It used to be people bought stuff that they thought would endure. Then manufacturers came up with something called “planned obsolescence”. Manufacturers don’t want people to replace products because they’re broken, that would decrease the likelihood of any return business from that now dissatisfied customer. No, they want their customers to replace products because they feel the product has reached the end of its usefulness. That shiny new gadget we all just had to have and was the greatest thing ever invented 1 year ago, somehow becomes obsolete. 12 months ago it was doing things for us that we hadn’t imagined doing, and now it can’t do half the things we would like it to do.
I can count, using the fingers on one hand, the number of Televisions my parents bought in my lifetime. And it’s not that manufacturers weren’t coming out with new models every year. There were plenty to choose from, each one newer and often times larger than the one we had. The main reason we held on to ours for so long was, it still worked. And the reason it still worked, aside from the fact that it’s component parts held up, is that the content we were consuming on it didn’t change. Broadcasters were still broadcasting the same basic signal. So aside from a desire to own the latest and greatest gadgets, there was nothing really driving my parents to lay out the cash for a new set. We weren’t missing out on anything.
Today of course, the lines between Content Producers, Content Distributors and Device Manufacturers have been blurred. The biggest example of this is Apple, with their devices (new versions of which they seem to release every other month) and their online stores where you can download or stream content to these devices. So almost a year ago, amidst the hoopla of Apple announcing their new iPad with the Retina display, there was another related story that went almost unnoticed. It was the underlying story of how Apple was going to feed the next generation of beast they had created. Certainly a higher resolution device needs higher resolution content and Apple was delivering that, without an exponential increase in files size, by increasing the complexity of their compression schemes. Of course with the increased complexity, many legacy devices would be left in the digital dust, so to speak. I mean how long before the iPhone I bought in 2008 would be good for nothing more than making phone calls? That’s the one function I would be willing to part with on that thing.
Certainly this is but one example of how each sector of the industry pushes change as a whole. The folks at Netflix, for instance, know a thing or 2 about compression and content streaming. And while any title of theirs that I watch on my now ancient laptop ends up having more fits and starts than the 1970 VW I used to drive, my son can watch hours of Phineas and Ferb in HD being streamed wirelessly directly to our TV set, without a hiccup. The set and the device receiving the streamed signal, both very new.
Now I hope I don’t sound like I’m lamenting this constant push forward by the Technology sector. I am a huge proponent of technology and feel that this is truly a wondrous age that we live in. But I guess what I find interesting is the interplay between the industry and the consumer. Obsolescence is something to expect, but it doesn’t happen for it’s own sake. It’s something that the consumer should only admit to when the industry has truly supplanted that which came before.