What is planned obsolescence and why you need to know

Scheduled obsolescence is an industrial strategy that limits the life cycle of an electronic device to a very specific and quite short period

Scheduled or planned obsolescence is the process by which an electronic device (smartphone, computer, tablet, household appliance) after a couple of years from purchase or market launch becomes unusable or very simply breaks down.

The term "planned obsolescence" has made headlines especially in recent years, since electronic devices have become ubiquitous in our lives. It's increasingly common for a dishwasher or washing machine to start showing signs of failure after the first three or four years of use. And in the meantime new models with new technologies have made our home appliance too old to be repaired. The solution is to buy a new device to replace the old one (even if it is only three or four years old).

The same happens with smartphones, computers and tablets. When we buy a cell phone, after a couple of years its performance starts to deteriorate, security updates are no longer released and above all it becomes technologically old (it's no coincidence that every time a new version of the mobile operating system is launched, Google and Apple decide not to support older models). Again, we are faced with a case of programmed or planned obsolescence.

What is Planned Obsolescence for

Planned obsolescence is nothing more than an industrial strategy created so that the demand for electronic devices never fails. If a smartphone or an appliance worked perfectly for fifteen years, many companies would close within months due to lack of work. And planned obsolescence is not only present within the world of electronics, but also in fashion and so many other industries. Technological progress is largely to blame: every month, new scientific breakthroughs are presented that in a couple of years will impact the production of smartphones, computers, but also clothes and tractors.

When the term planned obsolescence came into being

Although the term planned obsolescence has now been cleared through customs in the industrial world, many companies prefer to speak of "product life cycle" rather than planned obsolescence. Despite all the nuances, the concept is always the same: after a few years, an electronic device becomes virtually unusable.

If you think planned obsolescence is an industry strategy used only in recent years, you are sadly mistaken. The term was first used in 1924, when light bulb manufacturers created the Phobos cartel to decide that incandescent bulbs should not last more than 1,000 hours. A similar decision was also made a few years later to "weaken" the strength of nylon, the fabric from which the stockings used by women were made. The fabric created in the lab was so strong that the hosiery industry was going out of business. During the years of the Great Depression, the United States decided that objects should not have a very long life cycle, so as to stimulate domestic consumption.

Since the 2000s, the term has been increasingly associated with the world of computing and electronics. And this has caused in some cases even class actions of consumers against companies that produce devices, guilty of making devices with a very short life cycle.