Planned Obsolescence or A Printer’s Tale


We’ve had problems with our printer.  At first, it didn’t seem like a huge deal but lately we’ve needed to print more and more and it’s becoming more than just inconvenient to not have a functional printer.  Besides, my husband will be starting school in January so we would need to do something about the problem before then.  Our printer was gifted to us by my brother and besides a few software issues, worked rather well for almost a year.  And then something inside snapped.  (I would like to blame our two-year-old daughter, but there were no witnesses so I have no case.)

Our first instinct was to get it repaired.  We called every electronics dealer in the area from the big box stores to the small locally owned businesses.  Everyone gave us the same answer.  Don’t you know?  NOBODY repairs printers anymore!  No one will sell you the part, and  it’s cheaper just to buy a new one!  Shocked and dismayed we started shopping around a bit, but we never actually committed to buying a new printer.  Now, here’s THE REST OF THE STORY.

I just happened to go scavenging today in our building garbage cans, and guess what I found. Yep. A printer. (Ok, I wasn’t really scavenging.  I just took our garbage out and was checking all the garbage cans to see which ones needed to be taken out for garbage day tomorrow.)  But I do think I’m a bit of a horder/bum at heart and I pulled that stinky yet nice looking printer out of the garbage.  Luckily, it was sitting nicely on top of a tied up garbage bag and didn’t have anything gross on it.  I took it inside, hooked it up to our computer (it didn’t have any cables but amazingly enough the cables from our broken printer fit perfectly), downloaded the drivers online and Voila!  A new printer! And not only a printer, but also a scanner/copier/photo printer!  Complete with ink cartridge!

But then, the trial came.  I tried to print a test sheet.  The printer would attempt to load the paper and immediately jam.  I was slightly heartbroken but not too surprised.  My husband said it was hopeless – NOBODY repairs printers, remember?  There’s a reason someone threw it out.  But I was determined to do all I could to save this poor printer (and save me some money).  Undaunted, I turned to the World Wide Web for help.  Turns out, lots of people with this model of printer have paper jams.  And someone figured out how to fix most of them.  The problem?  Some foreign object was blocking the paper.  The solution?  Turn the printer upside down and shake it.  If that doesn’t work, get a piece of cardstock or paper board and force it through the printer.  I forced the paper board through.  Out popped my blockage and the printer was fixed!

So what did I learn from all of this? We live in a consuming, disposable world.  Everything is made cheaply and even designed to break.  And if by some miracle it doesn’t break then it becomes obsolete in a few years and you are forced to buy a new one.  Our entire economy is based on Planned Obsolescence.  Some people say it’s just a conspiracy theory, but there’s sure a lot of evidence that backs up that theory.  All you have to do is look at the numbers.  In 2003, over 63 million working PC’s were trashed. In 2004 it was 325 million.  How much do you want to bet that number has jumped exponentially since then?  One statistic I found says Americans throw away 80% of all manufactured products they buy within six months of being purchased.  Scary.  If you’re interested, there’s a whole book full of examples of this. Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America.  I haven’t read it yet, but when I do, I’ll write a review.  Meanwhile, here’s an interview with the author.

So how do we fight this trend?  Here are a few ideas I have:

If it’s broke, fix it. 

If you don’t want/need it anymore, sell it on craig’s list or ebay or donate it to a local thrift store or charity.  Or give it to me.

If you want something, buy it used on craig’s list or ebay or your local thrift store.

Don’t mistreat your belongings.  Make them last.

When you shop, look at warranties.  The longer the coverage, the longer the device will last.  It’s worth paying a little extra for that.

Don’t just throw away your electronics.  Most of them can be recycled.  Check with local recycling programs and electronics stores.

Don’t fall for the advertising that tells you the latest gadget will make you more popular.  It won’t.  But if you can fix your neighbor’s printer for them, you may just make a new friend.

What do you do to fight Planned Obsolescence?


4 responses »

  1. The funny thing is that the mind set is affecting those items that were made years ago to last but since its not new people think they need to toss it and get a new one. I find great old garden items at used stores because people think they need new. Sorry but there is no need for Shovel 4.0, its a shovel unless the handle breaks (which can be replaced) or the blade is wore down to nothing there is no reason to go buy a new one and throw the old one out. I’ll happily pay $6 for a great old tool made 30-40 years ago, than to pay the new price of $100 because someone thinks they need the new one.

  2. Hmmm. Makes me think of what my parents used to say – “Use it up, wear it out. Make it do or do without.” They called it thrift, I call it smart.

  3. Pingback: Planned Obsolescence Part II: The Fight Begins | Nurturing Joy

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