Sponsored Posts: The Best of The Worst

So as I mentioned in this post, I often get asked to write sponsored posts for companies wanting to improve brand presence.  After a deep moral dilemma, I made it a policy to always turn them down due to my standpoint as a minimalist (although recently I’ve not had a lot of time to respond), but they keep coming.  I do take a look at what they are proposing, particularly when it sounds dreadful, and mostly out of morbid curiosity. For your viewing entertainment (and to fight back against the consumeriarchy), I have included the best of the worst, the factual inaccuracies and old wives tales type information that is all over the internet already, and which people have offered to pay me to perpetuate (which all seem to lead back to consumerism):

1. Quinoa is a good source of protein.  This has to be the most blatant lie; it was followed up with an amount per cup that was a) several times the actual amount of protein in a cup of quinoa and b) still not a great amount of protein.

2. You need to lose weight to get married:  Yep, those “how to lose weight before your wedding posts” you see all over the internet, that are firmly designed to make women hate themselves and feel insecure (so they can sell women more clothes, diet pills, cosmetics, and when all else fails, food) are sponsored.  Do yourself a favour:  Learn to love the size you are before your wedding.  That’s who your future husband/wife fell in love with.

3. People get too much protein in their usual diet, so vegans shouldn’t worry about protein.  This is not only untrue but it’s very dangerous advice.  See my list of sources of nutrients for vegans post (with the amazing spreadsheet of sources for EVERY nutrient) to find out the truth.  It’s especially interesting that this sponsored post wanted to “inform” vegans that they can pay for recipes that don’t contain enough protein, because it makes money from the recipes in the first place, then they’ll get a protein deficiency, and be back supporting the dairy/meat industry in no time.  That’s win-win for paid meat/dairy people.  That’s the result of the “protein myth”-myth.  You need protein to live, and you CAN get it from a vegan diet.  It’s like “big pharma” became “big farmer.”

4. SEO is apparently all about keyword density.  If that was true, a page of “buy computers online buy computers online buy computers online buy computers online buy computers online buy computers online buy computers online buy computers online buy computers online buy computers online buy computers online…” etc would be at the top of each search result.  Instead of being excluded for being dumb and pointless.

5. If I only BUY a bunch of items from some hitherto unheard of fashion house, they will apparently pay me to write reviews (but only if those reviews are positive – that’s the rules of reviewing things for paid posts in blogging).  Listen up, potential bloggers and those of you who are considering paid reviews, because this is a basic rule of making money:  If you have to spend money to do something that someone asked you to do, the chances of it netting you any cash is minimal, unless you have it in writing that they are going to pay you back (at which point, you’re giving them a loan, so charge them interest).  They like to make you think that they are going to give you a return on any “investment” you make e.g. by buying a product, but at the end of the day, as far as companies like this are concerned, YOU are the customer, and they are making money from bloggers, not any readers (the readers are just icing on the cake for these scams).  This is the consumerist myth, and you do NOT have to spend money to make money unless you have a shop.

6. Am I interested in a free sample of these AMAZING new diet pills which have heretofore been tested on mice, rats, rabbits, giraffes and monkeys, and have helped them all achieve the figure YOU deserve??? This one particularly makes me laugh because I have mentioned time and time again on my blog that I am clinically underweight.  The only time someone my size would say yes to diet pills would be if they had anorexia.  At which point they need a free sample of a cure for anorexia, not diet pills.  The whole concept of diet pills really makes me fume, like we can’t just be the size we are (and yes, I fall into that trap too – sometimes wishing I could put weight on to be the “perfect” weight, because all this crap about weight isn’t just “fat shaming” it’s “non-normal shaming” for a made-up value of “normal” – hey, we’ve felt the results of “non-normal shaming” before in other aspects of life such as mental health).  The lunatic fringe of the pharmaceutical industry had to rear its ugly head, and my big question to all these “supplement” pill companies is, if what you’re selling is so good, why don’t doctors ever recommend it to patients?  They can never answer that.

That was six of the best examples of bad paid-posting proposals; obviously I have left company names out because of legal mumbo-jumbo, but I thought these would be entertaining examples.  A lot of the crap I receive in my inbox is to do with either perpetuating myths (e.g. the “protein myth” myth) or perpetuating the LIE that my readers are inadequate unless they spend money on a specific thing (e.g. a weight loss course, diet pills, beauty products).  I respect my readers so could never flog this crap to you all.  If you are a very furious company reading this, and your company has approached me with one of these pitches, perhaps you should look at what you’re offering and try making/selling a better product.  Content is king.

Content is king.
Content is king.
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Gold, Books and Panties

Gold, Books and Panties

This afternoon, I was going through a box of accessories that I found in the bottom of my wardrobe.
The majority of it was shoeboxes that either did or did not contain the correct style and quantity of shoes. That has now been sorted, and the bottom of my wardrobe is eagerly awaiting all the right boxes of shoes going back into it later today.

In one shoebox, I found loads of costume jewellery and pieces of jewellery that I’d made (I make jewellery) along with one or two “real” pieces that were made of gold. In amongst it all was a box from F Hinds that I bought in late 2012. It was supposed to contain a 9 carat gold bangle that I only ever wore the once. I always kept it very carefully put away ready for special occasions. I took it out to have a look at it. It’s been stored in its original box all this time.

The big blob of corrosion is center top.
The big blob of corrosion is center top.

As you can see from this photo, it’s got a huge green glob of corrosion on it. What you can’t see are the additional splodges that almost look like grease spots on the surface of the gold, which are all over the bangle.

Second photo, so you can see it's not a trick of the light.
Second photo, so you can see it’s not a trick of the light.

Let’s just think about this for a minute. If treated correctly, hollow gold, solid gold, even gold plate and rolled gold (and gold fill) should all be able to last a lifetime.

I bought a couple of Gold Fill bracelets from China at the same time as this bangle, and I also bought a gold plated watch. Guess what? The Gold Fill and the gold plate are both still in perfect condition. All I can see from the evidence in front of me is that F Hinds must be making inferior jewellery. To the mass produced Chinese stuff. Whuuut??

This is the gold plated watch.  As you can see there's no corrosion here.
This is the gold plated watch. As you can see there’s no corrosion here.

I feel very shocked and let down that a reputable high street jeweller is making and selling jewellery of such poor quality (and let’s face it, they don’t sell it at Argos prices). You think you’re going to get something of higher quality from them because of the price of their items and the fact they have a fancy high street storefront. Sadly, because they only have a 12 month guarantee on their items, and I’ve only just discovered the problem, they won’t refund, exchange or even give me store credit.

Just to make absolutely certain that this wasn’t a gold chloride compound (God only knows where the chlorine would have come from when it’s been in a box in a box unless there’s chlorine emissions from the packaging they sell it in), I decided to heat the bracelet gently on the stove. This should decompose gold chloride back to solid gold and chlorine gas (making it look as good as new). I heated it for about three minutes then allowed it to cool. I took photos during and after the process.

Definitely not a gold chloride compound, this shows that another metal may be present or that the alloy did not form properly.
Definitely not a gold chloride compound, this shows that another metal may be present or that the alloy did not form properly.

It didn’t change, and there was definitely no chlorine smell, which would have been a key sign that any reaction was taking place.

I have a silver ring which I bought from H Samuel in 2007 that hasn’t got one single speck of corrosion on it, and silver is supposed to tarnish more quickly than gold. If you remember anything from school chemistry, you should know that gold is less reactive than silver, because gold is almost completely unreactive. If you buried a lump of gold in the ground, it should look the exact damn same in 1000 years’ time. There is a litany of evidence of this actually happening. The gold in the pyramids of Egypt are about 4,000 years old and they have plenty of gold in them, in perfect condition. It’s not a fluke, either. As an archaeology graduate and a chemistry-specialist science teacher, I actually cannot believe that anyone has managed to make a gold that corrodes. This gold was hallmarked and therefore should not have corroded like this.

I can’t say all their jewellery will be the same. Perhaps my bracelet just had a manufacturing defect, but if this is the case it should have a guarantee period that allows time for the defect to become apparent, because corrosion to a metal doesn’t happen overnight (unless you dunk it in aqua regia). Even though it’s an alloy (because it’s 9 carat not 24 carat) it should not corrode like this. I feel like I’ve lost something that was special to me. What I will say, however, is that I’m really REALLY glad I didn’t buy my wedding ring from them – their diamonds are only guaranteed for 2 years and their other jewellery is only guaranteed for 12 months. So I’m going to take my custom elsewhere in the future because I am totally unwilling to pay over the odds for jewellery that’s designed to fail after 12 months, and I don’t feel I can trust them now. That bracelet cost a lot of money.

I never in a million years thought that jewellery could be part of the Planned Obsolescence manufacturing movement.

On a brighter note, I have managed to downsize my jewellery (mostly costume anyway) to only contain the things that fit into my jewellery box, with everything else separated into “throw or donate” piles, and the things that I no longer want will be donated to charity shops. As for the rolled gold bracelet, I will give it to the PDSA charity shop (they help pets who need vets), in the hope that someone will see its condition and pay a reasonable price for it, and it will probably make them very happy to own, whilst also giving valuable funds to a charity that helps animals.

We also got rid of 180 books yesterday along with four bags of clothing that were the culmination of my book downsizing project over the last few weeks – I’ve been reading the first 10 pages of every book in the house to decide whether to keep it or not, after I’d taken as many as I could be sure of to the charity shop (about 100 that I knew I didn’t need to check, they just left the house). This generated about 230 books to get rid of. We had a book sale last Saturday to get rid of any to people who might want them, and have gotten rid of the remainder yesterday, leaving us with a few that people are going to pick up at some point in the near future. If they aren’t collected within 7 days, we are donating them as well (but there’s only about 50 waiting now).

We got rid of all but the pile on the far left, as well as some bags of clothing (not shown).  We took them to the charity shop to pass on to other people.
We got rid of all but the pile on the far left, as well as some bags of clothing (not shown). We took them to the charity shop to pass on to other people.

230 books decluttering minimalism

The difference on the bookshelves is profound. There’s now room for all of our books on the ceiling bookshelves, so we can either get rid of the rest of our bookcases or put different things on them, such as any number of displaced objects that don’t have a home because they never got given a place when we moved in. *saddest face*

Another thing I did this week was to finally go through the socks and panties and downsize from the big tub to these two small baskets, one for socks, one for panties. I know my previous post on this topic was from a travel angle, but when I think that nomads manage to live with their travel packing 365 days of the year, I think I can probably cross apply the panty-sock thoughts to my actual daily life. If I’ve made a terrible mistake I’ll be streaking starkers to Marks and Sparks for a new set of undies any day now…

The answer to the eternal question of underwear.
The answer to the eternal question of underwear.

 

It turns out you need far less than I had (who didn’t see that coming), and I’ve now got about two weeks’ supply of both, while still keeping variety (e.g. tights, stockings, socks) because I don’t want to wear everything that I have in a precise rotation of clothing (that’s way too prescriptive for me), I simply wanted a functional set of objects that had me covered for every type of clothing that I own. Now I just need to get into the habit of doing the laundry more regularly. Having said that, a lot of the stuff I threw out was things I haven’t worn in a long time, or I balk at the idea of wearing if I ever pull it out, so I think I’ve probably been wearing exactly what I’ve kept anyway, so it might not affect my laundry-doing habits.

And here are the losers.  They all went to the bin because I can't stand the idea of second hand underwear.
And here are the losers. They all went to the bin because I can’t stand the idea of second hand underwear.

I’m going to go and put the washing machine on now.

Is Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed Making You Shop?

Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed

Have you ever gone into a shop and browsed, only to feel like the woman behing the counter is watching you, and like you can’t leave empty handed? That compulsion to buy something?

It can get a bit ridiculous. When I first left home, I had to know what was inside every shop, I think it was just curiosity and an enjoyment of the time I could spend doing it. However, I seemed to keep leaving the shops with an item or two. Sometimes three. Sometimes these items were fairly expensive. Always I didn’t want or need them. I couldn’t understand why I kept doing it until I got stuck in a particularly cloying boutique.

It was the kind of shop that calls itself a boutique, that sells things which are labelled in squiggly handwriting with the name of some unreadable (and unremarkable) “designer.” The window display had been some pretty hats, and for some reason it lured me in. I wondered what else they sold.

I went inside. A particularly sour-faced older lady in the over sixty category, wearing a very unattractive floral print dress (prints had been out for about 10 years by this point, and wouldn’t ever make a comeback in the garish incarnation she was sporting) and a necklace that seemed to be garotting her neck fat. She glared down her nose at me and didn’t say a word. I looked around to see what the shop sold. There was a lot of things that the older lady might wear to watch a regatta or go to a wedding. I could see the Queen shopping somewhere similar. Nothing had any price tags on. I started to panic because there was nothing in the whole shop that I could buy. Not a single thing. Everything was repulsive in some way or another. I felt too hot, the temperature was stuffy and the artificial floral air freshener was catching in my throat. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t buy anything, so I looked obsessively at every single item, pretending to be interested, and I had an epiphany – I didn’t have to buy something in order to leave. The exit was right there, all I had to do was be brave and walk out. I suddenly realised that when I came into shops like this I tended to worry that sour older women like that would just see my school uniform and assume I was shoplifting when I wasn’t, causing unpleasantness. She couldn’t stop me for shoplifting – because I hadn’t shoplifted anything. It didn’t seem like such a silly worry at the time, so I had to take a very deep breath, close my eyes, pull the door open… and I was back on the street, walking away, never to see the inside of that awful place again.

I felt like I’d escaped from a spider web.

For years, I felt very uncomfortable when trying to leave a shop without buying anything, although it wasn’t unmanageable. I did still find it quite difficult, however, and there were a few times I ended up leaving with something I thought I wanted to buy, but if I’d really thought about it, I wouldn’t have bought it. It all came to a head in my first year of university. I’d just got my student overdraft, and I saw a dress in the window. It was sparkly and pale pink. I went inside to try it on. It didn’t fit particularly well and it had a huge design flaw that made my legs look terrible. Additionally, it was actually a very unflattering pale peach, and made my skin tone look dead. Oh, and it was also £250. But do you know what I did? I bought it anyway. I didn’t find out about the colour until I got back to my room; they must have had some very odd lighting on it in the shop.

I got it home still feeling really pleased with myself about buying the dress, pleased that I was now the sort of person who could spend £250 on a dress without thinking about where that money would come from. Pleased, in short, that I was able to participate in consumerism at a higher level than when I lived at home. I equated spending power with success.

It was about seven or eight years later that I finally realized that I had made a poor choice. The years came and went, I never actually wore that dress to any of the variety of functions I attended, at all of which it would have been appropriate, because I was afraid of someone spilling something on it, or standing on the hem. Every time I tried it on I would look in the mirror and feel very pleased with myself for having such a nice dress. Through the bad times, the times when I was working at McDonalds and when I was unemployable because I couldn’t walk, I would try the dress on and feel the same way I had when I bought it – like I was going places. I felt like anyone with a dress like this must be on their way up in life. I loved it. And underneath that thought process, I also hated it. I felt like it was a tangible reminder of my own weakness, my inability to not buy things, something I knew was a personal failing even as it made me feel happy. The feeling grew on me that I had never worn it, and time was always moving forward, and it was just taking up space in my life. I didn’t need it, and I didn’t want it. Every time I altered the hemline or changed the drop of the skirt, it still didn’t look right and I couldn’t put my finger on the reason.

The bottom line was, it was an expensive waste of money and it was also an overpriced and poor fitting monstrosity that I would never have occasion to wear.

When my wedding day came, I pulled it out. The most expensive dress you ever wear, we are told by the Wedding Industrial Complex, is supposed to be your wedding dress. Well I wasn’t going to spend £250 on a wedding dress, but I also didn’t actually like that dress and didn’t want to wear it in public. I think the peach colour had progressively faded from the moment I bought it and when it came to my wedding year it was a really yellowish peach that made me look positively anaemic (which I was, but I didn’t need to look like I was). My actual wedding dress was £10. When I first started minimalizing the house, six months after the wedding (we haven’t been married anywhere near a year yet), that £250 dress was one of the first things I got rid of.

Do you know how good that felt? It felt better than when I bought it. I felt like I’d unhitched a cart that I’d been dragging behind me for years. I felt lighter and more moveable. It’s several weeks later and I’m still glad I got rid of it.

The fact that I was able to get rid of it means that I am putting that part of my life – the naive thoughts that being able to consume more expensive items equates to success and happiness – behind me, I’m committed to minimalizing my life and letting go of the things that are weighing me down.

All my sandbags will be cut loose, so I can soar amongst the stars.

No longer am I afraid of leaving empty handed. I don’t need to buy things to prove to shop assistants that I have spending power. I know that I can buy anything I want to, but that doesn’t mean I have to use that power. In Kung-Fu, it is taught that true wisdom is knowing when not to fight. So in minimalism, we learn that true wisdom is also knowing when not to purchase things.

I think this is probably linked to FOMO – or fear of missing out.  Sometimes I worry that if I don’t buy something when I see it I’ll never get back to buy it when I really need it.  This is an obstacle I’m still trying to overcome.  But that’s okay, because minimalism is a journey, and it starts with choosing which pair of shoes to wear to take that single step.  Unless you’re a centipede.  In which case you can wear all of them.

[minimalism] Planned Obsolescence

Planned Obsolescence (or Planned Obsolesence, but that’s not how you’re supposed to spell it):

My future husband’s microwave was already rusty inside by the time I moved in with him in late 2010. One day in early 2011 I tried to reheat some parsnips. There was nothing special about them, they were bog standard parsnips that we had, in fact, only cooked the night before. It was a good job I had a back problem at the time, had difficulty with the (very steep, unsafe and not up to building code) stairs and was effectively stuck on the ground floor, and that the kitchen was an easy place to be. I watched my food. I am very glad that I did.

At first, I thought there was steam coming from the bowl. Great, my food is cooking quickly, I thought. Then the smell of smoke gave it away. Something was burning. I opened the microwave and saw that the smoke was actually coming from the top of the microwave itself, not the food! I called for help, unplugged it and got the back door open, then had to BELLOW at my future husband to get the damn thing outside and on the concrete before the whole kitchen went up, because he was so surprised that he was just staring at it in disbelief. Between us we got it thrown out where it burned itself out, and was taken to the recycling centre that same weekend because I refuse to live in a house with discarded appliances strewn in the back yard, even a miserable yard like the one in that house.

How had this happened? My future husband grilled me over what I had put in the microwave to cause this. It was just a plastic bowl with some reheatable boiled parsnip. Did I put water in? Yes. And besides, the bowl wasn’t the thing on fire.

We didn’t think we could function effectively without a microwave, given our propensity at the time for microwave rice, so we went to the shop and looked at new ones.

The first thing that struck me was the price. They were the same price in 2011 as they had been in 2002 and 2004, the last two times I’d accompanied anyone to buy microwaves. Not only that, but the wattage was now lower.

I found this interesting. You could buy a low end microwave for £40 in 2002 and 2011. But the manufacturers had redefined the term low-end. In 2002, low-end £40 microwaves were 800 watts. In 2011, they were 700 watts. An 800 watt microwave cost at least £60 in 2011.

You could say that this was inflation. I disagree.

The microwave’s lifespan is almost exactly the same each time. The new one we bought is now not heating things as effectively as before, and the way it’s heating them causes them to need re-heating sooner than before because they are losing that heat energy too quickly. It is now common for me (if I need to re-heat a drink which is usually once or twice a week) to have to re-heat the same hot tea three or four times to finish it, where it used to take one re-heat.

We rarely eat ready meals. Last night, I bought what was probably the first ready meal we’d had in the house in about twelve months. The microwave heating instructions for the meals were aimed at 700 watt microwaves, ours is 800 watt. Following the instructions for both ready meals did not cook them. I had to put them in for an extra minute and a half. The microwave has definitely lost heating output.

I predict that our microwave will not last to the end of this year. This is a microwave that we bought in 2011. I did a quick search of Argos to see how much a new microwave would cost. A 700 watt microwave is now £34.99. An 800 watt microwave is £52.99.

I think I have been the victim of Planned Obsolescence.

Planned obsolescence is the underpinning idea that explains exactly what you’ve suspected for years – that certain products are specifically designed to fail after a given period of time. There is evidence that this has been going on since 1920, around the world. Basically, companies realised that they were not going to make any money from long lasting products with a “lifetime guarantee” because they can only sell to each customer once. If they make a product that’s great but breaks after a few years, they can sell to that customer again and again.

Here are some common examples that had made me wonder about whether products were designed to fail long before I found out this really was a design feature:

1. Printer cartridges. I got my own printer for my second year of university, and I used to be able to use the ink until it started fading on the page, printing thinner and thinner. Then, around about three years ago, after a mysterious printer software update, the printer wouldn’t do faded prints until the ink ran out. After another update, it stopped letting me substitute colour for black (it used to be able to make “composite black.” Around the same time, it refused to print something in black ink because the cyan ink was too low. Despite the fact that it didn’t need cyan to print black, and I even played around with settings for over an hour telling it on different screens to print in black ink only. That’s right, I had to spend £20 on a new 4-colour set (because they don’t come separately) because the cyan had run out while I tried to print something in black. That 4-colour set is always sold separately to black ink, by the way. Once the printer stopped being able to print 100% perfectly by its own arbitrary standard, it refused to print at all.

The second time it did it, it was out of yellow and I was trying to print a serious black ink letter to someone important. Then, immediately after being recharged with 4 new colours (another £20), it refused to print at all. I’d had it 4 1/2 years. I capitulated and bought a new printer which promised cheaper ink and better efficiency.

Cars. Isn’t it interesting how cars from particular decades are built to fail in different ways? For example, the cars from the 1990s were built to rust, but cars from about 2002 onwards were built to not rust. I bought my car last year that was 10 years old, and there was no rust underneath. It’s now 11 and still only has speckles. My previous car had been 6 when I bought it, and it had no rust either. When I sold that, it was 8 and still no rust whatsoever, the underside was bright silver. But my first car had died of rust about 18 months after I got it, aged 13. It was only 5 years older than my current car. Second hand cars from the 1980s were so bad that I remember my mum being annoyed that she had to pay £500 in 1993 for a car that was 5 years old and therefore past it’s use by date. £500 wasn’t as valuable in 1993 as people like to think – can you imagine buying a 5 year old car for £500 – or even £1000 – today and thinking it was anything other than nearly-new? Different things fail on cars in different decades as well – the 1980s was engine failure and electricals, the 1990s was rust and electricals, the 2000s was engine failure again (and electricals, maybe they’re easier to design to fail). Easily dentable bodywork was a big one for a while, and a few years ago every second car was dented somewhere, but it became clear that people would just drive around in dented cars rather than buy a new one and mysteriously they don’t do that any more. Even if you do get a car that’s not doomed to fail within a decade, chances are the manufacturer will discontinue the spares for it soon. It’s all a peculiar pattern that can only be explained by Planned Obsolescence.

Optical drives. The great thing about CDs, the thing that made CD-sized discs really take off, was that you could write the data to them and it would last, even if you put it in a magnetic field, in a hot environment, a cold one or a damp one. In January, whilst clearing out my mum’s house after she died, I found a CD with all my poetry on from when I was 16. That CD had been dumped in a mouldy attic with a leaking roof (even the steel stanchions of the house frame were thoroughly rusty, where they used to be shiny silver, due to the roof leakage) and even its paper label was wet and mouldy. I washed the CD when I got home and put it into my computer. The disc loaded first time and all my files were fully intact, openable, readable, everything exactly the same as when I saved them, twelve years earlier. That’s how good disc-based storage is – their only vulnerability is scratches, which are carelessness. The discs themselves are almost infallible.

So why is it that every pack of writeable CDs and DVDs has duff discs in it? How did they not pass quality control? It’s always a similar number as well – usually about two or three in ten, or five in twenty, will fail while you’re trying to write to them. Is it the discs that are at fault or the optical drives? I am unsure. I did suspect they just put the useless ones in boxes and sold them for two reasons – a) they make money back on the plastic they’ve used and b) they actually make more money than they would if you got 10 working discs because you have to buy more packs of discs to actually get 10 good ones. I strongly suspect the optical drives have a part to play. It’s very mysterious that DVD players, CD drives and games consoles designed to read discs tend to break every four and a half years, the same as microwaves and printers. In the past five years we have had to replace a DVD player, a games console, and a portable DVD player (we didn’t actually replace that, we just got rid). The CD player in my car doesn’t work either, so for road trips I bought a portable boom box that takes batteries – very environmentally unfriendly, but it costs over £100 to get a new radio put in whereas the boom box was £20 and takes batteries I can get in four packs from any £1 shop, and when I calculated how long it would take to recover the £100 in batteries, I realised this was actually just far cheaper.

Consumerism won this battle, but I hope that by not spending the £100 on the new CD player at the moment, I will be able to win my war on frivolous purchases. What is really insidious about the optical drives at the moment is that computers and laptops now don’t automatically come with the ability to play a DVD or Blu-Ray – even if the laptop/PC is equipped with a DVD or Blu-Ray drive! I tried to watch a DVD last year (yep, I don’t watch them very often) and found that, despite the fact that 5 different appliances all had the right shape/size disc, and said “DVD” on the disc drive, they actually couldn’t play the DVD. No. You need a DVD player to do that. The games console will only play DVD games, not DVD films. The laptop will only give you a handy tray to put your DVD down on, while you try to find a scart cable for your DVD player. Five years ago they all proudly multi-tasked and now, realising they can get more money from you, they all solo-task. If your laptop plays DVDs, how can they sell you a DVD player as well? If that hasn’t spent all your money for you, how about a portable DVD player, or an in-car one, for car rides?

This all seems like just “the way things are?” Think about these two things:

  1. School textbooks. They are designed to be obsolete in a few years – as are all school curricula – overtly this is to “reflect the latest changes” but how much have English or History changed in the last ten years, or maths, or anything else, insofar as it’s genuinely reflected in what thirteen year olds learn? And how many GCSE and A-level specification changes have there been in that time, necessitating new class sets of texts? Having been a teacher now for three years, I can tell you that they don’t use the same textbooks and resources that they did when I first started. Somewhere, the decision makers do this so that children learn that everything has to be recent and relevant, and that anything “old” has no value so when they grow up, they buy everything new.When I was at school, we had French textbooks with pictures of kids with monobrows and shell suits, ten years after both went out of style. I enjoyed seeing things that reminded me of what the world had looked like when I was very small. I grew a sense of nostalgia. We were the very final year group to use those text books, and a new French curriculum was brought in for the children who were a year younger than me, so they were promptly detached from that sense of the past or of connection. There were even promotional posters for the new text books that made people in my class feel like we were getting an inferior French education by using the older texts – parents complained. The joke’s on them – I got an A in GCSE French and think those text books were fantastique. This “new is always better” fallacy is awful though – it trains children to value nothing, and to believe that people from the past were intellectually inferior (unless they’re a Historical Figure). It also makes people think that education is “better” today than it used to be – which is odd because if that’s the case, why are people who had that “inferior” education now the same people designing these textbooks?? If their education was inadequate, why are they qualified to dictate what kids should learn? Of the 62 million adults of various ages living in the UK today (and educated here), how many of them don’t know what the second world war was, or can’t read at all, and is it the fault of the resources, the educators, the parents, the media or the individual? Mainstream education makes children a product of their time as one of its subsidiary covert purposes. It’s very sad.
  1. Your grandma. If your gran was too young, ask your mom about great grandma, especially if she’s from the United States or Germany, both of whom suffered the worst in the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. If she was like my grandma, she would have said “in my day, things were built to last.” and she put her kids in terry towelling nappies and washed them in the toilet before she put them in the machine. She bought new broom handles and new brush heads, and sewed things when they ripped, and kept spare buttons.

Ultimately, the only reason anyone dismisses this as a conspiracy theory in spite of the evidence of their own eyes and wallets and numerous examples, is because of this:

“For planned obsolescence to work, the customer must feel that he/she has had value for money. Furthermore, he/she must have enough confidence in the manufacturer/company, to replace the original washing machine with the modern equivalent machine, from the same manufacturer.”
(http://www.technologystudent.com/prddes1/plannedob1.html).

And if people believe they have had value for money, they don’t question it when the product breaks. Additionally, the companies have to be careful that this cannot be proven, so that they don’t end up the victims of lawmaking to stop them doing this or huge lawsuits. After all, if there’s no evidence, there’s no crime as far as the law is concerned.

The fact that people are unaware or don’t believe this is happening just goes to show how successful the consumerist indoctrination that takes place in schools and through the media has been. Even the headteachers and governors, and the film and television directors, are blissfully unaware of what they are doing because they’ve been taken in by it as well.  After all, they’re also (influential) consumers.

The most pressing question that I can’t see an answer to isn’t “why do my things always break” (which as we have established is part of their design) but “what should I do about it?” This is what I want to try and unpick.

Repair shops are thin on the ground these days, and even if you find one, half the time they tell you things are going to cost more to repair than replace. This forced consumerism is dictating to us where our money goes.

I guess for a lot of it, the fundamental problem is that they have created a need for the item. The microwave, the TV, the DVD player, the games console. You purchase a bunch of pretty specific stuff (such as DVDs or video games, specific foods that work best in the microwave) that only that specific device can operate. Then you get used to being able to enjoy those items regularly, thinking to yourself that this is great and convenient. Then they break and you think you have to buy a new one. That’s right. You think you have to. You don’t actually have to. Can I cook without a microwave? Of course. I hardly use it for cooking since we maybe eat ready meals once a year, I only use it for shortcuts such as defrosting or re-heating leftovers. Can I re-heat my tea without a microwave? No, I can’t. But do you know what? I’m going to learn to be more diligent and drink my tea faster because for 25 years of my life, I refused point blank to re-heat tea, because it affects the taste, it’s a recent laziness I’ve acquired that was borne from a need to not waste tea and has gotten out of control.

I spoke to my husband last night about getting rid of the microwave altogether by not replacing it. The very thought upset him. His first response? To ask me how I would re-heat my tea. Then to tell me that if I didn’t want to use the microwave, I should just not use it, and leave him to it. I don’t think he really understands that’s it’s not about whether it gets used, it’s about curbing our dependence on useful but superfluous devices that we don’t need. Do you know what I worry about? If we get rid of the microwave, it’s almost guaranteed that the cooker will break.

Now lets talk about how planned obsolescence fuels consumerism. The original meaning for the term “planned obsolescence” was to create a need in consumers to buy something a little bit better, a little bit sooner than they would have done. Let’s take the qualifiers out of that and turn it into a straightforward sentence: “To buy something better, sooner.” In modern times the term planned obsolescence has grown to encompass those items that we just know are designed to fail. But due to potential lawsuits from multinational companies nobody dares say anything or prove anything.

When something breaks, you get rid of it. But like with my microwave, what if it’s just outlived it’s usefulness? What if it just doesn’t do the job you bought it for? Would you replace it then? What about before that happens? I only replace things, unless they break, when they stop doing the job I bought them for – or if that job no longer needs to be done. But do I really want to replace them? The thought process goes something like this: “X doesn’t do Y anymore. Z does Y better. Previously, I bought X to make life easier, because Z wasn’t as good. I should buy another X.”

The flawed logic is thinking that we need to replace X. Really, we should actually own a better Z and not have an X at all. For example my bathroom has a bath and a shower cubicle as two separate units. Recently the top of the shower’s electrics box started to melt. I looked into replacing the shower and it was really expensive. All along my thought was, we cannot be without a shower. I even considered the most depressing of all financial packages – the dreaded Bathroom Loan, the epitome of self-indulgence and subservience to the Consumeriarchy (just made it up, d’you like it?) unless you started off with JUST an outdoor toilet.

Luckily my husband intervened. He duct taped the hole in the top of the shower to stop water getting into the electrics. I thought he was crazy. Then I realised this was really helpful – not to fix the shower, but to give me time to think about how to fix the shower. When he took away that sense of urgency I had a chance to think, and when I thought it through, I realised we have a perfectly good bath and we can just get a cheap mixer shower and use it in the bath. In this example, the shower is X and the bath is Z. There was and is no reason for us to have a bath and a shower, except that they came with the house, and I recently found out that the electric shower is apparently increasing our electricity consumption by a whole lot. It’s just another device of mass consumption of my paltry finances.

Sense of urgency is the path to bad decision making. I try not to make decisions when they seem urgent because it’s led to some bad consequences in the past – it always feels like I’m getting good items, but they are always far more money than I would have spent if I had felt like I had the time to choose carefully. I am not usually an impulse buyer, but that sense of urgency from a car write-off, a burning microwave or a melted shower can really make me feel like I need to make a decision fast – which always leads to me throwing money at it until the problem goes away.

To sum up then, stuff’s designed to break. Spending more may or may not prolong its life. Nothing lasts forever – and nor should it – but it would be nice if things lasted as long as they could instead of as long as the manufacturers let us have them for. This most insidious form of consumerism is one that I’m not sure even the power of minimalism can fully overcome.  I would go so far as to say that this is why people think they’re “too old” for particular things – one example I can offer amongst many is that someone I know in their 40s recently claimed they were “too old” to go to university and get a degree, even when I told them of three people who had been over 50 (one over 60) who were at university with me doing the same degree as me (and they all got higher marks than me).  What a shame that human beings can be convinced that they, too, can become obsolete after a certain age.

Resources:

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/g202/planned-obsolescence-460210/?slide=7

The documentary exposing the Planned Obsolescence society Phoebus: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/light-bulb-conspiracy/

An academic paper which discusses this in detail from an economics perspective (using a lot of economic terminology): http://www.murks-nein-danke.de/blog/download/An%20Economic%20Theory%20of%20Planned%20Obsolescence.pdf

Quote source:

http://www.technologystudent.com/prddes1/plannedob1.html

These are in French but the first is a good overview (if you read French) of the lightbulb conspiracy, as well as giving examples, including a detailed explanation of how the iPhone obsolescence is being carried out (which is linked at the bottom of the first article I’ve linked to, as well as being the second link below these words) The third explains how Nylon/DuPont limit the life of stockings and tights:

http://obsolescence-programmee.fr/exemples-symboliques/le-cartel-phoebus-et-les-lampes-a-incandescence/

http://obsolescence-programmee.fr/exemples-symboliques/iphone-ipad-ipod-et-mac-dapple/

http://obsolescence-programmee.fr/exemples-symboliques/bas-nylon-de-dupont-de-nemours/