Planned obsolescence

12 August 2012

Lucy was lucky to have an utterly inspirational English teacher this last year at school. On top of turning her into an even more avid reader than she had already been, this teacher inspired her to write her own stories. Lucy is now attempting to write a book. Although I have my doubts that she will be lucky enough to become the next Enid Blyton (who would have been 115 yesterday), I think this book will make a wonderful memento when she is older.  In addition to fuelling the children’s enthusiasm to read and write, this teacher also explains and discusses big and complicated words. Lucy  loves to talk about these at home, words like oxymoron, or planned obsolescence, the meaning which she explained enthusiastically to me some time ago.

The concept of planned obsolescence (gosh, this is difficult to spell) is not new, as far as I know it came about in the 1930s – lightbulbs were the first thing to have a predetermined ‘working-life span’. Planned obsolescence is great for the industry and I guess pretty much everything we buy nowadays seems to have one. In our experience, those notebooks with the attractive fruit logo start playing up after a couple of years. This is very annoying, but makes you duly buy a new computer before things go haywire and you are in danger of not only losing your work data, but also recipes, photos and lots of things that are important in your life.

But I am wondering when planned obsolescence starts. Recently, our fridge/ freezer packed in. The appliance passed away  after 12+ years of mostly reliable service. This was not a good thing to happen when the outside temperature is about 30+ degrees Celsius. But I guess those are the most challenging times for aging cooling appliances. We ended up without cool or frozen for 5 days until the shiny new appliance arrived. It wasn’t nice. It made me grumpy having to live with a smelly old fridge.

It also made me think whether this breakdown after twelve long years counts as planned obsolescence. I would have thought no, but then you hear about people with fridges that happily run for about 20 years. So was this fridge designed to die after roughly a decade of working day and night? And if so, how do the engineers do it?

And how about planned obsolescence in whoopy cushions? Yesterday, Linus showed us his trusty old whoopy cushion that has been in his possession since roughly 2006 and has been used frequently on family members. The whoopy cushion has a total of 5 holes along the side seams. Linus is (almost) gutted. He said that the cushion is precious to him and he will try to fix it to make it useable for future fun with family and friends. We are currently discussing whether to glue the seams together with the iron or whether to patch it up like an inner tube for a bicycle.

To finish off, here’s something that has definitely no planned obsolescence. My browny recipe that was passed on to me from a friend who got it from her host family during her exchange year in the US some twenty-odd years ago. It never fails to induce an incredible chocolate flush for instant happiness in times of crisis.


This recipe translates to

3 strips of butter

300g of dark chocolate

700ml of sugar – melt the ingredients carefully in a pan. Then leave to cool for a little. Afterwards add

6 eggs – one after the other and stir in well. Add

360 ml of wheat flour,

6 tsp of Vanilla essence

120ml of chopped nuts and mix well.

Put the chocolatey-gooey mass on a baking tray and bake at 120 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes. Cut into squares after baking and enjoy the naughty treat. You may also sprinkle the brownies with icing sugar.


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