The scourge of planned obsolescence

Old TV set
Old TV set

This weekend, my husband figuratively flipped his lid and literally tossed a broken  — and brand new — can opener out of the window.

His dramatics are part of his charm — and, once we had pried open the baked beans with the sawing, old-handed knife method, we continued our grumpy conversation about days gone by, when things were built to last.

My folks bought their first TV, a Phillips, in the late 1970s.

You remember how we used to sit and watch the test pattern until programmes started at, what, 5pm?

Problem is, the second TV my folks got — just like my first one, a trendy little screen for my flat — was a bit of a flash in the pan.

After two years, the fancy remote began shooting sparks and the screen developed a pink, vertical line during news broadcasts.

And only during the news; we thought it was some kind of political conspiracy.

Since then we’ve had so many TVs that I forget their names.

The only decent brand — the only electronic family member, really — was the Phillips.

Because it had staying power, long after the burn of the purchase had worn off.

You have found this happening to you too — with light bulbs, irons, cellphones, package deal iPads, irons, heaters and printer ink cartridges.

It annoys you terribly and you don’t know why it happens.

I know why.

It’s called planned obsolescence — and it’s designed exclusively to make your light bulb break just as you’re popping to the loo after dark; switch off your cellphone for absolutely no reason and then refuse to switch it back on for a week; explode your iron just a day after its guarantee wears off.

Unless you’ve dropped an appliance in hot oil or the toilet bowl, it’s pretty darn probable that you’re the victim of a global manufacturing mafia which knows that even though you say you hate the brand that broke, you’ll end up buying another one anyway — and sooner than you’d expect.

Apparently, this practice has been widespread since the 1960s, which makes sense, given that stuff lasted ages in my gran’s generation.

The term basically means that a product is designed specifically to wear and tear faster, outlive its usefulness or just break after a certain period of time; sometimes within months.

Some things need to break as they weren’t made to last forever, while others would be too costly if they contained parts built to last over 100 years.

But light bulbs? Ink cartridges?

We’re being duped!

The official list of “planned obsolescence”  goodies includes textbooks, computer software, cars, video games and even fashion.

If black is the new green this Summer, then pink becomes the new green next season.

That way, we’re always slightly behind, catching up on trends, neglecting yesterday’s maxi dress for tomorrow’s skinnies.

My consumer activist hat tells me that the only way forward is to use this design against its inventors.

Armed with an official list of planned obsolescence suspects, we could simply stop buying them.

After all, if a light bulb is so easily and expensively replaced, it’s natural to conclude that no brand is irreplaceable either.

And we could all survive by candlelight for a while, until karma does its thing.