This week’s column – Must Our Machines Die?

By | May 13, 2004

This week’s Loose Wire column is about obsolescence:

IT’S BEEN one of those weeks when everything technical seems to have died on me. My Canon computer scanner started burping when I tried to scan in my bank statements, possibly because it couldn’t believe the overdraft charges I was facing. Then two of my label writers stopped working. Then some of the keys on my Nokia cellphone started misbehaving so that all my text messages looked as if they had been tapped in by someone who really hated the letters M, N and O. Then two separate flash-memory devices–gadgets that let you store and move data between devices, like photos, or documents–failed. Then my HP printer made a noise like someone chewing a cheese grater. When I took it to the local HP repair shop they told me they’d stopped making that model about 25 years ago.

Could all this be a case of built-in obsolescence, I wondered? How come all these things seemed to be designed to fail? Was it a coincidence that they all seemed to stop working a few months (OK, in some cases a decade or two) after their guarantees had expired? Was this all part of a grim conspiracy to turn us into permanent consumers?

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at (subscription required). Old columns at here.

One thought on “This week’s column – Must Our Machines Die?

  1. ah lee

    It’s not planned obsolescence. It’s a statistical
    phenomena (called consumer’s risks). In the
    extremities of the bell curve where the costs of
    reducing (let alone eliminating) defects becomes
    prohibitive, mass-producers have to strike a
    balance between the costs and the defect rate. It
    is possible to have zero defects but the costs are
    not worth it. I am speaking from an engineer’s
    point of view.


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