Category Archives: Keys
From a technical term reserved to engineers, the obsolescence of our everyday objects has become in recent years a common term, and an important social issue. Overview of this phenomenon, and solutions for de-planning obsolescence: #obsolout.
A trend constantly accelerating
Literally, obsolescence is the result of “becoming obsolete” , i.e. useless. Warning, this doesn’t mean the incriminated equipment has stopped functioning. The word “use” must be taken in its etymological sense: usage, habit. Thus, a dress, a shirt or pants with cuttings that are of another era (which can be just a few decades away) are just as obsolete in a contemporary context than a watch whose mechanism is broken and irreparable. Many items that still work perfectly seem obsolete to us. Without lighting the streets by gas nozzle, many of us are or have in their drawers a PDA or a cell phone, still fully functional, but also literally out of use. How long have you used such objects ? As everyone must do his mea culpa, I admit my fascination with certain technical objects, and here are some of my possessions, idly sitting, just in case a contemporary museum or collector would be interested:
No need to have been to the Ivy League to find that the phenomenon has been accelerating strongly in recent decades. After the garment industry, fashion has hit cars, hifis, media players, mobile phones, cameras and even home appliances. There is no doubt that acceleration of obsolescence, promoting the renewal of household equipment, is beneficial for companies that make their revenue from the sale of objects. At least until they do not have to bear all the costs of the extraction of raw material, of the generation of pollution and green-gas emissions, or the management of waste generated. It is not enough to make a life cycle analysis (LCA) of a product, or to ensure that the materials used for its fabrication are environmentally friendly. It is also necessary that all factors that contribute to the life of this product does not make the total user cost and the environmental cost of it unbearable.
With the financialization of the world economy, the search for higher and higher return on capital, the phenomenon of obsolescence appears as positive to companies thus geting a faster return on investment. From this spontaneous tendency to its planning, there is just a step, the path being showed by fashion. Conscious and unconscious techniques of planned obsolescence are designed to accelerate the replacement of consumer goods. In the Novus method, the Inspire Institute defines planned obsolescence as “all techniques aimed at reducing the life span or use of a product in order to accelerate its replacement rate”. In 1932 , Bernard London proposed it as a strategy against the Great Depression in an article that can be downloaded here. He encouraged Americans to replace their goods despite the crisis. “Ready to throw“, a documentary produced by Article Z illustrates the origins and logic of planned obsolescence, even if the interpretation of certain facts by the film makers may seem simplistic (as his critique by some economists who see only its technical dimension ) .
Different dimensions of obsolescence
Indeed, planned obsolescence is often seen in its technical aspects only: reducing the lifespan of bulbs, replacing metal parts for printers or washing machines by weaker plastic parts, impossible to replace without replacing the machine itself, and generally limiting the modularity of parts in electronic equipments (a trend that the Phonebloks project would like to counter, we wish it good luck). It has a version that links hardware to software, with updates of the operating system or software always demanding for more RAM. These are relatively safe strategies that make predictable and schedulable profits.
But planned obsolescence also has a more insidious and more diffuse social and cultural component. This one largely uses communication, advertising and even lobbying: to make perennial practices, sometimes quite sustainable, out of fashion, encourage novelty at any price, discredit those who do not renew not only their wardrobe, but also all kinds of objects. In terms of lobbying, it also involves discrediting natural treatments, comforting the monopoly of drugstores and allopathy in health care. We would like to detail those issues in another article.
Annie Leonard, author of the educational series the Story of Stuff, describes well this linear economy, which sees nature as a resource to be exploited indefinitely, and as a bottomless pit for our waste. If you have not already seen it, watch this video of about twenty minutes:
Hacking planned obsolescence in 3 steps #obsolout
So how do we move out of planned obsolescence ?
1. For the user, this is simple: use judgment when purchasing products. Prefer solid equipment, replaceable parts, even if they are hardy. Focus on open source models, they are usually created by communities of users that have an incentive to make them as robust as possible. This includes of course software (such as Linux), but also hardware, as in the OpenSourceEcology project. Repairing, recycling and reusing are first steps, selection of positive production models goes further. These improvements significantly extend the life of objects. They do not guarantee a continuous and optimal use is made of them though.
2. To ensure that the negative impacts of production are really minimized, a second leap can be done, which also relates to business. Adopt a circular economy approach, and gradually move to economy of functionality. Circular economy means minimizing the consumption of raw materials and energy in the economy. Ecodesign is one aspect of designing objects for easy recycling or reusing of various components at its end of life .
3. Economy of functionality, or service economy, allows to extend this perspective to the economic cycle, focusing business and consumption models on the use of an object, its function, rather than on its possession. The trend of sharing, or collaborative consumption, is an important facet: sharing cars, apartments, vacation homes or tools. Collaborative consumption can be market oriented or non profit. This is the difference between AirBnB and Couchsurfing, for example. For businesses, transitioning business models from the production of goods to the production of services comprises many challenges.
All these strategies contribute to hacking / deplanning obsolescence. With Martine Grelet and Eric Cartier we launched the hashtag #Obsolout on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Diaspora to identify and follow this trend. Use it to illustrate in 160 characters or more a photo or video, all ways out of obsolescence.
The Novus method developed by Inspire Institute was launched on 28 October 2013 and can be downloaded here (in French only). The first training will take place early 2014. In the meantime, do not hesitate to contact us for any question about collaborative consumption, eco-design and functional economy.
Biodiversity is the fabric of life, the variety and diversity of species and ecosystems, and the relations beween them.
This short animation film from the students of the Vancouver Film School explains in 2 minutes 40 secondes what biodiversity is.
The figures are not always quite exactly right, but the video is nice and comprehensive.
The Vancouver Film School students produced an excellent film to explain visually Biodiversity, and its links to human society. The number of species (mammales, plants, etc.) are undervalued by 10 to 20%. But they got the basic concepts right, and the film is both visually attractive and educative.
It’s less than 3 minutes long, and worth seing. Just look!
Happiness is a trending topic, which seems to defy economics: Can a society be ruled by the “pursuit of happiness” (this is part of the oath of US citizens, isn’t it?). And if the answer is positive, how can you measure happiness to ensure there is progress in the pursuit of it? Here are several indications of the new importance of happiness in economics and hints on the relationship between the two concepts.
Read on and watch the trailer of a documentary to be released very soon!
This is an open question asked on Quora, the qualified questions & answers community. I apparently was the first one to provide an answer.
Our answer is part of an ongoing clarification and training effort we are leading on fair trade. Here goes the answer (edited a bit for this site).