odds are good that the device is probably dead. Even when the device was relatively new charging issues were common.

The TouchPad is only eight years old, a historic novelty due to only being sold for a total of 49 days and with an OS that had a cult following. But design flaws mean that it’s somewhat rare to find a working device in the wild, and revival is often a confusing mess of old pages in the Internet Archive and obscure Linux scripts that, in the right context, might just work.

This script works … until it doesn’t.

I haven’t given up on mine, but I’ve read forum posts where some users have taken to putting their old TouchPads inside of an electric blanket, all for the cause of “heating up” the battery for just long enough that they can run the Linux reimaging script and get the machine to boot and charge.

Putting a heating pad around a dead HP TouchPad reeks of desperation, but considering it’s a nice if unloved tablet, desperate times call for weird tactics.

But it’s not the only somewhat recent device I’ve tried that seems to have odd battery-charging habits. I recently revived an old iPhone 6 Plus basically to keep a backup of my iOS data, and I find that the battery drains on its own even when I’m not using it, and a cheap Nuvision tablet designed for Windows 10 that I got for a steal has a tendency of being finicky about the kind of power outlets it likes and how long it will keep a charge.

The connecting thread of these devices is that they’re not designed to be cracked open or repaired by users. But if we plan to keep them around into the present day, they have to be. Otherwise we’re dealing with millions of functional bricks.

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The number of years that Google offers “Auto Update” support to its different ChromeOS platforms, which means that, after that expiration date, the platform will stop receiving updates even if the hardware is generally still viable years after the fact. There are some workarounds, including Linux distributions made specifically for Chromebooks, but the result is that computers that would still be completely usable with other operating systems are going to be pushed off the internet onramp in a few years’ time.

The Mac Mini that showed me there was going to be no way to relive mid-2000s internet.

We make no effort to allow vintage computers to live on the modern internet

A decade ago, the biggest problem facing the internet was the large number of compatibility issues baked into Internet Explorer, a web browser that infamously stopped evolving for about half a decade, creating major issues that took years to sort out.

We’re long past that point, but I’d like to argue that, in many ways, we’ve created the opposite problem.

Now, our browsers are more standards-compliant than ever. But this has created an entire class of software, built on old operating systems, to have a degraded experience.

The problem comes down to security standards such as Transport Layer Security and the older Secure Sockets Layer, network protocols that were designed to help secure traffic. During the heyday of the early internet, https was used on only a few sites where secure use cases were recommended.

But since then, opinions in the security community have shifted on the use of https, for reasons of privacy and secure data. Google, in particular, forced the issue of dropping http, dangling the threat of a dropping search-engine position. Last year, Google Chrome took the step of marking http sites as “not secure,” effectively shaming websites that ignore digital security standards.

At the same time, old security protocols such as SSL and TLS 1.0 have been discontinued in modern browsers, and many newer browsers require stronger types of encryption, such as SHA-2, which means that there are strong deterrents for running a web browser that is too old.

So now all these sites that didn’t have to use https in the past are now using https because if they don’t, it will hurt their traffic and their business. We’ve forced security on millions of websites this way, and the broader internet has benefited greatly from this. It improves digital security in nearly all cases.

But for purposes of preservation, we’ve put in additional layers that prevent correct use of old computers. From a research standpoint, this prevents an easy look at websites in their original context as we’ve forced upgrades to support modern computers while actively discouraging efforts to support older ones.

This leads to situations where the only way to make an old internet-enabled computer even reasonably functional online is to use hacks that allow for a browser with modern security standards … or to switch to an alternate operating system. This is something I ran into earlier this year when I started using a 2005 Mac Mini as part of an experiment. But I’ve also run into it within controlled environments like virtualization, and it made using the operating system unnecessarily hard, as I was unable to easily download things like drivers necessary for my use case.

There are a few die-hards out there that have not given into the https drumbeat. When I load up an old computer or an old browser, the first site I try is Jason Scott’s textfiles.com, because it’s the only one I know I can get to work without any problem. His decision to drop https for that site led him to run into a whole lot of debates online, but it may have been the best thing he could have done for collectors, historians, and preservationists—now we have a place we KNOW will work when we’re just trying to test an old piece of hardware or software, with no bullshit.

WRP, the web-rendering proxy for retro browsers. (via Github)

What I would like to see are more attempts to push the new into the old on its own terms, with a great example coming from Google programmer Antoni Sawicki, who built a web-rendering proxy that effectively allows modern websites to run on outdated browsers. It effectively turns the modern website into a giant GIF that then can be used through a proxy layer.

We need more of this. At some point, we’re going to want to collectively come back to these old tools to understand them, but we seem to be doing everything in our power to prevent them from getting online. There needs to be a balance.

The number of apps Apple specifically lists as being incompatible with the latest version of MacOS, Catalina, in a file located in the upcoming version of the operating system. Many of the listed apps are productivity tools, some of which haven’t been updated in a number of years, but more concerning for many Apple fans are the games, which tend to have a longer shelf life. Apple hasn’t produced purely 32-bit machines in many years, but many apps that are still being updated are being produced for 32-bit systems with the goal of maximum compatibility in mind.

Sorry, your app is built for a 32-bit architecture.

We’re starting to close off support for older generations of apps in mainstream software

The most problematic issue that I see is one that’s likely to become more of an issue in the coming years.

And we’re about to get our first real taste of it in a mainstream desktop operating system.

In the coming weeks, Apple is likely to release Catalina, the latest version of macOS, which is going to drop support for all 32-bit apps, meaning that literally decades of work developed for prior versions of MacOS will become unusable.

It’s not the first time Apple has done this—the 2009 release of Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard, formally pulled off the band aid of Power PC support—but the decision to drop support for 32-bit apps is likely going to cut off a lot of tools that are intended to work on as many platforms as possible.

“The technologies that define today’s Mac experience—such as Metal graphics acceleration—work only with 64-bit apps,” Apple explains of its decision on its website. “To ensure that the apps you purchase are as advanced as the Mac you run them on, all future Mac software will eventually be required to be 64-bit.”

Now, this is great if your goal is to always be on the latest software, but many people run older software, for a variety of reasons. Some of the biggest? The software isn’t being actively developed anymore, you prefer the older version for design and aesthetic reasons, or because it’s something that isn’t developed on a continuous release cycle, like a game.

A PC running Ubuntu, the source of a major controversy earlier this summer. (Gareth Halfacree/Flickr)

Now, if this debate was limited to Apple, that would be one thing, but the truth is, they’re just an early adopter. Earlier this summer, Canonical, the company that develops Ubuntu, greatly upset a good portion of their user base after announcing that they were removing support for 32-bit applications, which would have basically made the Linux distribution useless for many games, harming a community that was just starting to warm to Linux. Eventually, Canonical backed down, after it became clear that the developer community was not the same as the user community.

“We do think it’s reasonable to expect the community to participate and to find the right balance between enabling the next wave of capabilities and maintaining the long tail,” Canonical said in a statement.

Now, there are always solutions that would allow the use of vintage or even obsolete software in modern contexts. Virtualization and emulation software like VirtualBox and QEMU create ways to recreate an experience. But these tools are often more technical and less seamless than native platforms they replace, and I worry that nobody is thinking of ways to make them easier for the average person to use.

And, to be fair, there are definitely reasons to discourage the use of 32-bit software. As How-To Geek notes, most Windows applications are made as 32-bit apps, in part because those have broader support over 64-bit apps, which are more future-proofed. That means a lot of developers aren’t taking advantage of the latest technologies, despite clear advantages.

But as architectures change and technology evolves, I’m convinced that there will be a time that old software loses the battle, all because we chose not to prioritize its long-term value.

We may be nostalgic, but the companies that make our devices quite often are not.

Why make such a big fuss about all this? After all, we know that planned obsolescence has long been a part of our digital lives, and that the cloud is less a permanent state, and more an evolving beast.

But that beast will be hard to document, and ultimately, its story needs to be preserved and interpreted, hopefully in the same context in which it was created. The technology we use today, however, does not allow for that to the degree in which it’s needed. It highlights a dichotomy between the digital information that will be somewhat easy to protect and the physical portals to that data that have been built that will be harder to document because their basic function is tethered to the internet, and that tethering, for one reason or another, will inevitably break.

I’ve touched on this in the past, but I think the problem is actually more serious than I’ve laid out, because we’re barreling away from permanence and towards constant chaos.

A perfectly functional Chromebook that will eventually stop working. (Jian ossian/Flickr)

In two decades, I can see this scenario playing out: A thirtysomething adult is going to think back one day to his or her days in middle school, and wax nostalgic for that old laptop they used back then. It’s an old Chromebook their parents bought for them, covered in stickers like a Trapper Keeper circa 1984, and it holds memories of a specific time in their lives.

Inevitably, they’ll open it up, and try to turn it on … and honestly, it’s not clear what might happen. Perhaps the machine won’t turn on at all, due to issues with the design of the power supply that require some sort of charge in the battery to function. Maybe they’ll get lucky, and it’ll turn on after they plug it in, even if the battery won’t hold a charge. But then they try to log in … and they find that they can’t log in due to a security protocol change Google strong-armed onto the internet a decade ago. Maybe we won’t use passwords at all anymore, meaning there’s no easy way to log in. Maybe they’ll figure out a way to get around the error screen, only to load up a website, and find that it won’t load, due to the fact that it uses a web standard that wasn’t even invented back then.

Unlike early computers that still make their pleasures functionally accessible with the flip of a switch (and admittedly a recapping and possibly a little retrobrite), this machine, an artifact of someone’s past, could likely become functionally useless.

All because Google decided to stop supporting the machines, despite the fact that they were still perfectly functional, due to some structured plan for obsolescence.

Now apply that thought process to every device you currently own—or owned just a few years ago—and you can see where this is going.

We’re allowing the present to conspire against the past in the name of the future.

We’re endangering nostalgia, something important to the way we see the world even as it’s frequently imperfect, due to technology that at one point was seen as a boon for progress.

We’re making it much harder to objectively document the information in its original context. And the same companies that are forcing us into this brave new world where we’re deleting history as fast as we’re creating it should help us fix it.

Because it will be way too late to do so later.

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Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

Planned and Dynamic obsolescence

There are many ambiguous things in business — like Dark Patterns, Monopolism and others. They help promote businesses, but in a way they trick consumers into buying more. One of such things is called the tactic of Planned obsolescence — deliberately reducing the life of devices in order to sell more and earn more.

They say that everlasting light bulbs were invented a long time ago, at the beginning of the XX century. But the big manufacturing companies conspired and stopped producing them since their business will go bankrupt if everyone buys such light bulbs.

This a ctually happened. In the beginning of the XX century, the lifespan of light bulbs had reached up to 2,500 hours. It presented a big threat to the monopolists of the market. So in 1924, in Geneva a secret meeting of the top executives from the world’s leading light bulb companies was held. Phillips, International General Electrics, Tokyo Electric, OSRAM and AEI founded the Phoebus Cartel and agreed to control the world supply of light bulbs. They reduced the lifespan of their lamps to 1,000 hours and imposed fines for exceeding this limit. And although the production costs were reduced, the Cartel did not change their prices and thus earned even more.

It was the Phoebus Cartel who introduced a tactic called Planned obsolescence — intentionally shortening the lifespan of their products. In the 1930s, the Cartel collapsed but the tactic is still used by modern businesses, including Apple.

In 2003, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Apple as it was proven that the non-replaceable battery on the iPod only works for 18 months from the purchase. Apple settled the suit out of court. But in 2017, another similar lawsuit was filed against them. One of the iOS updates caused the applications to load longer on older iPhones and even turn off altogether. Apple said that they did this intentionally to extend the life of the battery and protect it. But there wouldn’t be a need for that if the batteries were replaceable. The company bought off again and paid hundreds of millions of dollars. Still, they earned way more by selling devices with an irreplaceable battery.

The tactic of planned obsolescence harms users and makes them spend money, buy new things and throw out old ones all the time. It’s bad for the budget and it’s very bad for the environment. But if the eternal light bulbs and phones appear after all, not only business will suffer losses. Many people will be left without jobs and means of sustenance.

Plus, the consumers themselves support the tactics by constant purchases and updates. When in 1908 Ford Company had produced an almost indestructible car in a single black color, the buyers were delighted at first. In a couple of years, General Motors started producing similar cars, but in different colors. By the 1950s half of the vehicles purchased in the US were made by General Motors.

This tactic has received a new name — a Dynamic obsolescence. Apple uses it too — every year they produce a slightly different product, changing colors, style, and upgrading the technology a bit. But we fall for it and continue to buy iPhones every year, because now it’s more than a phone — it conveys a specific image of us to other people.

But all of that can change shortly. The European Union countries and 25 US States are on a verge of passing a law that will force manufacturers to disclose the data of their inventions so that they can be repaired locally, rather than buying slightly modified copies of the same product.