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05 January 2021

Planned Obsolescence | Angus Lindsay | Pro Landscaper

idverde’s Angus Lindsay wonders at what point we become obsolete, alongside machinery and not-so-old technology

There was a time when you bought a freezer, TV, or cooker and it lasted for years without an issue; the only reason for changing was to keep up with next door or because it had become totally inefficient. Nowadays things seem to have a built-in expiry. There you are about to watch the football on your 48” state-of-the-art flat-screen TV when all of a sudden the image shimmers and disappears. Frantically you press buttons, switch it on/off in the vain hope that it will restart, but to no avail. You contact the supplier and find out that even though it’s less than two years old it is out of warranty and has been superseded by several models. They don’t make the part anymore but they can do you a great deal on the latest model with interest-free credit! Is nothing built to last anymore?

To a certain extent it’s the same with vehicles and machinery. Manufacturers seem to have a need to upgrade and facelift models, even though they’ve only been on the market for 12 months. The changes to the facelifted model may be no more than a redesigned grill or engine covers, dashboard layout, or gimmicky switch which actually doesn’t do anything, and of course the all-important “Series 2” sticker which all add up to an increase in price when there’s little or nothing wrong with the previous model. This could again be my cynical side shining through, but I have seen everything from hedge cutters to excavators go through this transition, and in many cases the updated model is worse than the one that it has replaced.

And what of ourselves? when do we become obsolete? And how do we recognise and indeed accept it? Keeping up with technology is all well and good, but how often have you asked a sibling to sort out the menu on your TV or reprogram your phone? It will come to us all during our working life that we will have to step aside and let the next generation take over. The trick is to recognise that time and how to make the transition as smooth as possible so as not to disrupt the business and undo all the of previous years, as it should be the foundation on which the next level is built on.

Recognizing a machine or vehicle is past its best is simple in comparison: running costs become excessive, performance suffers, breakdowns are more frequent and it doesn’t do your business any favours, so time to replace it, though it may still have a role doing lesser duties, much as the front-line tractor sees out its final years shunting things round the yard.

Obsolescence is defined as being the state which occurs when an object, service, or practice is no longer maintained, even though it may still be in good working order. Planned obsolescence is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life or a purposely frail design, so that it becomes obsolete after a certain period of time – see most mobile phones for details. So, I go back to my earlier question: When do we become obsolete in our roles, and who makes the judgement? To me this should be down to the individual to decide and recognize when they need to get off the bus, but that can be very difficult as very few will want to admit when they’ve got to that particular destination.


Angus’s article is also published in the January 2021 issue of Pro Landscaper magazine.