By Marie Flanagan March 8, 2022
Summary: Planned obsolescence can be tricky for consumers because it can mean more device upgrades — and more money spent. But there are plenty of simple ways to get around this and make your smart devices last even longer. Find out how.
If you’ve ever hung onto your smartphone for long enough that it no longer supported software updates, forcing you to upgrade to a newer model, you’ve dealt with planned obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence is a strategy of producing consumer goods that quickly become outdated and require replacing. In practice, this looks like frequent design changes, a very limited number of spare parts, or the use of easily breakable materials. It can also be reinforced through marketing or societal values that tell us we should always have the newest, biggest, or best of a product.
Maybe you were really excited about last year’s phone model when you bought it, but when the new one came out, yours suddenly lost its appeal.
While the responsibility of planned obsolescence largely falls on manufacturers, there are a few ways consumers can hack it. We’ll get into all of that and more in just a minute.
Before we get into how you can help as a consumer (and save money in the meantime), it’s important to understand that the current life cycle of most products is to be thrown away after one consumer has used it. This is largely due to current business practices and the idea that it’s cheaper to create something new than to remake something that exists.
Instead of creating a circular economy, which eliminates waste and pollution and circulates products and materials, the perceived need to constantly upgrade creates a significant amount of e-waste. Unfortunately, e-waste is rapidly growing and accounts for 70% of the toxic waste in landfills, because it can be hard to recycle.
Even though it’s called waste, it could be incredibly valuable: most technology includes precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, lithium, and more. Simply throwing the products away means that you’re also losing out on those materials, which could be reused in another phone or laptop.
Each time a new product is created, most manufacturers are using raw materials (think mining for precious metals, deforestation, and using fossil fuels to deliver the item into consumer’s hands). It also requires additional human labor to create a new product from scratch. All of these things can drive up the product price, so it ultimately hurts your wallet, too.
If you’re looking for ways to be more sustainable — and even save money while you’re at it — you can start by actively working against the constant need to replace what you own. And it’s easier than you might think.
Repairing your tech can often be more affordable than replacing it entirely. If your phone battery is the only issue, you can have that replaced (either DIY or at a repair shop) for a fraction of the cost of a new phone.
There are some circumstances where replacing your item could be cheaper than repairing it. When it’s time to upgrade, you can choose to buy from brands who encourage repairing goods, or who have easily accessible spare parts. But ultimately, you can make the choice that’s best for you, and sometimes that means replacing your goods.
When that time comes, you may be able to sell your goods to someone else to enjoy or dispose of them responsibly through community tech recycling or in-store drop-offs.
One way to make your tech last longer? Protect it. Things as simple as putting a case on your phone or computer, handling them with care, and using screen protectors will help extend the usability of the device. While these can be an investment initially, you’ll almost certainly save money in the long run by not needing to make repairs as frequently (or avoiding a total replacement).
Not only does having your files saved in online backup make your life a lot easier if you ever lose (or break) a device, but it can also help your tech run faster. Removing files from your memory and saving them somewhere else means there’s less data weighing down your computer, tablet, or phone and allows your operating system to run faster.
Automatic online backup is the easiest way to make sure everything stays up to date, but we’ve got the scoop on other ways to save digital files.
We know, making updates to your tech might seem counterintuitive to the rest of this piece. But regularly installing software updates is one of the best ways to secure your smart home. Software updates frequently contain security patches to fix any weak points found in prior operating systems. Plus, it helps keep your system running smoothly, which keeps you happier and less likely to seek out a new product. Win-win.
Prone to forgetting about updates? Go ahead and set up automatic software updates and never have to think about it again.
While we encourage everyone to buy items they’ll use (and that will last), or repair what they can, there is a time when you’ll just need to replace or upgrade your devices. There are a few reasons that can be good, too.
If you know it’s time to move on from your current gadgets, find somewhere to recycle them. Then, if you’re looking to save money on a newer model, consider opting for a certified refurbished model. Major retailers like Apple, Samsung, Best Buy, and Walmart offer refurbished versions of many items. That way you get the best of both worlds: a new device and some extra savings.
Planned obsolescence can be a pain for consumers, but there are plenty of ways to make your purchases last longer. Pro tip: you can also avoid constant upgrades in your internet plan, too. Opting for fiber internet with no data caps means that you can browse, stream, and add smart devices to your heart’s content, without having to call your internet provider every time you make a purchase.
Marie Flanagan is a contributing writer for EarthLink. She’s a life-long Atlantan with a passion for SaaS, IoT, AI, fintech, and everything technology. Her ideal offline situation is volunteering in STEM education for girls or on her front porch with a book.
See all posts from Marie Flanagan.