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The Longest Running Lightbulb and What it Means for Sustainability

Hi everyone, Fabian from the research team coming back with food for thought.

I was watching a video by one of my favorite YouTubers, Veritasium. In this video, he talks about Planned Obsolescence: when products were designed to break down over time. He started the video by introducing the longest-running lightbulb - 120 years! This lightbulb is a beautiful case of how we actually know how to make durable products.

But, what if I told you, your phone was designed to start lagging after two years, so that you have to buy the newer version. Especially if you're stuck with iOS like me, I'd rather buy a new iPhone so I can just sync it easier. We love convenience, but at what cost? Perhaps to the point that large companies know how to manipulate us.

But maybe you (for some reason) don't think manipulation is a problem, that ignorance is bliss. So here's a recap of the video + my two cents on the topic. An alternative title for my blog would be "Planned Obsolescence: A Step Forward or a Setback?"

Why it is (maybe) a good thing:

You've probably heard protests before on how technology is taking over jobs. In Bali, Gojek and Grab took over transportation services. Because of this, many places actually ban online services as a way to promote local transport.

In this context, planned obsolescence can save the employment rate. The history dates back to the great depression where people needed jobs. Planned obsolescence created jobs and prolonged existing ones by keeping the supply chain stable. An argument would be, what would the laundrymen do if clothes were designed to not stain?

Why it's really really (really x3) bad:

This mentality of only prioritizing the economy is pretty dangerous. There is the obvious environmental destruction that you've seen (waste mountains, ocean pollution, deforestation, list goes on). But now we are stuck in a system that is promoting mindless consumerism. It has become the norm to always replace items. It would be much more efficient and cost-saving for the nation's resources if we only create and promote durable products.

Veritasium covered that there are many techniques companies recycle old styles to sell something different. Such as Apple going back and forth with iPhones of rounded and sharp edges. Ultimately, there is no 'best' style, there is just 'different'. Recycling styles can be called a 'cheat' and boring, but can also be 'revolutionary' as people feel nostalgic and refreshed. After watching episodes of "Project Runway" with my sisters growing up and recently "Next in Fashion", I am convinced that marketable artistry is about bringing something in that sweet spot of "new" and "approachable".

But do we really need to think about style in the field of sustainability? Sort of. Aesthetics is important, Psychologically at least, but that's a topic for a different time. If we were to make something last long, we also have to make sure it looks good.

Anyway, I know I'm scratching the surface here. It is not easy to tackle three birds with one stone, but we have to start somewhere. Now, look at your backpack, closet, room, what is one thing you think should buy less often or invest in a version that is more long-lasting?

Hopefully, we can start by reducing the demand of products with shorter lifespans.

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