My mobile (or cell for my North American friends) phone decided recently that it was no longer wishing to be a part of my life, and so after being a companion by my side for almost six years it was time to say goodbye to the old and welcome the new.

But is six years really that old?

Like many people I use my phone all day long for work – it never stops – and that is largely to do with the fact that it functions as a camera, notepad, internet browser and email-hub. I remember the phones of the 1990’s – those big bricks – imagine trying to explain to us all back then that in only a few decades we will have a powerful microcomputer at our fingertips!

Generations of iPhone all outdated as a result of planned obsolescence.

iPhone products through the generations.

My six-year-old companion has seen countless worksites, has been dropped in a puddle, has had its screen smashed and replaced at least once, has travelled the world, and has captured the raw spontaneity of life’s precious moments. It has had a busy life. But until recently it was still going strong.

the day was always destined to come when planned obsolescence took over my trusty workhorse

Being a sixth generation iPhone, the day was always destined to come when planned obsolescence took over my trusty workhorse. If you aren’t familiar with planned obsolescence, it is tool used by product manufacturers to ensure consumers continue to purchase the latest and greatest. Products are designed to have a pre-determined lifespan, thereby making them slow down or have reduced functionality after a period of time.

Planned obsolescence actually isn’t new. The idea has been around since the 1930’s when Bernard London, an American real estate broker, coined the idea of having a designated product lifespan, which would require the manufacturing of new products, therefore kickstarting the consumer economy in the Great Depression.

In one software update, my phone had become the victim of planned obsolescence. Suddenly, the battery began to rapidly discharge, the storage capacity was no longer sufficient and all of the applications were no longer compatible with the device hardware. I was left with a function impaired phone that could scarcely spend more than 10 minutes unplugged from the charger.

So off to the shops I went!

After selecting an appropriate new phone, not the latest but a recent model, I decided that I wanted to protect my new asset.

“Can I have a case for this phone please?” I asked the astute shop assistant.

“Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have any for that model anymore,” came the reply.

“But this model is only twelve months old,” I exclaimed.

So once again, and much sooner than I would have liked, I was facing a battle against planned obsolescence. But this time I hadn’t even left the shop. I was aghast. Have we really become such well trained consumers that after twelve months we accept that a product is outdated and old? Here I was feeling guilty about replacing my six-year-old phone!

However, the grip of planned obsolescence didn’t stop there. When I purchased my old phone, it had a 3.5mm headphone jack.

“A what?” was the reply when I asked a salesperson in a major chain electronics store for the adapter that would allow me to use all of my old headphone accessories with my new phone. Apparently even the 3.5mm headphone jack has succumbed to planned obsolescence.

And if all this wasn’t enough, I was then offered, in a very thinly vailed upsell effort, a thin plastic film protector for the screen of my new phone. Well, I guess I’d better take one if it means I have the potential to extend the life of my phone for the benchmark six years of my old model.

So armed with new phone, case, protector, and little white cord thingy that connects the ‘a what?’ 3.5mm headphone jack to the charging port on the phone, I left that shopping mall.

But my little shopping expedition got me thinking. What will happen with the products in store that are never sold but are made redundant by design through planned obsolescence? We know what happens when planned obsolescence catches up with products that have been purchased. Just like my old phone, they will sit around for the next decade gathering dust until finally the day comes when it is sold, recycled or more often, tossed in the bin. What happens to all the phones that are no longer the latest model, the cases, the plastic screen films? What about other products? Televisions, microwaves, computers? Where do they go when they haven’t been sold?

We know that stores hold stock on hand because in the modern day of click and collect consumers expect the retailer to have it available within a few hours. So, what happens when that stock on hand is no longer the in-vogue product? These products have enormous amounts of resources that have been turned into a product that may well never see a functional life. Thousands of kilograms of materials per store, never having a functional role. The mind boggles.

What are we, as the only species capable of controlling how and what we consume, doing persisting down this path of false necessity, planned obsolescence, and hyper consumerism?

Surely, there is one easy way to reduce our resource burden on the planet and to help repair the global environment. Is it time to put an end to planned obsolescence?