Planned Obsolescence, As Explained To A Ten-Year-Old

by Katy on October 1, 2008 · 4 comments


My ten-year-old son and I were enjoying a leisurely stroll to the pet store this afternoon when he asked me if he could have an iPhone. This took me by surprise as his usual requests are for:

1) A chameleon.

2) Legos.

3) Modeling clay.

4) A chameleon. (He really wants a chameleon!)

When asked why he wanted an iPhone, he enthusiastically responded about how many things he could do with it, such as listen to music or call a friend. I asked why would it be any better to call with an iPhone versus the huge vintage rotary phone in our dining room. I even offered to sing to him if he was wanting to hear some music, and joyously started singing loudly in my off-key voice.

My generous musical gift was declined.

He was holding his father’s iPod at the time, and demonstrated to me how the iPhone can be held sideways.

Hmm . . . sideways. That is cool. Hundreds of dollars cool.

I explained to him that yes, the iPhone was really cool and shiny and stuff. But in a few years, there would be a totally new iPhone that would make the current one seem like a Edsel. Then nobody would want the old one.

I didn’t get into the whole planned obsolescence thing. How manufacturers produce newer, sleeker models each and every year. Just to make sure consumers can tell when something is no longer the latest model.

You wouldn’t want to get caught owning something unfashionable and out of date!!

God forbid your kitchen appliances are not stainless steel, your jeans high waisted, or your computer screen convex. 

By producing newer and better products every year, manufacturers are ensured that prior years’ goods are seen as undesirable. 

And what happens to all this suddenly unlovable stuff? 

Electronic goods become E-waste, composed of toxins that pollute the environment. Even sending electronics off to be recycled is not without negative consequences. 

Why do we need all this stuff? How did we become a culture of rampant consumerism?

All I know is that we are people with choices. Yes, you can stand in line to buy a new iPhone, or you can choose to do no such thing.

Sure, some of the newly manufactured products really are better. I am personally in love with my rice maker.

But on a sunny autumn afternoon, on our way to buy some replacement fish, I couldn’t think of any reason why we needed an iPhone. Even if it can be held sideways.

For more information about the effects of consumer goods on our society, check out Annie Leonard’s

The Story of Stuff.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

green living October 1, 2008 at 9:40 am

I completely agree with you here. Until last week, my TV had dials. Unfortunately, it finally went bottom up 🙁 Point being, if we use existing merchandise to its full life, we can cut down on waste and unecessary consumption significantly.


Kori October 1, 2008 at 10:02 am

Funny you blogged about iPhone “want” today. I actually received an iPhone as a Christmas gift last December, and I have to say – I do LOVE it. Would I have purchased one for myself? Probably not. Heck, it feels extravagant just having one, much less going out and purchasing one.

What’s interesting is that when the newer version came out, people were shocked (and some borderline horrified) that I wasn’t going to rush out and get a new one. They just couldn’t wrap their heads around that mine still works fine, does everything I need it to do (and then some!) and, therefore, I didn’t see any reason to replace it. I don’t know why it surprised me to get the reactions I did, but wow – I had no idea folks would get so worked up that I had no intention of buying into the latest hype, just because…

Love your blog, by the way – VERY inspiring, and has really helped me become more mindful of my spending and my needs v. wants. Thank you!


Kate October 1, 2008 at 11:18 am

Heh, had a similar conversation this morning about why we won’t be buying an SUV anytime soon. We live in big vehicle country, and our old truck and little car are apparently not cool enough for an eight year old who loves vehicles. Sigh. Started talking about why it doesn’t fit our lifestyle, why we don’t need it, why we won’t go into debt for it. “yeah, yeah”. Heard it all before mom, but I still want the big shiny vehicle!


esther October 2, 2008 at 5:56 am

hihi, I’m gonna E mail this post to my husband, might make him understand things a bit…my way.


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