Planned Obsolescence

I recently watched a fascinating series of television programmes entitled “The Men Who Made Us Spend”.   One of many issues that was presented was that of planned obsolescence.   Amongst many definitions, it can be defined along the following lines:  “Planned obsolescence is when a product is deliberately designed to have a specific life span.”

It was pointed out that we live in a world of seemingly limitless consumption and that it just didn’t happen by accident.   The programme presented proof that relentless spending and throwing away were engineered.

Apparently, its origin, as presented in this programme, began in Berlin in the 1920s although other claims are made to its origin.   Manufacturers hit upon an idea that would become fundamental to the consumer economy, artificially limiting the life span of products.  A coordinated decision was taken by a global cartel of companies to reduce the life span of light bulbs which was known as the Phoebus cartel and was an idea that came from the Chairman of Osram, Mr. William Meinhardt. 

The programme gave evidence that in 1924, the world’s biggest electrical companies hammered out a deal in Geneva.   Its aim was to increase profits by fixing prices and production quotas and at the same time dictated the time a light bulb could last.   Before this, a bulb would last 2,500 hours but this was reduced to 1,000 hours.   The impact on sales was phenomenal, doubling the business of all parties in five years.

In the early 1990s, long forgotten papers were discovered in a factory in Berlin that revealed an extraordinary secret deal that provided the template for the consumer obsolescence that we live with today.   All rules were written down in minute detail.

Planned obsolescence still operates today and is, we were told, an open secret.   One German expert showed how pervasive it is involving so many products: electric toothbrushes, washing machines, printer cartridges and much more.   This expert showed how the counter on a printer cartridge could actually be re-set and used again and how electronic chips in printers are fitted to say that the ink has run out when it hasn’t!

All this leads to a consumer society where continual spending is the norm.

No analogies are perfect in every way but as I was watching this programme I thought about the difference between the planned obsolescence of man which is driven purely for sales and profits through continual product consumption and the fact that God has given us physical life which will end when God decrees.  Those who are called and chosen in this age are given a time span in order to develop holy, righteous character and then those who have remained faithful to the end, their flesh and blood will be a thing of the past with eternity in the spirit world to look forward to.

Man’s planned obsolescence is driven by greed; God’s approach is that we have physical life for whatever time He decrees as His people are not subject to time and chance, with the goal of a wonderful, happy and joyous future.

What a difference there is between the ways of man and the ways of the great God!

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