Valerie Yules Letters

January 29, 2012

Rapid obsolescence as a form of waste

Filed under: climate, conservation, social problems, Waste, waste — Tags: , , — valerieyulesletters @ 1:37 am

Rapid obsolescence as a form of waste

I have a fantasy that Stonehenge is all that remains today of an electronic civilisation.  The rest is lost.

Half of all my life’s work is lost on obsolete technology – three forms of tape recording, Deskmate word processing, Amiga animation, floppies, Betacam, microfiche, old editions of modern programs. . All that remains is what I put on paper.  And today schools are throwing out books and relying on electronic technology!

Today I want to put irreplaceable tape recordings of oral history onto CDs or DVDs, but cannot find the technology to do so.

Putting everything into paper archives is unsatisfactory unless we have a means of finding material.  There is much dross.

We need the equivalent of a Rosetta stone for modern knowledge and culture.

Planned obsolescence in electronic technology makes the situation worse. What is good is thrown out as well as what is passe.

Planned Obsolescence and Climate Change


Too many products these days are created and bought with the expectation that they’ll soon be replaced. The consequences are serious.

‘Sometime very soon, we need to start talking about an economy that improves quality of life while reducing the quantity of material resources it devours and excretes,’ That time is now.

My lovely daughter gave me an expensive Olympus digital camera in 2003. I enjoyed using it occasionally. Now, less than four years later, it must be thrown away plus its box of bits and brochures because the camera’s memory card is obsolete. So says the Olympus shop, charging $60 for cleaning the camera before telling us the card cannot be replaced: ‘Try ringing around shops or eBay.’

We live in an era of planned obsolescence.

Planned obsolescence is a decision on the part of a manufacturer to design products to become unusable quickly. This stimulates marketplace demand because customers must buy again, sooner than they would if the product lasted longer. It happens with cars, light bulbs, software, clothing and buildings.

Our GDP figures prove that this works. There is growth in the economy when people are forced to keep buying replacements. But it is false growth in view of its environmental consequences, and it is false economics because it diverts customer buying power from more sustainable ways of improving our quality of life.

Planned obsolescence increases pollution and environmentally damaging emissions through the production of goods that would not otherwise need to be created. It exacerbates the problems of landfill and waste disposal, because most obsolescing products are not designed to be recyclable. It also wastes materials and workers’ lives that could be spent more profitably and more usefully.

It is difficult if not impossible to find replacement parts for electronic goods even a few years old. Cheap printers may evolve rapidly as technology improves, but cartridge availability for older models is liable to disappear. ‘No more parts made. You’ll have to buy a new printer,’ they say.

And it’s not just the hardware that becomes obsolete. Microsoft’s new Vista operating system, for example, is rumoured to force users to abandon old software and computers and buy new ones, even more than already happens.

This is not to say that continued advances in products aren’t essential despite improvements in technology, we still do not have ideal refrigerators, cars, houses, or almost anything. We still need new inventions and breakthroughs to make lives better.

But customers deserve some idea of how long a product is expected to be repairable or parts available.

A number of factors make this difficult. Companies that guarantee availability and long-term repairability may be located overseas; they may go out of business, or evade responsibility by metamorphosing into another business name. Liability may discourage companies from making too many promises although many products do have guarantees over 10 years, with repair and replacement warranties.

It would be good if products with planned or inbuilt obsolescence could be taxed or otherwise penalised, but this may be too invidious to be possible.

Customer power and public boycotting is probably the strongest and simplest weapon. More customer information about durability, mendability, updateability and availability of parts should be available and sufficiently publicised. (Note that I use the word ‘customers’ and not ‘consumers’ horrible word with destructive implications.)

At present, advertising goes for what is proven to work which is emotional and aesthetic appeal and minimum practical information about a product. Educators today boast that they train students in ‘multiliteracy.’ A major literacy needed by students is purchasing-savvy.

Goods on sale now bear stars for their expected energy and water efficiency, use-by-dates, and logos indicating whether they were made in Australia or by an Australian-owned company. Dangerous products bear warnings.

Perhaps optional logos could carry information about expected durability, mendability, updateability and availability of parts. A bright little rectangle with a time estimate inside it say, ’10 years.’ How long should a new house last before it needs to be pulled down? Fifteen years, one builder told me. Fifty years might be fairer, even if we expect vast changes in the way houses are built over the next few years. A hundred years for large, solid, public buildings seems fair.

If anyone jibs that without planned obsolescence jobs will disappear and capitalism won’t work properly, let us remember that our present economic system is not divinely ordained or necessarily static. We created it. We can improve it to prosper without planned waste.

About half of all production is wasted at some stage or another. Cutting the production of almost-instant waste is a faster and more efficient way of reducing carbon emissions than carbon trading, which assumes emissions can continue as before so long as we plant trees (while other forests are felled).

Far too many jobs are invested in producing waste. The alternative approach is that if everything that needed to be done was being done, there would be no unemployment.

We have to start to take this seriously, because planned obsolescence helps to promote the unplanned obsolescence of us and our planet.


See also Planned obsolescence and climate change New Matilda. 143. 23 May. 2007


January 27, 2012

One way to reduce the road toll

Filed under: social problems, transport — Tags: , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 3:42 am

For a trial period, all hospitals in a region could record and report all non-fatal admissions for car accidents.  No detail is required. The findings are publicised by the media.

Many horrendous traffic accidents are due to dare-devils and suicides, who do not fear death.  Therefore the present reporting of ‘road toll statistics’ as deaths only does not deter them.

They would take more care if they realised that mutilation or paralysis was (four?) times more likely than a quick death.

It would also make a difference if one road toll report added to, say, nine deaths, say 15 paraplegics, 12 facial injuries, 16 broken bones, 13 chest injuries . . .    This one report could be reported everywhere.

Horrific videos tend to excite the accident-prone, not warn them off. They are like horror-films.

January 25, 2012

An Australian car industry

Filed under: Pleasures — Tags: , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 7:28 am

An Australian car industry is essential as insurance for the future – as Essington Lewis saved the steel industry before World War II.

But it can only survive if Australians buy Australian cars.

What sort would they buy?


If all our two‑car homes had one of their cars a small car for single-­person trips, such as commuting or shopping,many problems would be solved ‑ such as waste of petrol, carbon emissions, traffic congestion and parking. It could be a two-seater, the first car many young people could afford.

Drivers would also be more careful of cyclists – Sixty per cent of drivers have big cars thinking they are safer in our traffic, and so they make the problem worse.

This cheap car should be able to be designed and tooled quickly

January 16, 2012

Praising a child

Filed under: Education, social problems — Tags: , , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 3:50 am

Katherine Hammesley and Carole Sutton are psychologists quoting the research that shows the importantce of giving a child 5 praises a day. As a schools psychologist (and as a parent) I found this advice valuable:  Name a child when giving praise (‘That’s a nice picture you have done, Jimmy’) and do not use their name when giving criticism but make your comment generic or ‘anonymous’ (‘Stop that!’ ‘No shouting!’ ‘You with the red jersey, stop poking others!’)

Children need criticism too.  One child rebelled in a permissive school (‘No matter what I do, they say it is wonderful!’) But some children get named only for wrong things, and associate themselves with wrong-doing.  Find 5 good things and give their name to them.

‘You are very good, caring for your baby sister, Laurie.’  “Hitting is a bad thing to do.’

The child identifies himself/herself with the good, and the bad things they do are not linked with their identity.

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