In the five decades since Vance Packard published The Waste Makers (1960), planned product obsolescence has developed in many subtle and sophisticated ways. Yet its social and environmental impact remains largely unacknowledged; planned obsolescence continues to be elaborated and to undermine consumer choice, increase costs of owning and using products, accelerating the destruction of useful objects and resulting in higher levels of ecological spoiling. It is a phenomenon widely acknowledged though little discussed. Conceptual and empirical detail will be discussed in relation to i) ‘in-built’ technological obsolescence the design; development and incorporation of functionally fragile components leading to premature malfunction, ii) stylistic obsolescence; the styling or fashioning of myriad consumer objects such that they are deemed to have ‘worn out’ stylistically and aesthetically before they have failed functionally and, iii) the ‘superfluous within the necessary’; the over-elaboration of products such that they are functionally ‘overprogrammed’, the specific design of many objects such that they cannot be repaired or adapted for alternate uses and, the way that many products urge and often require the subsequent consumption of extra goods and services simply to maintain them
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