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The Echo

The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

The Student News Site of Tenafly High School

The Echo

How Tech Companies Use Planned Obsolescence

If you’ve ever gone around and noticed computers, phones, or tablets lying around your house that don’t work, chances are you are not alone. This is most likely not a problem with the technology itself, but a problem with the industry. In this case, you may have fallen victim to planned obsolescence. 

Planned obsolescence is the idea that manufacturers intentionally design a product so that it fails after a certain period. It is used to produce more profit for companies and to provide a continuous source of revenue. Although planned obsolescence often has a negative connotation associated with it, there may also be benefits. Over time, the motives behind planned obsolescence, such as hoping to generate as much profit, can improve the quality of technology. Since companies are forced to compete with each other in the industry, even if they use planned obsolescence, the quality will eventually be improved to meet consumer interests and desires.

A common example of planned obsolescence is the everyday lightbulb. Take the Centennial Light for example. The Centennial Light is a lightbulb that has been shining for more than a century in a fire station located in California. Despite the lightbulb being built with 19th-century engineering, we still find ourselves replacing countless numbers of burnt-out lightbulbs. However, it isn’t the technology itself that’s causing the issue. “Lightbulbs and various other technologies could easily last for decades, many believe, but it’s more profitable to introduce artificial lifespans so that companies get repeat sales,” the BBC reported.

With the same example of lightbulbs, although companies first tried to produce the highest quality of lightbulbs, they soon found that it was counterproductive. Theoretically, if all lightbulbs lasted forever, manufacturers would get a large sum of money quickly but then have a drastic dip in sales. However, making light bulbs disposable and requiring customers to replace them meant consumers would keep returning to buy them, generating more profit in the long run. 

A type of planned obsolescence with technology is the lack of spare parts. For example, some electronic products are specifically designed so they have parts that can’t be replaced or removed. If that particular part breaks, the consumer has no choice but to replace the entire product. Another reason behind planned obsolescence is incompatibility. With technology advancing quicker and quicker each day, there will be a time when old computers and phones become outdated and no longer receive software support. Eventually, certain apps will stop receiving updates and the technology itself will run slower, encouraging people to replace their electronic devices.

Another type of planned obsolescence is with irreplaceable batteries. Similar to a lack of spare parts, many electronics have batteries that can’t be replaced easily or not at all. Even if the battery can be replaced, the high cost of getting a new one encourages consumers just to buy a new device. In addition, newer, more aesthetic electronic designs make older products seem obsolete, less “premium” than newer ones, or “unfashionable.” It makes people reconsider their old products and want to buy new ones to fit in “with the trend” or have a better experience.

Although planned obsolescence brings profits to technology companies, there are certain disadvantages as a whole. “The most immediate consequence of constantly replacing products that either work perfectly but have gone out of style, or which have broken before they should, is an increase in electronic waste,” Iberdrola explains. The buildup of technological waste, along with the incorrect recycling of electronic products leads to environmental harm and climate change. In addition, planned obsolescence can come at the expense of customer satisfaction, as consumers may not be happy with the shorter life terms of products.

As of now, although there are no laws directly prohibiting planned obsolescence for companies in the United States, there are still ways to reduce its impact on the environment. As consumers, we can avoid these negative impacts by buying from reputable companies such as Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft (although all companies may use planned obsolescence to an extent) and not buying technology just for the sake of a trend or design. In addition, correctly recycling old electronics as best as we can and choosing electronic products made out of environmentally friendly materials can help as well.

Overall, the idea of planned obsolescence has been around for a long time now. Planned obsolescence is most recognizable in the tech industry, with many old pieces of technology going obsolete each year, whether that is due to intentional engineering or irreplaceable parts and batteries. Planned obsolescence is responsible for a large build-up of technological waste, which is partly due to consumer decisions. Together, we can help avoid the negative consequences of planned obsolescence by making better financial decisions and buying from trusted brands.

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About the Contributor
Edward Wang, Senior Staff Writer
Edward Wang (‘26) is thrilled to be a Senior Staff Writer for The Echo. He primarily enjoys writing about STEM-related topics and is fascinated by scientific discoveries and advancements. In his free time, he enjoys practicing the violin, coding, and playing tennis.