Fight­ing ‘ planned ob­so­les­cence’

Peo­ple are shar­ing tips on­line to re­pair and hang on to their elec­tri­cal goods a lot longer than man­u­fac­tur­ers plan for.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - OPINION - star2@ thes­tar. com. my Man­gai Balasegaram Man­gai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into any­thing on be­ing hu­man. She has worked with in­ter­na­tional pub­lic health bod­ies and has a Mas­ters in pub­lic health.

In France, a new law forces man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­form con­sumers how long their products will last.

I’M not good with good­byes. Cer­tainly not with dear, fa­mil­iar things such as my old lap­top. I ham­mered out most of my col­umn pieces on that sil­ver, 13- inch Sony Vaio. I clung to it even when it was no longer trust­wor­thy and started to stut­ter and slow, or even shut down.

I hoped to get it fixed. My hus­band raile­dra against it. In his firm, a large multi­na­tional,n lap­tops are rou­tinely changed a fter a few years, as that is their ex­pected life­span.

I sol­diered on with my Sony for six years.y Then one re­cent morn­ing, I stupidly y left it in a bag be­hind my mother’s car a nd she un­know­ingly re­versed o nto the bag. And that fi­nally e nded the Sony saga.

I have, re­luc­tantly, come to o terms with the 21st ce en­tury re­al­ity of electr ri­cal goods. Don’t get to oo fond of your g oods. They’re not builtb to last, but to th hrow away.

Re­pairs may be too costly, dif­fi­cultd or just im­pos­si­ble. I’ ’ ve had to dump a num­ber of el lec­tronic goods – cam­eras, voice recorde rs, elec­tric tooth­brushes. Cheap chil­dren’sd toys are the worst.

I grew up with a very dif­fer­ent re­al­ity y. My par­ents had the same car, their tr rusty ma­roon Peu­geot, in the 1970s a nd throughout much of my child­hood,h as fam­ily photos show. Of co ourse, we had the same tele­vi­sion and ( one)o dial phone for yonks.

Tech­nol­ogy is mov­ing so fast now and I’ ’ ve lagged be­hind. I held onto cas­sette ta apes far too long. Some years back, I boughtb a good tape player – prob­a­bly one o f the last of its kind to be sold in Kuala Lumpur!L I was crest­fallen when it stoppeds work­ing re­cently. I knew what that meant: throw­ing out my tapes.

I took the ma­chine back to the man­u­fac­turer but was told parts are no longer avail­able. I then found a re­pair ser­vice com­pany on­line, but when I called the re­pair­man, he told me solemnly that the re­pair would prob­a­bly cost me a bomb. The parts for cas­settes don’t come cheap, or easy.

When it comes to di­nosaur tech­nol­ogy go­ing ex­tinct, I get it. Move on. When it comes to phones and soft­ware, we have no choice but to change. Con­stantly. The tech­nol­ogy is speed­ing ahead.

But with elec­tri­cal goods, com­pa­nies are some­times de­lib­er­ately de­sign­ing goods to go bust af­ter a few years, aim­ing for two or three sales a decade. It’s a wide­spread busi­ness pol­icy known as “planned ob­so­les­cence”.

“White goods” – elec­tronic goods that are of­ten white ( or used to be, tra­di­tion­ally), such as fridges – don’t last so long now. A wash­ing ma­chine that might have lasted 10 years or so in the 1980s might only last three years to­day. My sis­ter actu--

ally bought an old, Bri­tish- made Ken­wood mixer be­cause of the brand’s leg­endary dura­bil­ity.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers point out that while dura­bil­ity has dropped, so has the price. Cheaply- made goods, us­ing low- qual­ity ma­te­ri­als, aren’t meant to last.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers even ob­struct re­pairs; they are quite sneaky about it, lim­it­ing ac­cess to parts or us­ing dig­i­tal soft­ware locks or se­cret codes that block any tin­ker­ing. A lot more could be fixed, but com­pa­nies want you to re­place, not re­pair their products. Can you be­lieve, there’s a light­bulb that has been burn­ing for 100 years in a fire sta­tion in Liver­more, Cal­i­for­nia? The “cen­ten­nial bulb” is recorded in the Guin­ness Book Of Records ( you can watch a live stream of the bulb at cen­ten­ni­al­bulb.org/cam.htm.) This, folks, is the kind of bulb made be­fore man­u­fac­tur­ers de­cided to make bulbs go bust af­ter 1,000 hours or so. The no­tion of de­lib­er­ate ob­so­les­cence to rake up prof­its is ob­scene. It costs the earth en­ergy and re­sources to pro­duce these goods, plus they then fill up land­fills and may leech tox­ins into the ground. And of course, it drains us fi­nan­cially.

But here’s the good news. Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to fight back.

In France, a new law forces man­u­fac­tur­ers to in­form con­sumers how long their products will last, and how long spare parts will be avail­able – or else risk a huge fine. French man­u­fac­tur­ers will also have to re­pair or re­place de­fec­tive products from two years af­ter the pur­chase date. Oh, I love the French some­times!

Con­sumers are also fight­ing back with the In­ter­net. YouTube videos and on­line fo­rums help in­struct peo­ple on re­pairs, which can some­times be done for a frac­tion of what a com­pany may charge.

My hus­band fixed my phone once with the help of a YouTube video, at vir­tu­ally no cost to us. Peo­ple are also post­ing se­cret codes on­line to al­low re­pairs.

There is also an open source elec­tron­ics plat­form, Ar­duino, which also may change things. The soft­ware and hard­ware is easy to use, in­ex­pen­sive, and has helped power thou­sands of projects, and built a com­mu­nity of users world­wide.

Now that’s more like the kind of 21st cen­tury elec­tronic re­al­ity I like.

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