Here’s something manufacturers and industrial designers need to think more about: backlash on planned obsolescence.

If there’s one thing in this world that I can’t stand, it’s companies like Microsoft and Apple…

Who seem to make things go obsolete well before their time. And no one can tell them not to. They just keep getting away with it. Why? Probably because they make a lot of money getting away with it. That’s why.

But there are no laws to stop them getting away with it. And what this materials scientist thinks right now is “by fucken oath there should be [laws to stop them getting away with it]”. That is coming from an ex materials scientist. Right.


I think you all know what I am talking about. I’m talking about ‘old’ printers that don’t work with newer computers simply because the ‘drivers’ have ‘issues’ with the “operating system”. I’m talking about new software that won’t run on old hardware. I’m also talking about new hardware that won’t run old software. I’m talking about Apple’s proprietry connectors.

Let me tell you a little anecdote. I can even remember my dad saying about 15 or 20 years ago way back when I was a kid that Apple (you know, Macintosh it was once called) forced you to use their special cables and connectors, and thus were able to charge a premium.

At the time, I took what he said with a pinch of salt. I thought “well it’s their computer system, I suppose they would want to do that. Who can blame them?”. But now, fast forward twenty-odd years and my old man is dead [RIP, he died last year] and what he said to me in the 1990’s is looking even wiser now than it did when he said it all those years ago. Because it just so happens to be true. This man, my father, would be 90 years old if he were alive today. He was old but he knew something that I didn’t. That something is called ‘wisdom’ and all early adopters from what I’ve seen tend to suffer from a severe lack of it.

Back in the day, we used things called serial ports and parrallel ports to plug in our printers. So they got the information from one cable and they got their power from another completely separate cable. The thing is, they were slow. Really slow. But when USB came along, all those printers and mice and things became much less useful. The same thing happened to compact discs when Apple decided not to include a CD drives on their latest desktops.

People will always need to buy new peripherals to work with new plugs on their new computer system. That is now happening with USB-C connectors. Do you want to know what I think? I think USB C can go and get fucked, that’s what I think. All of my stuff (two external hard drives, external sound card for microphone, graphics tablet, mouse, wireless solar keyboard, external webcam, flash drives, the entire bloody lot is USB2 now isn’t it?). USB2 and it is plenty good enough. I’m sticking with it.

Yes, I’m talking about Apple ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack on it’s newest smartphone. Now, keep in mind that I don’t even own an Apple iphone. In fact I have never owned an Apple iphone. And here I am, compelled to write a blog article about how narky it makes me feel. Because knowing what I know, I probably won’t ever own an Apple iphone. I’m writing this from an imac retina. I don’t own an ipad. And right now, that is the way it is going to stay. After buying just one Apple product, I’m fast becoming anti-Apple. And the headphone jack decision is my last straw. It is the catalyst to me becoming “anti-Apple”.

So I’m going to just say it here in black and white. I’m going to share with all you strangers the reason it makes me so narky. Because this is my blog, my little ‘space’ and I can say pretty much whatever the hell I want. Right? There’s this thing called “free speech” in the West that not enough people take advantage of… this is vida enigmática…

The reason it makes me so narky is that any time you force a consumer to swap something or buy something new prematurely, somewhere, somehow, that is bad for the environment. Now I don’t even care about the where, why, how or when at the moment. It just so happens to be true. New moulds have to be made for new parts. Things have to get transported. Things get thrown out. Things get thrown out when they don’t really need to be thrown out. How many headphones get ‘recycled’ I wonder? I bet the answer to that is ‘none’. New materials have to be mined from somewhere (and guess what? no one wants a mine in their back garden, so it’s always the remotest, most pristine natural ecosystems that get hammered). Right.

Every industrial designer who has any inkling about his impact on the world already knows that. And yet what do they do? They keep getting paid to design ever-more new parts. They keep designing new parts like there is no tomorrow, that’s what. And that’s what the problem is.

So I have a question. If this kind of bullshit is not good for our planet in the long term, how is it ever going to be good for us in the long term? Because we all live on that fucking planet. Don’t we?

Or had you forgotten? No! Just today, I looked up and I saw the moon right in the middle of a blue sky. So, yes, we live on a humble little planet and we all need to do our best to protect that little planet. If not for other species, then for posterity.

I believe that there should be a new law. I believe that if companies like Apple want to even earn the right to sell you something new every other year, they should be forced to take back your old product and recycle all of it. To recover all the materials like copper and neodymium. Because right now, Apple is just using up all the planet’s resources without any consequence whatsoever. And copper mines are very nasty places. I know, because I had to visit one as an undergraduate. And the place stunk to high heaven.

Did you watch the video above? Did you hear what Tim Cook said:

“it makes all the things you do every day SO much better”

Really? I think if you have to emphasise the word ‘so’ that much, your promise has already failed. Here’s a little reminder: it’s a phone. It may well be a ‘smart’ phone, but it’s still… just a phone. That’s what it is called. How much ‘better’ can a phone truly make our day? And, if it really does make your day “so much better”, are you even aware of how much time you are spending using the damn thing?

I’ll probably turn off a load of readers on this blog. But whatever. I already know that you can’t please everyone. And one of the main aims of this blog is to get people to buy less stuff (and to buy more services instead if you must insist on spending your money). I think if you think that ‘better’ phone will make you a happier person, then there is something sorely missing in your life.

I think we’ve been fückéd over as consumers for too long now. When are we ever going to be ‘happy’ with anything we buy or own? Never? Sorry, Apple, but I see right through you. I’m not buying it anymore. I’m just not buying it. Physically and metaphysically.

I’m happy with what I have. I’d even be happy without a phone. I’d be happy with a basic non-smart phone. That’s precisely what I’ve got by the way. And that’s precisely the way it will stay, too. I’d rather be daydreaming something creative, in my own thoughts than be yet another zombie on the train, transfixed at their iphone.

Let me share a secret with you. Actually, let me share two secrets with you. The first is that I actually used to love buying new products. I was as addicted as anyone. Moreso even. The second? New products rarely, if ever, make me ‘happier’. They just don’t. I believe that happiness is a state of mind and the existence or presence of happiness in one’s life is independent of consumer products.

Does Apple TRULY want to make our lives ‘better’? Yes? Then please make your products more sustainable. That’s what you need to do to your products. You admit that you have made a billion phones. What is the material footprint of that lot? Where did the lithium come from? Where are you going to get the next batch of indium from? That’s what you need to be thinking about.

If you’ve had to source the materials for the phone from the Earth’s crust, then no, it doesn’t “make all the things you do every day SO much better”. It’s going to make them all much much worse, actually. Hello! Species extinction reminder! Hello! Because from the news I read every day, I see that the natural world is suffering. 10% of species are expected to go extinct by 2050. That news article should be a great big fucking wake up call to every single person that reads it.

The natural world is suffering and we need it in order to survive. And to be ‘happy’, we need to be able to survive. And every single time something gets superceded fo no good reason, this relentless march of technology brings us us one step closer to our own demise.

So you can take your new iphone 7, Apple, and you can shove it where the sun don’t shine and the moon don’t fit. Apple, I think YOU are partially responsible for ensuring the premature obsolesence of computer hardware. That might be great for speed. That might be good for profit. But all of this is not a good thing for the environment. I suggest you go back to your old ways and opt for longer product cycles. Invent stuff that is truly better. Give people a reason to upgrade.

So people, if you’re a blog reader, and you’ve been reading this blog for a few months or years. Don’t do me a favour. Do the planet a favour. Skip the Apple iphone 7. Keep using your old phone until it actually breaks. Keep your ‘old’ headphones until they actually break. Save the money and put it towards something that really is ‘better’. Spend the dollars on the IUCN or some other conservation agency instead. Put that money into saving one of your local oxygen factories (by that I mean ‘forest’). Before Apple comes in and takes that away too.

Ultimately I think it is the consumer who decides what they want, isn’t it? It’s not you, it’s the consumer. And this time I’ve voting with my wallet.

“I have spoken”

 

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