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Obsolescence

A friend noted that it seems like the obsolescence of some things (like how tablets and phones that stop getting security updates after only a few years) are correlated to their negative environmental impact.

Take for example a knife. If you take care of it, it can last for years. I have used the same kitchen knife daily since 1996 and I got it used then so I have no idea how old it is. It was my grandmothers. I take care of it and keep it sharp.

It’s not a special brand name knife either.

So, not particularly obsolescence-prone, while on the other hand, while I’m not saying the environmental impact of wood and metal is zero, it’s way less than that of a tablet full of glue and rare minerals and solder and plastic cables.

This is due to the interplay of a couple of market capitalism’s bugs.

As I’ve noted before, the market is clueless about both value and costs.

It’s expensive to design a tablet while making one is, uh, it would also pretty expensive if it weren’t for the huge discounts created by unaccounted-for externalities and race-to-the-bottom exploitation, but because of those things, it’s pretty cheap.

Whenever we have a “expensive to make, cheap to copy” situation, market pressures are gonna work against it. One of the ways the owner class mitigates those market pressures is through pushing for artificial scarcity, through things like “patents” and “copyright”, but also through obsolescence.

This isn’t necessarily through mustache-twirling deliberation. It’s just that products that last longer create less scarcity. Now, too much obsolescence drives down demand—no-one wants a kitchen blender that breaks after less than one week—but evolution is a hell of a drug so market forces create a sweet spot of obsolescence.

At the expense of our burning Earth, which is why we need to fix these bugs. Let’s keep trying to do that.♥