Years ago, I had a washing machine that stopped working. The repairman told me that I should be happy it lasted as long as it did, as washers today only last about ten years. It seemed to me that washing machines used to last longer than they do now. And they did. So did dryers, refrigerators, blenders, and other household appliances.
It seems odd that we are getting more technologically advanced, yet nothing lasts like it used to. Why is that? My mother’s cell phone had died. It had been less than two years old. When the cell phone agent told her that phones only last so long, my mother asked, “Shouldn’t it at least last as long as my two-year contract?” When I told this story to a patient of mine who worked at a large, popular, consumer electronics company, she calmly said that they purposely make those phones to only last for so long. She explained that they make much more money over time by replacing those broken down, or worn out, devices.
Turns out there is a word to describe what she was talking about… planned obsolescence. Wikipedia describes this as a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life or a purposely frail design, so that it becomes obsolete after a certain pre-determined period of time upon which it decrementally functions or suddenly ceases to function, or might be perceived as unfashionable.
I know this happens, and I understand why they do it, but it bums me out. To know that they could make a better-built, superior, longer lasting product, but don’t, is so disappointing. What’s more disappointing is that that mindset has trickled into all areas of life. We have adopted this idea that things just wear out, and all we have to do is replace them. I believe that one of the reasons things don’t last is because we believe everything can be replaced.
You don’t need to take care of your joints; they can be replaced. Even organs, uncared for and disregarded, can be replaced. You don’t have to give it your all at work; if you get fired or fed up, you can just replace that job with a different, new job. How about your relationships? You used to put more effort into your marriage, but don’t worry, you can always end that one and get a new spouse.
Planned obsolescence has become a built-in paradigm in most of our lives. And it is hurting us. It is adversely affecting the quality of our lives. And it doesn’t have to be that way. And if we knew we only had one shot, we would work harder, build it stronger, and care for it better.
I’m pretty sure my grandparents had one or two refrigerators (what they called an “ice box”) the whole time they were married. I think we may still have the blender my grandmother used most of her life. Were the parts in those products better? Stronger? More durable? Did my grandparents take better care of their stuff? Are we harder on the things we use these days? Although I am sure most of that is true, I can’t say for sure. What I can say for sure, is that there was a time when the idea that you would make something of poorer quality ON PURPOSE so that you could ultimately sell more products to make more money would have been unacceptable.
Let’s commit to building everything as good, as strong, as high-quality, and as long-lasting as possible. I know the body gets run down, switching jobs sometimes makes great sense, and that relationships can run their course. To think that we would never acknowledge obsolescence would be foolish. But let’s not start out with planned obsolescence. Commit to excellence in every area of your life. Don’t accept mediocracy. Build everything in your life to last!