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Understanding Planned Obsolescence

31 January 2017

Understanding Planned Obsolescence: Unsustainability through production, consumption and waste generation, Kamila Pope, 2017, ISBN 978 0 7494 7805 6, 212 pp.

Understanding Planned Obsolescence: Unsustainability through production, consumption and waste generation by Kamila Pope

Understanding Planned Obsolescence: Unsustainability through production, consumption and waste generation by Kamila Pope

Pope has written an outstanding text for moving beyond the current economy of endless production with ceaseless exploitation of resources to a circular economy—that is a system where waste from production is input to another process and energy is supplanted with renewable sources.

Pope is the author to do this with her admirable background in law as well as economics. Fortunately, she is from Brazil so has researched her subject in many languages so there is no English-only sunglasses over her eyes. During her well-referenced writing the reader quickly notices thoughts, deeds and citations from Europe, North and South America. The amount of thinking is world-view and thorough. The citations are plentiful and serve as waypoints for this in-depth discussion of the planned obsolescence methodology which is ubiquitous in our society—both in how it came to be and how it may (should?) evolve to intelligent sustainability through engineering, science and law.

Interestingly, planned obsolescence has its roots in the Depression Era but mutated into a handful of forms from unnecessarily complex engineering (more parts to fail), overpriced parts (so one purchases a new machine instead of repairing it) to programmed obsolescence (a computer operating system update requires a more advanced machine as well as outdating software programs). Who knew that planned obsolescence originated as tampering with the idea being to simply keep demand for production up. Thanks to the author we know the ground and the unwritten though well researched culture of planned obsolescence.

Pope segues to the concept of a looping economic model of production instead of a linear one. Production where there is truly no waste since the waste itself is a product for another process. Changing a paradigm is not an easy task and the producers have a huge advantage with their inherent control of products since people desire or require those products—having to survive the day as opposed to thinking down the road.

This is where Pope’s legal background steps onto center stage since society changes with its laws (Who wore seatbelts until using them was mandated?) along with economic incentives (e.g., use of seatbelts decreased insurance rates). Two cases against Apple are described. In Westley v Apple the case centers on Apple’s apparently outrageous design of an iPod where the battery was not replaceable (toss the old iPod and buy a new one—hardly world citizen philosophy of design). Another in Brazil v Apple regarding the release of iPad 4 only months after the release of iPad3 which instantly rendered iPad3 less than desirable.

Pope’s book has an excellent index, citations are complete and the list of acronym explanations os most welcome for this new as well as exciting field. Economists, industry captains and law forms working toward the future will welcome this book. Those wanting to understand the world we are all currently in will appreciate the pulling back of the curtain to see the mechanism of planned obsolescence and how it affects our everyday lives. This is a 1A professional level book rich in source material as well as intelligent and cogent thought.

Kogan Page has Understanding Planned Obsolescence available here with shipping free within the UK and United States.

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