Planned Obsolescence: A Corporate Conspiracy

The Lightbulb Conspiracy

Directed by Cosima Dannoritzer (2010)

Film Review

The Lightbulb Conspiracy is about the history of planned obsolescence, ie deliberate strategies by multinational corporations to reduce the lifespan of common products to increase consumer demand.

The documentary traces the origin of planned obsolescence to 1920, when a secret cartel of lightbulb manufacturers agreed to reduce the lifespan of a lightbulb from 2,500 to 1,000 hours.

It describes a similar conspiracy by the textile industry to make nylon fibers less durable. The first nylon stockings never got runs in them. Manufacturers couldn’t take the risk that women would only buy two or three pairs in a lifetime.

The film also reveals Ipod’s “dirty little secret;” namely Apple’s coy scheme to power the Ipod with irreplaceable batteries that die after 18 months, as well as explaining the secret chip in printers that automatically disables them after a designated number of copies.

Like the victim in the film, about six months ago I started getting a message that my “ink reservoir” was full and I needed to return my printer for servicing. Of course we all know “servicing” cost three times as much as a new printer. Following the filmmaker’s advice, I easily found free software on the Internet that overrides this chip.

The Lightbulb Conspiracy ends by profiling some of the Cradle to Cradle* activists who are fighting back against planned obsolescence and taking active steps to reduce the mountain of electronic waste it creates.

*Cradle to cradle design is a zero waste approach to the design of products and systems. It models human industry on nature’s processes  – viewing materials as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms.