The Lightbulb Conspiracy
The Lightbulb Conspiracy is a documentary about the history of planned obsolescence. All products can eventually become obsolete, but planned obsolescence is when a product is designed to need replacing earlier than is necessary. In this documentary it used the example of the light bulb, which was one of the first products to be designed with a planned obsolescence. When Edison first had a light bulb in consumer production, it would last about 1500 hours, not long after light bulbs were being made that could last 2500 hours. At this time a group of light bulb manufactures from around the globe met, and it was agreed to make light bulbs last only 1000 hours, so they would have to be replaced more often. The documentary looks at how our economy and lifestyle is built on consumerism, which is powered by planned obsolescence. Without planned obsolesance, we would not see the economic growth that we do today, which at first might seem like a bad thing, who wants the economy to stop growing, right? But this documentary questions that belief. It is said "The earth is big enough to satisfy everyone's needs, but too small to satisfy individual greed".
This is an important documentary for designers in particular to watch, because it goes right to the core of our field. As designers we have the power to design products with or without planned obsolescence. All good designers have the ability to design quality products which are going to last for a long time, but it is not the simple. The company that a designer might work for might have a policy of a set planned obsolescence, so they might not have a choice as to whether or not they make a long lasting product. Even if they had the freedom to design a long lasting product, they might in fact be designing themselves out of a job. As designers, we have to be able to weigh up these different variable and make an informed design decision. This is the ethical question that all designers face.
The three take home points from this documentary are:
- Our economy currently depends on consumerism, which is driven by planned obsolescence
- While the western countries continue buying more, more frequently, developing counties becoming the dumping ground for our unwanted waste
- We live in a world of finite resources, and there needs to be a change in the way our economies work, which means we need to become less consumeristic and have access to long lasting products