The ‘Planned Obsolescence’ business model has been implemented within our society since the early 1900’s.
Now it’s use within society is of increasing interest from consumers and governments alike. However, its existence is much deeper that one may initially perceive. It influences much more than the amount of cash in Tim Cook’s back pocket, from employment rates to the health of our planet, planned obsolescence is a firm root in the tree that is today’s society.
Does action, in the form of legislation, need to be taken to ensure planned obsolescence is being used for the greater good? Read on to find out…
Planned Obsolescence is criminal! Stop its detrimental effect on society
It has been shown that the obsolescence of a functional product is likely to affect people with lower income more than those with a higher income. For example, most people upgrade their mobile phones every two years, thus companies design a phone to become obsolete within that time frame, encouraging the general public to purchase a newer model. Considering the general trend of price increases of new models due to inflation and implementation of newer technology, not everyone will be able to afford this. Planned obsolescence would therefore disobey care ethics as it would put greater financial pressure on those with lower income; potentially lowering the quality of life by reducing their financial freedom. As oppose to those with higher incomes who will be able to upgrade without feeling any financial pressure.
The obsolescence of technology causes a huge waste problem as personal gadgets are discarded with little regard for environmental damage. This results in lead, mercury and toxic glass damage world-wide, causing long term damage to the earth. It would be in humanity’s best interest to avoid this when considering the Utilitarianism theory, as damaging the environment will negatively affect most people’s lives in the long run, while only a few see short term monetary benefits from the profits made through planned obsolescence. Furthermore, the current political view on environmental pollution is mitigation, which goes against planned obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence induces ‘consumer disposal behaviour’ which is a product of innovation. Moreover, these disposed items are introduced to recycling programmes to supposedly improve their sustainability. However, 50 – 80% of the recyclable materials are exported to third world nations. Thus, inefficient methods are often used in an attempt to extract recyclable materials exposing the local communities to toxic gases to be released during the process. Kant’s theory would suggest that actions must be made with inner good motive and to rationally gain agreement from everyone to make the same decision. Thus, it isn’t fair to expose people in poorer nations to these toxins when those in more developed countries would not be willing to do the same.
Another point to discuss is code of conduct. For example, Apple has stated that the ‘’Supplier is encouraged to help foster social and economic development and contribute to the sustainability of the communities in which it operates’’. It has been shown from the previous points that planned obsolescence certainly does not support this. For example, it is apparent that obsolescence is globally unsustainable as it contributes to global warming and releases toxic waste. Additionally, obsolescence induces ‘consumer disposal behaviour’ which further contributes to an individual’s financial poverty. Social development may be fostered in certain communities, but this is not the case in poorer countries where communities are exposed to toxic substances as a result of planned obsolescence.
Planned Obsolescence benefits society and should be allowed to continue to do so!
Society today, is reliant upon the planned obsolescence business model, a topic with several associated ethical and legal connotations. We believe that these connotations align, and when different ethical theories are considered, one can form a stronger argument for keeping the current legislation in the UK surrounding planned obsolescence.
One attribute of planned obsolescence is the rapid turnover of goods. Consequently, many jobs have been created and the UK’s economy has benefited through the growth of manufacturing sectors. Enforcing laws against planned obsolescence would result in mass unemployment and economic downturn, both of which are contrary to the common good ethical approach, which suggests one should always do the best for society. Furthermore, the continuous development of products has forced scientific and technological innovation. The principle of actions being carried out now to benefit people in the future is an important feature in consequentialism.
In addition, planned obsolescence has allowed products to become financially viable to everyone. There is now an abundance of past generation products all over the globe. Now, ‘outdated’ iPhones are being used by West African farmers to increase yields through better understanding crop diseases. Yes, one could argue that many of these products still end up in landfill, but the doctrine of double effect ethical argument can be used to justify planned obsolescence in this scenario. It suggests if doing something good has a morally bad side-effect, it’s ok to do so if the bad side-effect wasn’t intended. Ethically this squashes the argument for making planned obsolescence illegal on the grounds of its environmental impact, as no designer/engineer would intend for their product to end up in landfill prematurely.
A well-documented case of planned obsolescence was when Apple were proven guilty of limiting the processor speeds on their older generation iPhones through software updates. This was to prevent their devices from continually shutting down during power surges when its batteries began to degrade. Due to Apple’s lack of transparency, these software updates were considered wrongful. However, if one were to consider utilitarianism, it could be seen that Apple were in fact prolonging the usability of their older generation iPhones, using planned obsolescence as a weapon against hardware degradation. And as a result, benefitting most of the iPhone using community; those who are not financially able to upgrade to a newer device annually. Planned obsolescence serves as a reflection of a ravenous consumer culture. We are a society obsessed with having the latest products, from trainers to televisions, and are all guilty of replacing perfectly functional products to promote one’s public image. Under egoism ethics this is completely acceptable, which suggests one should always act in a way to maximise their own pleasure.
It is in our opinion that the overwhelming influence Planned Obsolescence has on today’s society is of a detrimental nature.