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  • AntoineR

Planned Obsolescence: How One Man Made Our Machines Time-Sensitive

Updated: May 18, 2023

We need to consume more and more to "grow", right? right? In a world brimming with seemingly endless options for products and services, it's hard to imagine a time when consumerism wasn't a driving force in our lives.

Supermarket with shelves full of products

How did we reach this point?

The birth of modern consumerism can be traced back to the work of Earnest Elmo Calkins in the early 1900s.

🏭 During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution brought big changes to manufacturing. New technologies boosted production massively. But, the idea of buying for pleasure or to fulfill desires beyond basic necessities was still a novel concept.

✨ In 1902, Calkins co-founded Calkins & Holden, one of the first modern advertising agencies. He realized that marketing and presentation could deeply change how consumers connected with products.

Products could be more than just utilitarian. They could evoke emotions and aspirations.

📈 Calkins formulated the idea of "consumer engineering" stating that persuasive advertisements and designs have the potential to establish an artificial demand for a product, while manufacturers can boost this demand by intentionally incorporating planned obsolescence.

🔑 Calkins contributed to the "reason-why" advertising method, which gave logical reasons to buy a product. He knew that if people thought a product would enhance their lives, they'd be more likely to buy it. By creating compelling narratives around products and their potential benefits, Calkins helped to lay the groundwork for the modern advertising industry.

🎨 Calkins also recognized the importance of aesthetics and design in capturing the consumer's attention. He was a proponent of the idea that well-designed products, packaging, and store displays could inspire a sense of desire in consumers, ultimately leading to more sales.

The combination of mass production, widespread advertising, and a focus on aesthetics drove people to associate products with personal fulfillment and social status. This shift in mindset laid the foundation for the consumer-driven society that we know today.

Laundry room with lots of washing machines

⛔ But increasing consumption at all costs came at a price. Price that we’re paying today.

In 2050, the year by which many countries and companies have pledged to reach net-zero, the world is expected to generate 3.4 billion tonnes of waste per year. That same year, there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans...

We need to re-think the way we consume.

The most sustainable goods are the one we don't consume. For the rest, we need to team up with marketers & advertisers to turn Calkins' theory into a force for good, shifting demand to sustainable goods and services 🌱🧑‍🎨

Everyone has a role to play to shape a better world.


So, next time one of your machine breaks down 3 years after you purchased it, like clockwork, you'll know it's probably not a coincidence. The company you purchased your machine from is probably pushing you to buy a new (probably more expensive) one. 😑


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