Planned Obsolescence: Is Modern Tech Built to Last?

By Matthew Braga

Old technology is built to last, but can you say the same for new products built today?

Old technology is built to last. It's the reason that Super Nintendo sitting in the closet works flawlessly when retrieved from its box, or why your Mac Classic still runs System 6 as if it were the early nineties. Despite the steady march of time, the chips within continue to work like new.
You can't say the same for new products built today, however. If Microsoft's Red Ring of Death debacle has taught us anything, it's that technology is far more ephemeral now than it's ever been. We're lucky if a phone lasts us a year, let alone five or more. These products aren't built to last — they're built to break. That's planned obsolescence for you.

Now think of the cellphone you were using five, even ten years ago, and imagine using that same device today. For most, the thought is unthinkable; the technology is simply too outdated. In a few years, we'll view our iPhones and Android handsets the same way. This is why dealing with obsolete electronics is very much a double-edged sword. We want our products to last, but at the same time, we lust for the latest and greatest too.

Gorilla Glass may be, you don't need an indestructible product when it's only going to be replaced mere months down the line. Steve Jobs notably compared the iPhone 4's design with a classic Leica camera. And yes, both share similar aesthetics. But a Leica camera built decades ago will still work today, and it's difficult to imagine an iPhone 4 lasting into the 22nd Century.

But what about the products we're not replacing? New models of mice come out each year, but how often do you really need to upgrade? Simple peripherals like these could be five, even ten years old, and still remain current. The same goes for many other, common computing devices. In fact, it's the exact reason why spring-based keyboards have spiked in popularity; the things are near impossible to break. They are the Gorilla Glass of keyboards, built specifically to last.

iPhones: Not quite built to last. 

But perhaps that's not necessarily a bad thing. Mice, keyboards and other peripherals have proved there is a market for technology that lasts, but perhaps there is also a market for technology that doesn't. If people are ditching their phones after only a year of ownership, why not embrace that trend? Recycle the old models, turn them into new phones. Give users discounts, and incentives to upgrade, while lowering prices to more manageable levels. Consumerism at its finest, perhaps, but phones and tablets could become as common as your single use convenience store cameras. 

Is obsolescence a problem that needs to be fixed, or a necessary evil of the technological world? Do you dispose of your last generation tech, or store it in box with yesteryear's Ataris and Amigas?
Images via Flickr users mjar81, baptigrou, and Chreriksen.