History of the Information Age

Planned Obsolescence and Digital History

As we move into the final few weeks of the semester, I have reached the last week I will be a discussion leader. This week we will be talking about several interesting topics, including the differences between planed and perceived obsolescence and the future of digital history.

Planned obsolescence is an interesting topic I’m sure most of us are familiar with. For example, you buy items like lightbulbs and razors and you constantly must buy more. In the case of lightbulbs, they are made to last only for a certain length of time before they blow, forcing you to buy more. Similarly, razors dull after a certain length of time, but you have options. You can buy a handle and continue to buy replacement razor heads, or simply buy an entirely new razor every time yours goes dull. It’s a corporate money-making strategy that ensures you, as the consumer, continue to invest your money in a product or company. It’s in the same vein as owning a video game console but having to constantly pay a monthly fee to play online, while also having to purchase the games you play, on top of separately paying for the internet to access said online features. It’s consumerism at its finest.

However, you also have the issue of perceived obsolescence. This comes into play heavily with you cell phone, your computer, your television, and just about any piece of technology that has the potential to last for years. How many times have you upgraded your phone? How many times have you bought a new laptop, or TV? The most important thing to consider here is if the device still works or not. Many people trade-in, or “upgrade” their phones because they are convinced that they must have the newest, shiniest toy. This is where consumerism comes into play once again. How many commercials boast the “newest” or “innovative” or “top-of-the-line” product? How often do you have the urge to buy those things, simply because the one you have is getting “old”?

If you’re like me, you use what you have until it dies. Seriously, I’ve owned about four computers and three phones in my life. Each time I replaced them was because the thing literally would not turn on, hold a charge, etc. However, I know people who replace their phones almost every year. I consider myself lucky to have a phone and don’t really care too much about how “out-of-date” it is as long as it works. The only thing I probably splurge on are computers because I, as a college student, use one every day and do all my course work on it. Having that die on me is a horrifying ordeal, and trust me, I speak from experience.

If anyone wants to learn more, check out the video below. It gives a pretty good overview on both planned and perceived obsolescence and how to differentiate the two.

Second Thought. “The Truth about Planned Obsolescence.” YouTube Video. YouTube, September 21, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z1XYM7bC4k.

The other topic of this week is digital history. As a history and CDS major, I’ve pretty much surmised that this is the direction I’m heading in terms of a career. Combining the two fields in creative and interactive ways is really cool once you look at pre-existing projects. I’m having the class look at Journal of American History’s Digital History Review criteria and explore the projects linked to get a better understanding of the field. And did I choose this journal because Dr. McClurken is the editor? Maybe. Maybe not. I found this page through my Applied Digital Studies class and it was alluded to in Intro to Public History, so I bound to find it eventually. The fact is that digital history is still an emerging field that can be used to teach, create, demonstrate, or interact with history. Projects like The American Yawp (which anyone who has taken a class with Dr. Sellers is familiar with), Histography, and Eagle Eye Citizen.

Overall, I’m pretty excited for discussion this week! I’m interested in hearing what other have to say about these topics as the semester comes to a close!

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