Sunday, March 9, 2008

Are You Sick Of Planned Obsolescence in Your Electronics?

Even more disgusted with the fact that you can't repair these crappy products, that you have to dispose of them and buy new? Well, you're not alone. Not by a long shot! And thanks to the efforts of the Electronics Takeback Coalition, you've got a chance to let your complaints be heard.

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is a national coalition of non-profit organizations promoting responsible recycling and green design in the electronics industry. Beth Terry, the infamous Fake Plastic Fish blogger, contacted ETBC last week about issues she was having with her piece of crap HP Monitor that can't be repaired. Turns out, ETBC loved to hear her story and wants to hear from any of you who have similar Dead Gadget stories. Here's the email she received from Barbara Kyle of ETBC:

We have focused on the recycling end of the e-waste problem. But we want to do more on promoting reuse, and green design concepts that allow us to hang on to our electronic products longer, and to upgrade them to keep up with advances in technology. So far, the industry has focused on energy as the primary criteria for “green design.” While we don’t disagree that energy use by the product is important, the energy used to create new products is even more significant, and could be reduced if our products simply lasted longer.

We want dead gadget stories!

We would love to receive stories just like the one you documented on your blog, showing clearly how products simply can’t be fixed or upgraded, because of clear choices made by the product designers. Please send your stories to and include the following information:

  • Make and model
  • Year they bought it. Is it under warranty?
  • Why it’s dead. (Doesn’t turn on, won’t reboot, can’t upgrade it to run certain software, etc)
  • Steps taken to try to fix it, or cost to fix it. (Here’s where your story was incredibly compelling. You didn’t just say your monitor died – you found someone who tried to fix it, identified the part needed, made the call, and then was rebuffed. So asking your readers to fill in this part would be great. Making the call to get an estimate on what it would cost to fix it (vs replace it) is good. But actually getting the company to say they WON'T sell you a replacement part gets to the heart of the issue. So that’s an extra step, but if you could ask them to document this, it will help us tell this story. Feel free to include whom they spoke with at the companies, so there can be no question of misunderstanding.)
  • Picture of the dead gadget. (Be sure we can see the manufacturer name or logo!) For our dead gadget gallery (soon to come). This request includes broken TELEVISIONS, not just computer-type devices.

According to Beth, Barbara also added that if there are any serious reuse and upgrade geeks out here, she'd love to talk to them in more detail about how they could do a more thorough “study” of this issue, trends they see with different companies, etc.

So if you've suffered similar frustrations, please take a minute to send your story to and help persuade companies to take responsibility for the products they release into the world.


leslie said...

This has nothing to do with electronics, but rather my first introduction to "built in obsolescence".
This may also just be 'urban legend'.
In the 50's, my mother told me of rubber soles for shoes that would never wear out. They tested the rubber on the soles of mailmen's shoes for years. No wear.
They 'scrapped' the rubber product because it would mean shoes wouldn't wear out, and new shoes couldn't be sold.
Like I said, it could be urban legend, but then again, it seems to fit the mold of built in obsolescence.

jenny said...

We bought our first computer in 2001 in the form of a laptop. LOVED it! Then we moved here in 2006 and it crashed. We took it to Circuit City where we originally bought it and asked them to fix it for us. Guy took one look at it and called it a dinosaur! It's a Sony Vaio!! How could it be a dinosaur already??!? They refused to work on it. Took it somewhere else, same thing happened. Agh! Bought a new desk-top computer. Dead laptop collecting dust in the corner. Hubby refuses to believe it is hopeless. Sometimes I wonder if it was all a ploy to get us to buy a new computer, but we aren't savvy enough to fix it ourselves.. 2 left thumbs and all.

Emily the Great and Terrible said...

Don't forget the forced move to digital TV's. That'll fill up a few landfills.

Jennifer said...

Hey Erin - I love to reuse & recycle as much as the next girl but being in the electronics manufacturing industry I can see both sides of this coin. The fact is that technology is moving so fast that the parts needed to fix older units are no longer manufactured because they are obsolete and not designed into new models. The number of parts needed to repair older models would be very small and because of this it wouldn't really make a lot of sense to continue to produce the parts even if you look into the ability to reuse the object in question. The amount of raw material and energy needed to produce the replacemet part would outweigh any benefit to repairing the unit.

That being said...if the company is throwing out pefectly good replacement parts because they take up too much space...burn them at the stake.

Anonymous said...

Fairly recently, I had an HP monitor go out. It worked great along with the computer, keyboard and mouse that came with it. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to simply replace my old monitor, I'd have to buy a brand new one with all kinds of extra stuff. I just wanted to replace my old, perfectly-functional one. I don't need the monitor to swivel 90° or 180° and I don't need Hi-Def. I got along without those "benefits" for years.

I'm currently using my brother's Dell monitor circa 1990's and it's working ok...and I'm sure it will be when I give it back to him after I buy a replacement for my HP.