Planned Obsolescence- by Anjum Razaq

The world has never been more connected; mobile phones outnumber the amount of people of the planet, Facebook has over 1 billion active monthly users and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is once again the richest man in the world.

As teachers we help to educate children, preparing them for the future. Technology will become more embedded into their lives yet rarely do we have discourse on how the world is affected adversely by technology. We have National Curriculum targets discussing e-safety and scrutinizing information online but we still do not have a sequence of lessons in Key Stage 1 or 2 focusing on the negative impact that  technology can have socially and on the environment physically

In 1960, cultural critic Vance Packard published The Waste Makers, promoted as an exposé of "the systematic attempt of business to make us wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals". Looking at the current economic, political and consumer situation it seems that this has been achieved. The way companies achieve this is through planned obsolescence, a manufacturing decision by a company to make consumer products in such a way that they become out-of-date or useless within a known time period. Companies are artificially creating a need, the most obvious recent example is Apple with its annual iphone and ipad releases.

Apple annually releases slightly modified phones which make their older phones seem obsolete.

Obviously there does need to be technological upgrades available as technology develops but the speed at which things degrade and are considered obsolete seems to be getting quicker and quicker. Apple, notorious for releasing new phones with minor upgrades also creates a perceived obsolescence, where the older handsets are seen as not desirable or useful anymore. This creates an artificial need for consumers, which does help the economy but does have detrimental effects elsewhere.

Planned obsolescence has these consequences:

  • Damage to the environment, due to more pollution caused by more resource extraction and by more manufacturing of products.
  • Harm to the environment, due to more waste generation.
  • An increase in living costs, as products must be bought multiple times.
  • A social impact on the countries where these products are manufactured, often   countries where wages are low and working conditions poor.

The Apple suicides in Zhengzhao, Henan province in China sent a shock-wave through the world (for a good reading of events read the link below). The fact that corporations can have such an impact on the world should be discussed within the Computing curriculum as there are real points that must be discussed as children can then see both sides of technology; useful but also with repercussions for the world and especially poorer individuals.

By keeping technology locked-in companies prevent the repair and refurbishment of goods. Any refurbishment is done in-house or by a team of approved professionals who pay the companies to be trained to carry out the refurbishment. Many of the world major manufacturers use it as a business stratagy to maximise profit, but what of the cost to the environment and society? I believe that as teachers we have a duty to educate our children on how to be careful consumers. 

Iphone Story is an excellent educational game which discusses issues such as this and I would use the game in lessons, particularly for children in Key stage 3. Have a look and see what you think.