Friday, July 17, 2009

Planned Obsolescence

I just purchased a Samsung SCH-i730 smart phone with Windows Mobile 5. I am enjoying it very much. It is a couple of years behind the curve, but it does what I want, and most current Windows Mobile applications will work with it.
Today I ran across a really heated article about how, in the face of the iPhone, Windows Mobile just needs to die and go away. Now, there are merits to both sides of that argument. However, the current iPhone craze is little more than the iPhone being the winner of a popularity contest. It's cool, it does stuff, it looks neat. It is superior in some ways; but not to the point of sealing the fate of the competition.
Another area this issue arises is with digital cameras. My mom has a 3.2 megapixel Fuji digicam that still works wonderfully to this day. 3.2MP is enough to produce excellent 4x6 prints, and decent 8x10 prints as well. A 5MP is more than most people need... And yet, I'll never forget the words of a coworker some years back, to the effect that he wanted lots of "megapistols." LOL. Nevermind that 8, 9, 10, 11 MPs is overkill. Nevermind that 20+ different scene modes are also overkill. These are specs that SELL. So digicam manufacturers cram 10MPs on the same little electronic image sensor they've always used because they know it will sell, even though that level of pixel density makes any shot taken above ISO 200-400 poor quality.
We are stupid.

From Wikipedia:

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Origins of planned obsolescence go back at least as far as 1932 with Bernard London's pamphlet Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence. However, the phrase was first popularized in 1954 by Brooks Stevens, an American industrial designer. Stevens was due to give a talk at an advertising conference in Minneapolis in 1954. Without giving it much thought, he used the term as the title of his talk.

From that point on, "planned obsolescence" became Stevens' catchphrase. By his definition, planned obsolescence was "Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary."

Stevens' term was taken up by others, and his own definition was challenged. By the late 1950s, planned obsolescence had become a commonly used term for products designed to break easily or to quickly go out of style. In fact, the concept was so widely recognized that, in 1959, Volkswagen mocked it in a now-legendary advertising campaign. While acknowledging the widespread use of planned obsolescence among automobile manufacturers, Volkswagen pitched itself as an alternative. "We do not believe in planned obsolescence," the ads suggested. "We don't change a car for the sake of change."

In 1960, cultural critic Vance Packard published The Waste Makers, promoted as an exposé of "the systematic attempt of business to make us wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals."

Packard divided planned obsolescence into two sub categories: obsolescence of desirability and obsolescence of function. "Obsolescence of desirability", also called "psychological obsolescence", referred to marketers' attempts to wear out a product in the owner's mind. Packard quoted industrial designer George Nelson, who wrote: "Design... is an attempt to make a contribution through change. When no contribution is made or can be made, the only process available for giving the illusion of change is 'styling.'"
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