The Disposable Era

(Please click image to expand.) Credit: Joe Martin

There used to be a time when everything you bought was of the highest quality.  These product were built to endure tear and wear.  Refrigerators, clothes, pens, automobiles, radios, shoes, houses—just about everything had the label of quality and durability. People at the factories felt proud in what they did.  It was just the way it was.  It was the era of W. Edward Deming, father of the Total Quality Movement who was revered in Japan like a God.  It was because of Deming that Japan was able to rise from the ashes after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Deming is best known for his work in Japan after WWII, particularly his work with the leaders of Japanese industry which began in August 1950 at the Hakone Convention Center in Tokyo with a now classical speech on what he called Statistical Product Quality Administration, which many in Japan credit with being the inspiration for what has become known as the Japanese post-war economic miracle of 1950 to 1960, rising from the ashes of war to become the second most powerful economy in the world in less than a decade, founded on the ideas first taught to them by Dr Deming.

Deming made a significant contribution to Japan’s later reputation for creative, high-quality products, and for its economic power. He is regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other person not of Japanese heritage.

Then greed started to leak through the cracks and quality changed direction and began its journey south.  The name of this new attitude in product manufacturing is called “Planned Obsolescence”.  It is “the absurd practice of designing products with a limited lifespan to maximise profits.  Based on the notion that infinite economic growth can be balanced by the finite resources of the planet.”

Planned obsolescence is when a product is deliberately designed to have a specific life span. This is usually a shortened life span. The product is designed to last long enough to develop a customer’s lasting need. The product is also designed to convince the customer that the product is a quality product, even though it eventually needs replacing. In this way, when the product fails, the customer will want to buy another, up to date version.

Take for example a washing machine. Planned obsolescence means that the washing machine is designed to last about two years, before it breaks down outside the guarantee time. Most of the components/parts have been manufactured from quality materials except for some vital parts. Two years after purchase, the washing machine will only need minor inexpensive repairs. However, between 4 to 5 years the vitals parts begin to wear out and a replacement machine is required.

For planned obsolescence to work, the customer must feel that he/she has had value for money. Furthermore, he/she must have enough confidence in the company, to replace the original washing machine with the modern equivalent machine, from the same manufacturer.  And the cycle of buying, discarding, disposing and buying again continues ad infinitum.

When I was working for Texaco, I was given as a merit award a Sony digital clock radio FM-AM bands.  The model was No. ICF-C11W and operated on AC/120V 60Hz 5W, Serial No. 142046 made in Taiwan.  That was about 1979, I don’t remember exactly.  Anyway, that clock is presently sitting in our night table working as the same day I connected it to the electric outlet fresh out of the box.  The radio is not working—too many falls on the floor—however, the clock is still wagging its tail.  It has several cracks, the gray color has faded, and looks old—but it works.  Below is a picture of the Sony radio-clock manufactured following the practices of Total Quality Managment (TQM) of the Japan of yesteryear.

Snapshot of our Sony digital clock radio which has been with us for the last 35 years. They don’t make products like these any more. Everything is made under the policy of planned obsolescence. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

The next time you buy a new product remember that it will work only a few months or years if you are lucky before you have to dispose it and buy another one.  Long-lasting products went by the wayside in this era of planned obsolescence and globalization.

In today’s globalized economy, the only people that aren’t getting a significant portion of the price paid by consumers is almost certainly the workers in the sweatshops that produce them which is why they can’t produce quality merchandise. They’re being abused so bad that they can’t possibly make decent merchandise.

Not that the greedy corporations want decent merchandise at all; in fact, as long as consumers remain complacent and keep replacing these products without complaining they can continue reducing the quality of the merchandise and increasing their profits. They’ve been increasing the size of the economy by forcing consumers to buy things over and over again so that we often have to buy many items four or five times as often as we used too.

Welcome to the future.  Good Day.


3 thoughts on “The Disposable Era”

  1. Your post is definitely an eye opener, but is there something we can do to go back to the old days?

    Hi, I was passing by, found your post interesting and wrote a reply. Thank you.

  2. And there’s a related issue. It used to be that we could fix the things we purchased. Cars, washing machines, clocks, and so on. The more computerized the world becomes, the more necessary it is to give up repairs to the “experts.”

  3. In Panama repairing things is disappearing very fast. Technicians are quick to say, “you have to replace this part or buy a new device”. Reparing has disappeared from their dictionary.

    There was an excellent Chinese place where I repaired my shoes in such a way they looked like new after the came out of the repair shop. Last month, the place shut down. The next time my shoes need mending, I’ll have no choice but to buy a new pair. That’s the way things are changing in this part of the world.



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