Next generation technology, better software, and more features can only mean one thing: the tech you currently own is garbage. At least that is what the marketing departments of many large tech corporations would have you believe.

There are two aspects of built-in obsolescence: the psychological and the physical. The company that is best known for the psychological aspect is Apple. Apple has made millions getting people to buy essentially the same device with a different number or letter in its name. People didn’t need to buy the new device. Their old one worked just fine, or at least it did until Apple’s marketing department said otherwise.

Built-in obsolescence also occurs due to physical limitations that cause something to be replaced before it should be replaced. Apple also ventures into this territory with devices that are extremely difficult to repair and that don’t have user-replaceable batteries.

But Apple isn’t alone in this game. With Windows 8, Microsoft requires manufacturers to ship computers with UEFI Secure Boot enabled. This means that if the manufacturer doesn’t provide a way to disable Secure Boot, the only operating system that can be installed on the computer is one that Microsoft says is allowed.

Big media companies have also been utilizing built-in obsolescence for years – by using copy protection on media and digital downloads. How many people lost their iTunes or Windows Media music collections because the content was locked, so it couldn’t be transferred to another computer?

If you want to watch Blu-Ray discs on your computer, you need to purchase specialized Blu-Ray playing software from companies such as Cyberlink. Because of the copy protection built into Blu-Rays, updates have to be provided to the software with new decryption keys to decrypt the latest releases. If the software company releases a new version and stops support for the old, you will have to purchase the new version if you want to watch the newest releases.

A built-in obsolescence business model leads to a throw-away society where broken technology is tossed away to get the latest and greatest model. This fosters an attitude of carelessness, wastefulness, and greed, and creates an endless cycle of purchasing for the consumer. It also results in numerous devices ending up in landfills. Consider whether a company uses a built-in obsolescence business model before you buy their products. The environment and the cash in your wallet may last a little longer.


This article first appeared in Memorial University’s student newspaper: The Muse http://themuse.ca/2013/01/24/is-built-in-obsolescence-real-tech-bytes/

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