The Dilemma of Planned Obsolesence

On a recent flight to Hong Kong, to review the upcoming production of the product line I helped engineer and design, the in seat entertainment offered up a documentary called “The Light Bulb Conspiracy”. As a product engineer and marketing manager for a consumer device company the primary thesis of the film struck a cord. “The Light Bulb Conspiracy” takes a look at the idea of planned obsolescence. The impact on society, the moral dilemma, and the economic motivations of a defined useful product life cycle provide an intriguing backdrop for a global conspiracy. The 1920’s light bulb industry generated the name for the film but the story can be applied to a number of different industries.

Though there are a handful of controversial claims and statements in the film, and some arguments are incomplete, the ideas behind the film are thought provoking and applicable to a number of professionals. Anyone who works in the production of consumer products, from designers and engineers to marketers and salesman, can benefit from understanding the benefits and drawbacks of planned obsolescence.

The trailer is below and a further understanding can be found on the IMDB listing for “The Light Bulb Conspiracy”. If you have seen the film please leave a comment as it would be interesting to hear the thoughts of the engineers who design for, and around, product life.

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