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This Week In Tech History, and The Legality Of Planned Obsolescence

Chris took us back in time to the birth of the washing machine, and spending thousands on computers with kilobytes of memory


Listener Shawn in Redmond, Oregon listens to the podcasts and asked us about planned obsolescence and whether it’s all a big conspiracy:

Seems like a few products I have around my house are mysteriously having issues, where certain things stop working or don’t work properly. I’m wondering if it’s a “planned obsolescence” issue. Looking for your opinion. Are these electronics companies using “planned obsolescence” and is it legal? To me it seems like ripping off the consumers and I thought I’d ask your opinion on this.


Planned obsolescence is not only legal, but probably necessary. It allows manufacturers to select materials that, while they may not last forever, will last for as long as the product itself is expected to, that means that they can be as efficient as possible when it comes to the materials they choose.

Having said that, there have been cases of programmed obsolescence that are much harder to defend, inkjet cartridges have been known to stop working before they’re actually empty, for example.

Now, realistically, most people want a new phone after a few years, having companies build phones that will last about that long, as opposed to decades, may make sense if it allows manufacturers to make devices affordable. The same goes for most other consumer electronics.

there have been cases of programmed obsolescence that are much harder to defend

The truth is that planned obsolescence is built into everything, you just may not have noticed. Most sneakers only last a few of years, and we don’t mean “of wearing them,” if you leave them in the box for a few of years their soles may crumble when you take them out of that box. That’s because of the materials they use, they’re cheaper, they do the job well, and the only people who seems to have noticed the problem have been collectors and fans of discontinued models that stocked up while they could get them.

Planned obsolescence is probably less evil than people make it out to be. It’s not great for big name manufacturers to have products that die before they’re expected to, after all, if you bought a brand new Ford that lasted you 6 months, wouldn’t you look at Chevy for a replacement? Only, there’s more than Ford and Chevy, there are scores of manufacturers out there, so they won’t be passing customers back and forth either, they may just lose them to better competitors.

The point of planned obsolescence is largely to not lose money on making things eternal when they’re only expected to work for a finite amount of time, and to have plans for the obsolete products whether those plans will be recycling them, or ending support after a set time, or anything else.

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Written by Dave Graveline

Dave Graveline is the founder, Host & Executive Producer of "Into Tomorrow" in addition to being President of the Advanced Media Network".

Dave is also a trusted and familiar voice on many national commercials & narrations in addition to being an authority in consumer tech since 1994. He is also a former Police Officer and an FBI Certified Instructor.

Dave thrives on audience participation!

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