Throughout human civilizations, one common thread in the production of items was always clear – things were built to last.
No matter what your profession was, when you created an item, you aimed to provide the highest quality product that will survive the test of time. Clothing, weaponry, cookware, furniture… everything… all built to last.
But somewhere during the industrial revolution, things began to change. With the development of factory labor, instead of local individual craftsman, the pride in the work began to subside. Couple that with the need for continual sales growth, companies approached the production of products differently.
It’s often cited that the automotive industry was one of the first to began the practice of planned obsolescence. Intentionally creating products that would fail, or become ‘obsolete” after a set amount of time.
And while at first companies were mocked by their competitors for creating products that “dated” quickly, the tide began to turn when consumers themselves started to lust for something new, instead of something well made.
Every year new features would be released that made last year’s model feel… inadequate.
As the consumer culture became okay with the concept of shorter useful life of more and more products, the mindset began to permeate nearly every aspect of our lives. Leading to a throw-away culture of nearly everything we own.
“Built to Last” is no longer the mantra we search for in purchases; we now ask, “is it new?”.
The Dark Side of Technology
One it comes to the most recent advancement in the throw-away culture, no one area is bigger to blame than technology.
The invention of the microprocessor and consumer technology have done incredible things for our world. However, it’s also re-enforced, or brought to the next level, the throw-away culture that started earlier in the 20th century.
Tech products, like laptops, smartphones, smartwatches, TVs, etc., all have a fixed lifespan. The inherent nature of the hardware and software in them make them nearly unusable after they have run their useful course (usually just a couple of years).
But despite the fact that these products are often expensive, and do not last long, we’ve come to normalize purchasing them as part of our culture. An item like a smartphone, which costs anywhere between $200 to $800, plus monthly fees, is bought every two years. We accept that eventually it will “slow down” or that the battery will not last throughout the day.
At what point do the costs and short useful life of technology products outweigh the benefit of owning them? I’m not advocating you avoid tech altogether, but it’s worth a pause.
There are some serious costs to a throw-away culture.
The first obvious cost is the financial impact that it has on your personal budget. As we consume more, we save less. The cost of buying new stuff all of the time adds up, and overtime you lose out on serious money that could have been invested.
The second obvious cost is environmental. The stuff we buy has to end up somewhere. We’re damaging our land and oceans by the sheer amount of stuff we are throwing away after their short lifespan.
But then there are the hidden costs of the throw-away culture… The psychological changes that it brings out in us.
Behaviors that lead us to be less self-sufficient as we no longer need to repair our “built to last” products, but can quickly buy a replacement online.
Or the way we totally disregard the way our products are made.
We don’t care who made them, how they made them, or what impact their production had. And as we all know, some of the biggest “quality” brands in America have been caught using bad labor or environmental practices overseas.
Moving Away From Throw-Away
So how do you view your purchases? Do you seek out quality and vote with your dollars on products that are going to improve your life?
Moving away from the throw-away culture is not black and white. Our modern world is full of products and situations that create the occasional need for waste. However, even just being aware of your purchase decisions will help you.
Try to buy products that just work, and don’t fall for gimmicks. Remember that newer is not always better, and the latest tech will only have a marginal impact on your life. Stop buying shit you don’t need. And most importantly, be happy with what you have.
You can be one less person that subscribes to the throw-away culture.
Ronald Abraham says
Thank you so much for the article. It is very relevant to our time where gadgets and auto mobiles which we use everyday enslave us to the throw away culture. How I wish the world we take note of this and re-use, recycle and renew.
Thanks for comment Ronald – I’m hopeful that there will be a slow awakening to living a life with less waste!
Francesco Turco says
I’m still successfully using a 10+ year-old desktop computer. While I could definitively benefit from a faster, more recent machine, I eventually decided against buying one.
I recommend using a GNU/Linux distribution instead of proprietary operating systems such as Microsoft Windows or Mac OS because the latter exploit planned obsolescence in order to sell new, more powerful computers, while the former don’t.