Is Technology Made To Break?

In June 2016 technology journalists across the world broke the news that the new iPhone 7 will not come with 35mm headphone ports

Apple says this move would allow for a slimmer phone upon release in September 2016 However this new phone is being released mere months after the release of the Apple SE, and a year after the 6s, leaving 35 mm headphones essentially useless This rapid turnover of products has led to claims that the technology industry is intentionally sabotaging their old products in order to get consumers to make new purchases Without this planned obsolescence, the release of a new product every six months would be ruinous

So can it be true? Is technology really made to break? The term Dynamic Obsolescence was first coined in 1924 when General Motors boss Alfred P Sloan Jr suggested a yearly overhaul of car design The market was saturated, and he wanted to break stagnating sales Independent car manufacturers couldn’t afford to re-invent every year

Meanwhile, those who didn’t adopt annual redesigns were quickly outpaced as people rushed to buy the latest model Yet the policy which effectively stifled smaller competitors was embraced by American real-estate broker Bernard London in 1932 as a means of ending the Great Depression In his essay Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence, London stated that economic depressions were driven by the desire to save caused by a decline in buying power This was man-made, and the solution according to London, should also be man made Specifically, he said we should impose obsolescence on consumer goods in order to encourage a continuous cycle of consumerism and growth

This can take the form of deliberately degradable parts, a prevention of tampering or repairs or programmed and style obsolescence An early example of this behaviour was the “Phoebus Cartel” of the Twenties Light bulb manufacturers agreed to reduce the lifetime of their products to 1,000 hours after they realised more money could be made by making them disposable Today, Apple is accused of employing these tactics In 2013 when the iOS 7 update was pushed out across the board, many people complained of poorer performance from their iPhones Catherine Rampell of the New York Times called an analyst to explain this mystery

They told her that the update was being given to older models free of charge to drain their limited life batteries and force users to either buy a new battery or upgrade their phone The same allegedly happened with the iPhone 3GS and the iOS6 update Apple have consistently denied deliberately shortening the lives of their products to encourage customers to buy an expensive upgrade Yet a study conducted by Harvard student Laura Trucco found that Internet searches for the term “iPhone slow” spiked dramatically before the release of a new iPhone model A similar study of Samsung Galaxy products concluded that there was little correlation between their new product releases and deteriorating products

So is there any point to this behaviour aside from rampant greed on the part of the manufacturers? While certain companies deny planned obsolescence, there are compelling reasons behind the need for such a practise Manufacturers have stated that consumers are requesting more and more elegant designs This means that devices are much more delicate than the purely functional styles of the early 2000s By reacting to changes in fashion and attitudes, companies can be said to simply be reacting to public demand, which is the cornerstone of capitalist societies And batteries that can’t be removed can be seen as a means of preventing user tampering, which could damage the product

Constant production creates jobs that otherwise wouldn’t be required and inspires technological innovations to meet demand for digital gadgets And for cheaper items such as children’s clothes, durable clothes are not as important as a child will likely grow out of them within 6 months So examiners of the practise, such as author Giles Slade, say that while it can be seen as greedy by the public, planned obsolescence has benefited the consumer and the company However, Planned Obsolescence is not just a threat to consumers’ wallets Increased production means an increased need for resources to produce

In electronics, this has resulted in increased demand for rare earths such as Dysprosium and has caused a global shortage These metals, according to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, cannot be replaced and are vital components to our modern digital life In countries where such minerals are mined, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, wars have been waged over the rights to the mines And working conditions in mines are substandard Worse still increased waste from disposable goods has dire environmental consequences

So while planned obsolescence may be a great idea for a company's balance sheet, the toll paid by the planet could be much, much higher

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