All the tech we know and love will, one day, be obsolete. In the meantime, it would be nice if the gadgets we use every day were designed to last longer and longer rather than shorter and shorter. Unfortunately, tech companies usually adopt the strategy of “planned obsolescence:” You keep coming back to buy more product, hurting the planet and wasting your money along the way. And so, for the sake of the planet, your wallet, and your sanity, here’s what to know about hacking planned obsolescence and getting your electronics to last as long as possible.
What exactly is planned obsolescence?
Planned obsolescence is not as simple as electronics falling apart on a set deadline. Instead, planned obsolescence is a business strategy of designing products that require replacing within a few years on the market.
In practice, this looks like your smartphone slowing down after just about two years as new generations of software grow less compatible with the aging hardware. In fact, software is often designed to include new features and file types that are incompatible or otherwise less friendly with existing programs and hardware. Sure, some of that is necessary for technological progress, but much of it is done to encourage you to upgrade your devices.
When it comes to the plague of planned obsolescence, there’s not a lot you can do in the face of big tech. Companies are going to do whatever they think will benefit them most. Still, there are a few tips to keep in mind to fight back against purposefully short-lived electronics.
Push past perceived obsolescence
First off, it’s important to take a beat and recognize how you’re defining obsolescence. Powerful marketing tactics will always push the newest, shiniest product at us. Often, these shinier products aren’t actually meeting a need you have, but play on the desire to have the latest and greatest thing. Always think about functionality over style.
Tech has gotten so good in recent years that a smartphone or laptop will stay usable far longer than ever before. While you might lose out on new feature here and there, or notice some slowdowns, chances are you can hang onto your devices for more time than you or the companies that make them think.
Choose devices that you can upgrade rather than replace
Instead of always replacing your gadgets with newer version, try to shop for products you can easily upgrade down the line. For instance, the next time you need a laptop, consider skipping the light, sleek model for one that can handle upgrading RAM and storage down the line. While more devices are now going the non-upgradable route than ever, there are still customizable options out there to choose from, such as the Dell XPS 15.
Apple’s laptops, on the other hand, can’t be customized at all. What you buy today is what you’ll have forever, so keep that in mind.
Repair before you replace
Your instinct might be to replace your old electronics with newer models, but don’t rule out good old-fashioned repairs. For instance, if your phone never reaches a full charge anymore, you might be able to replace just the battery for a fraction of the cost of a brand new phone. If your laptop is running hot, you might need to clean the fans, or to reapply the thermal paste. It’s like taking your car to the mechanic: You don’t chuck the whole car because you have a flat tire, after all.
What’s key here is doing a little research before you buy. Find out whether the product you’re buying is easily fixed by a repair person, and if the brand has any rules or restrictions around repairing their products. Remember, as a customer, you’re allowed to ask for every detail about what you’re buying, so don’t make the purchase until you’re sure you know how repairs will go down the line.
Protect your equipment
It’s simple, but overlooked: Treat your electronics gently if you want them to live long, happy lives. Use cases, screen protectors, and handle your tech with care. And when you’re initially buying, shop with an eye for durability over style. Even if all these accessories are an extra investment at first, you’ll be saving yourself money in the long run by avoiding costly replacements every few years.
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