If you thought planned obsolescence was the worst thing to ever happen to consumers, get ready for a new trend that will make that dubious policy seem almost benign.
Somewhere around the 1950’s, maybe the 1960’s, manufacturers began to realize that making something last forever was a bad business plan. Today, you can point to any manufactured product in any category and it will invariably not compare, quality wise, with what came before it.
Tools. Clothing. Cologne. The build quality of the average item lags far behind even their recent ancestors. This trend has led to a fetishization of any product that is perceived to have maintained its quality, and it spills over in sometimes odd ways. The New Republic recently noted that “Passover Coke” has become something of a cult item because, unlike regular Coke, it is made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup, as Jews are forbidden to eat corn during Passover.
Planned obsolescence is everywhere, but might have been summed up best by Chris Rock in a bit for his 1999 standup special “Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker”.
“They got metal on the space shuttle that can go around the moon and withstand temperatures up to 20,000 degrees. You mean to tell me you don’t think they can make an El Dorado where the fucking bumper don’t fall off?”
We can’t function without our smartphones, tablets, and PCs. But once we stray outside the really personal computer domain, the desirability of connected devices drops dramatically.
What could be more routinely infuriating to consumers than planned obsolescence? Tech writer Jean Louis Le Gasse may have found the answer. The rise of the “Internet of Things” (the idea that everyday objects will become smarter and safer because Moore’s Law has, or soon will, bring the price of a smartchip down to a scalable level) has a dark side, and will almost inevitably give rise to a new type of business model, a model in which your appliances may require you to pay as you go.
SaaS, or Software as a Service, is a model that has revolutionized the way businesses such as accounting, customer relationship management, invoicing, and human resource management access and pay for software. Instead of one big upfront payment, companies pay as they go for these services. This model will almost certainly be coming to your doorstep soon.
“The dream of giving sensors, actuators, and an Internet connection to everyday objects feels good, until one looks at matters of practical and commercial implementation,” says Le Gasse. “Will the software in my smart toaster be subject to a licensing agreement? Will it stop toasting if I don’t renew my subscription? (This isn’t just a dystopian strawman; one electric car manufacturer says it can remotely disable the battery if you don’t pay up.)”
Le Gasse says the intellectual premise for the Internet of Things is an easy sell to today’s consumer, who has just witnessed his own connectivity improve by unprecedented magnitudes in just a few years.
“Consumers certainly don’t have to be sold on the benefits of connected devices,” he says. “We can’t function without our smartphones, tablets, and PCs. But once we stray outside the really personal computer domain, the desirability of connected devices drops dramatically.”
Le Gasse says perhaps appliances should just be allowed to remain appliances.
“This is nothing like the smartphone wave, for a simple reason: Appliances are just that, appliances. It’s word we use as an insult to describe a boring car.”