WNPR

Obsolescence: Novelty Versus Nostalgia in the Age of Mass Production

Aug 31, 2015

In an era awash in the rollout of brand new gadgets, gizmos, fashions, and fads, it's easy to think of obsolescence as part of the natural order: Remember popped lapels, pay phones and laserdisc players? But the idea that an object should quickly fall from favor, lose functionality, and find itself in a landfill somewhere is quite new -- and it didn't come about by accident.

Since the dawn of the 20th century, manufacturers have been developing increasingly clever ways of ensuring you're not only willing, but actually eager to toss out the old and purchase the new -- even if that means predetermining the exact date your fancy new device will break. And while this all sounds very sinister, the truth is a bit more complex.

Consider for a moment how things changed after the industrial revolution: Cheap materials flourished, prices dropped and manufacturers were producing more goods than ever before. The problem of how to sell so many new products was at once very real and very serious. Warehouses faced the prospect of overflowing. Businesses, and even the economy's momentum were at risk. Shortening the lifespan of products and thereby increasing sales seemed the only way forward. 

But has this trend gone too far? Has what was once a legitimate economic stimulator become simply a profit maximizing tactic of big business? And how does the dizzying, modern-day blur of new product development affect our relationship with the world we live in? This hour we talk with experts about the good, the bad, and the ugly of obsolescence.

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Colin McEnroe and Chion Wolf contributed to this show