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OPINION | LET'S TALK: Gizmos made to degrade

by Helaine Williams | April 25, 2021 at 2:49 a.m.
  • You are OB-solete, Mr. Words-worth!
  • — The Chancellor in "The Obsolete Man," from the original "Twilight Zone" series

As if we didn't know this already.

"We've all been there: a piece of technology is suddenly on the fritz, and when you take it to be repaired, you're told it would be easier — or even cheaper — to just buy a new one," Sophie Hirsh begins her article "Planned Obsolescence Exposed at Apple and Microsoft, in Light of New French Regulations," posted April 7 at greenmatters.com.

"This is no accident; it's called planned obsolescence, and it's what keeps tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Samsung in business," Hirsh informs us.

The story goes on to tell how the country of France will no longer stand for such financial arm-twisting. It has introduced the French repairability index, by which makers of technical-type goods must now make known "repairability scores" on said goods. This, Hirsh writes, is shining a harsh light on how the big tech companies plan the obsolescence of their own products.

The story goes on to define planned obsolescence per Investopedia: "a business strategy of purposely creating a product to become difficult to repair, irrelevant or replaceable with a newer model within a certain period of time."

As in "Hey, let's make this shiny new gadget and rig it to stop working after a time." Or "Hey, let's introduce this shiny new gadget, then introduce a shiny new version of it a year later and an even newer, shinier version of it the year after that." That way, consumers feel like foolish old-timers if they don't pay, through the nose, to upgrade every year.

If you can't tell me what number iPhone we're now on, then you must fall into the "foolish old-timer" category.

Er, I certainly can't tell you. Hubby Dre has a 7 Plus and I have an 8 Plus that we are grateful to own outright. Technically, they were obsolete even when we ordered them from our former cell-service provider. (Having never owned a "current" iPhone, I'm still smarting from the fact that said provider eliminated its old "hey, get this freshly outdated iPhone from us free or for one cent with a two-year contract" policy — giving those who desired phone upgrades of any kind no choice but to pay small king's ransoms outright or take on "phone notes.")

We still have our iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus, with service under two new providers. Things have gone well with Apple's operating system upgrades and such, but we cringe at the thought of the day when the phones break down or become unusable because they're too old for iOS upgrades.

Yes, yes, getting things repaired had its headaches, too. I remember discussing years ago in this space the ins and outs of having things fixed by a shade-tree repairman — pretty much the only option for those who were short on funds back in the day. I discussed how the TV repair guy of my adolescence, who lived way back in the wilds of southern Pulaski County, once kept our black and white unit for a year before we got it back. And I remember how the lovable, rural-town pastor who worked on my folks' cars usually kept them for, well, awhile. I also remember the trickle, then the flood, of scenarios where as a young adult I took an item to a repair shop only to be told that it'd be better to just discard it and buy a new one.

And then I remember throwing up my hands in exasperation whenever multi-feature electronic devices I owned lost the function of one or more of those features. That's currently the case with our four-feature living room stereo system, charmingly made up to resemble one of those old-time radios. The record player and the CD player no longer work. (Generally, CD players proved to be as big a disappointment as CDs themselves did.)

If we were in France, we'd at least have an idea how much longer our devices might hold out. The new repairability index rule there consists of a score system, with a score of 10 at best. It applies not only to smartphones but laptops, lawnmowers, TVs and washing machines (Ha. "Lonely" Maytag repairman? More like nonexistent.) Surprise surprise: Apple and Microsoft have low scores on this index.

Hirsh mentions that planned obsolescence is the modus operandi of other industries, such as fashion. Sheesh, at least one stands a good chance of outdated fashions coming back into style. I somehow can't picture the iPhone 3 becoming all the rage again.

But there may yet be hope for those of us who still have dusty drawers and garages full of electronic gewgaws that were hot one day and not the next: At some point collectors and museums just may pay nice money for them.

So ... that partially working stereo can stay put while we continue to enjoy music on those phones we hope will keep working.

Email: Still not quite obsolete: hwilliams@adgnewsroom.com

Print Headline: Gizmosmade todegrade

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