Ever wondered why that thing you just bought broke the day after the warranty expired? The answer may lie in planned obsolescence.
The informative 2010 documentary The Light Bulb Conspiracy is helping spread awareness of planned obsolescence, “the deliberate shortening of product life spans to guarantee consumer demand.” The documentary won best film at Scinema 2011, a yearly science-based film festival.
There is a claim of an actual conspiracy, though it is easily documented and provides only the background for the larger story which unfolds. From the site topdocumentaryfilms.com:
As a magazine for advertisers succinctly puts it: The article that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business – and a tragedy for the modern growth society which relies on an ever-accelerating cycle of production, consumption and throwing away.
The Light Bulb Conspiracy combines investigative research and rare archive footage to trace the untold story of Planned Obsolescence, from its beginnings in the 1920s with a secret cartel, set up expressly to limit the life span of light bulbs, to present-day stories involving cutting edge electronics (such as the iPod) and the growing spirit of resistance amongst ordinary consumers.
The history and mechanism explained are invaluable. Most interesting are the American advertisers and central planning authorities who promoted planned obsolescence, including one who wished to make it compulsory via government as a plan to reduce unemployment during the Depression.
The idea of “planned obsolescence” is no mere conspiracy theory, it is defended today by economists who still see it as a viable economic practice for job security and staying competitive with changing fashions. But the documentary does well to show that this is backwards: much of the fashion industry was a product of—not the driving force of—the practice, and marketing changed from emphasizing durability to a consumerism model.
For these reasons, consumerreports.com also took note of the film.
A Spanish-based production, the original film was conducted mostly in three European languages and only partially in English. A full-English version is now available online for free. For educational purposes, even if every jot and tittle is not to your political taste, the awareness gained is well worth the hour to watch.