Thursday, July 19, 2012

Video Reflections: The Light Bulb Conspiracy

The documentary-style film The Lightbulb Conspiracy takes a historical look at the introduction and creation of the concept of design obsolescence. With the fall of prices within the industrial revolution, people started shopping for fun rather than need, influencing companies to increase profits by controlling the rate at which consumers repurchased their products. The film ultimately looks at the disastrous affects that design obsolescence is having on our environment and the ramifications from this economy-boosting initiative.

Initially, the concept came into design during the start of the depression within the 1920's, when it became an issue of the economy grinding to a halt because people reduced their buying; if consumers do not purchase, the economy does not grow. A man of the name Bernard London proposed a radical theory  to end the depression, to make design obsolescence a planned law to create a balance between capitol and labour, where there would always be a need for goods. Although this concept was never adopted, the idea was out and the lightbulb was one of the first products that took advantage of this profit-creating theory.

Looking at the history of the lightbulb, it can be observed that over the course of the last 100 years, the lifespan of a lightbulb has been greatly reduced to increase company profits and more frequent repeated purchase. Bulbs regulatory lifespan was dropped from 2500 hours to 1000 hours with an aim of controlling consumption. Adolf Chalet is the late designer who invented the 100-year light bulb, a bulb that has been burning constantly for over 100 years to this day. This unique design demonstrates that design obsolescence is an unnecessary con to force people to spend more money, more frequently than is actually necessary. It is ironic that the lightbulb was one of the first victims of planned obsolescence  in the sense that it is a symbol for innovation.

Another product that was brought to light with designed obselesence was a home-use inkjet printer. The printer had been manufactured to have a set lifespan of 1800 prints, made possible by the insertion of a chip within the electronics that instructed the printer to stop printing after the manufacture set default number of prints. The repair of the printer at this stage of use was made to be over twice the price of a new printer, forcing the consumer to obtain better value through the deliberate disposing of a still-functional product. Another example of planned obsolescence was seen with the introduction of the ipod. The irreplaceable battery which had a life of 1500 hours meant that when the battery was expired the product could not be fixed, forcing the customer to make a repurchase. Consumers were so outraged with this marketing con that a class action lawsuit was filed against Apple and won, producing the outcome of an extended warranty - the underlying problem of planned obsolescence still remains an issue.

The concept of planned obsolesce was initially marketed to consumers within the 1950's, seducing them to own something a little newer and sooner than necessary. This concept of  buying has led to people using products as an expression of their identity. Older forms of identity, such as community memberships and relationships with the land have been replaced by the consumption of products.

The Lightbulb Conspiracy gives an accurate depiction of the effects of planned obsolescence on our natural environment, highlighting that although it boosts the growth of the economy, it is not sustainable. Within deign, product lifecycle had become the euphemism of planned obsolescence. The video aims to inform people of the weaknesses that have been purposefully built into design, and how this greedy and manipulative concept has seen the astronomical rise in unnecessary waste that is destroying our natural environment.

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