The light bulb conspiracy

Hi guys,

I have just seen movie The light bulb conspiracy. I have very mixed feeling about products and everything in general, especailly that I am studying to be engineering designer. I understand the fact that the economy has to grow, but is there other way of achieving it besides producing obsolete goods, wasting resources or trashing some parts of our planet? What was even more painful about the movie is the fact that Apple played significant role in it. But it wasnt a hero character… The company who claims to be so environmentally oriented etc. and would do things like those presented in the film? I would think that maybe Jobs wanted some money injection into the comapny since he was bringing it up from dead, right? Was it his way to sacrifice his beliefs about the environment in order to have enough resources to create new better things? But then why iPhone 3 could not support iOS4 or iOS5? I have got many more questions not only towards Apple.
The most important question I think is whose fault it is? Is it greed that pushed people to make more money? need for technological progress? Societies being too stupid so that would believe in anything companies or government want to sell them by telling them that they need it?
What do you think?

I haven’t seen the movie, but I am always willing to share an opinion.

First, Steve Jobs was no saint. And since I was taught if I have nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all, we will leave it at that. Speaking ill of the dead isn’t cool either.

The capitalist system, as far as I am concerned, is the best we have come up with. But, as with any complex system, it can be perverted. The robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and “too big to fail” are absolute proof of that fact. And no matter what nifty quote is written for a movie, money has never been, nor will it ever be the root of all good.

Who’s to blame? That’s easy, look in the mirror. We are a representative democracy. It is our job to make rules and police the rules. If a company is too big to fail, break it up so the parts can fail without bringing the rest down. If a company controls IP to the point wear a mere threat can stifle competition, IP law needs to be changed. If the government is in bed with big business, change the government. The examples are endless.

And nobody is forcing you to upgrade your phone. If you want the shiniest one, that is your problem. Remember, no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

That’s an interesting take you got from the movie.

I have a few questions I like to ask myself when I watch movies like this. Did I come away from it with any questions about the way the information was presented? What are the movie producer’s or director’s motives? Should I do any additional research on my own to verify the movie’s evidence? When I watched the movie, was I under the impression that there might be more to the story? Did I think critically about the movie or just believe everything they wanted to sell me?

@ iab

you are right but yet i have a feeling that eveyone could say that. although I agree I will say what I keep on saying to my friend: it takes more than one to do something. but that is my opinion.
here is the link for the movie if you fancy watching it: - YouTube

@ thirdnorth

I am critical about all the conspiracy theories too. Actually I been told more about them by different people. and yet the movie showed some pretty nice examples. obviously when someone will take something out of the context, he can make it sound differently. I think more research is vital. yet I do recall the battery problem.

Having seen the movie a few weeks ago, I’m guessing I share your opinion on the answer to all those questions being a resounding “yes.”

It was an environmentalist motivated movie shrouded in the intriguing and easy to dislike idea of planned obsolescence.

When we are creating a product specification document, you can be damn sure lifespan is taken into consideration, with a lot of other things, such as cost, performance, etc. To take the most straight forward example from the movie of the pantyhose, do industrial strength ever lasting hose sound especially comfortable? How much would they cost? If they can make a more comfortable, and cheaper pair that lasts half as long is that perhaps a better value? Probably.

I’ve been wanting to see this film, but your feedback disappoints me. Maybe it isn’t quite as good as I thought.

Here’s my take on obsolescence. It’s a symptom, not the disease. The fact of the matter is that if another company had marketed the 2000 hour bulb at the same price of the 1000 hour bulb, it would have failed. The light bulb is a commodity whose sales are driven by price. No one would have noticed (nor believed) the claim of extended life. Therefore, from an environmental standpoint, the whole thing is theoretical.

When it comes to technology, it’s a whole different game. Moore’s law about the number of transistors on a chip doubling every 24 months has continued for the last 60+ years. Therefore, the current iPhone will always become out-of-date after 24 months. It’s not Apple’s fault, it’s that the technology is improving. It’s actually the polar opposite of a cartel operating in a commodity market.

The two biggest problems I see in capital today were best described in the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” books.

In the first book, near the end, the hero responds to a journalist who claims that he destroyed the Swedish economy because the stock market is tanking. He responds that the Swedish economy is fine. It has as many workers building things, servers at restaurants, accountants at calculators as the day before. It’s just the imaginary value of the economy has declined. Point being, don’t confuse the concept with reality. Money and stock markets are representations of the real world, but are purely products of imagination.

In the third book a sub-plot involves a bunch of shell companies who are importing cheaper toilets from Vietnam, but selling them at the same price that toilets made in Sweden cost. The company doesn’t lower the cost because of the nature of the construction market. It’s a mature market with virtually no innovation. Any reduction in price will mean taking a cut in profit. Therefore, the contractors are encouraged to increase their prices or at least keep them stable and enjoy a healthy profit. This, in fact, is happening around the world and retarding a lot of much needed infrastructure development as well as helping to create housing bubbles and keep housing prices up.

Note that neither of these are huge, top-down conspiracies, but rather a group-think social problem in the first and a petty organized local scheme in the second. However, both of these problems, left unaddressed, have lead to economic crisis and continued said crisis.

I understand that specification takes lifespan under conisderation. but when this activity has started, 10 or 20 years ago? User experience is very important to every product designer, or at least should be. And I agree that more comfortable pantyhose would be more appropriate. I know that some trade-offs have to be made in regards to some aspects of product lifecycle. But there are products that are very difficult to recycle, and no one has thought about that before. E.g. in UK Ford has to accept any Ford car for scrap. If all the big companies had to provide some kind of service for recycling, wouldn’t that make them think twice about materials, lifespan or wouldn’t they be pushed more towards being more innovative in the way they are designing or producing their products? I don’t care if people will spend lots of money or not. I am more concerned about all the garbage they produce. Whose responsibility should it be to take care of that garbage? Economy might be an imaginary issue, but landfills aren’t.

And that was my problem with the film. It never acknowledges those trade offs. It’s entirely focused on life span and ignores all else.

No one has thought of it before? The buzz phrase “cradle to cradle” is a concept that has been around for a quite a while.

Why are you worried about landfills? Humans don’t create mass. We dig it out of one hole, transform it, use it, discard it into another hole. There is no absolute loss or gain.

What you should worry about is the relative loss. The resources humans use are not unlimited. They are most definately finate and infinate growth is impossible. And there is no doubt we have reached a tipping point with some of those resources as evidenced by the wild fluctuations in the real and imaginary economy when there is a hiccup in the supply chain.

I wouldn’t worry about how we dispose of crap, I would worry where are we going to get the resources to make tomorrow’s crap. And in a consumption-based economy, if there is no crap to make, workers in Sweden will no longer be working, real or imaginary.

Thought of? Yes.

Actually doing it? Thin. Very, very thin.

Agreed. Just saying the concept isn’t new. I think we’ll see the execution happen in the next ten years, but you’re right, now it’s mostly green washing with very little to support the sentiment.

Still some companies have it as a top priority; e.g. P&G.

I’m curious. Can you point to anything P&G is doing now or in the past that can be considered c2c?

True c2c, this second? No, but it is something they are putting considerable effort into. I was at a lecture recently with P&G’s global director of design (Phil Duncan) where he spoke about it at length. As I said, it’s something we will hopefully see become a reality in the next 10 years and P&G is pushing hard for that to happen.

Here is a link to their 2011 sustainability report: Procter & Gamble

It outlines their short and long term goals, including using 100% recyclable materials for all products and packaging, using 100% renewable energy in all their factories and having no part of any of their products end up in landfills by the year 2020.

Is it marketing, green-washing BS? Maybe, but Phil made a pretty convincing presentation about how committed they are to it.

First step in improvement is measuring where you are. A sustainability report is already a giant leap forward compared to 80% of companies.

Iab, I agree. Your above statement is so simple, yet so many people feel such a strong desire to have the absolute latest that they confuse want with need. I love people who play with this. I found out that one of my friends still uses a flip phone. He just never had the need to go to a smart phone, and had a super cheap plan he didn’t want to give up! Another friend recently gave up his mobile phone completely! 6 months in he has discovered how little he misses it.

The lesson is not to give up all your earthly goods, but to really choose them. Vote with your wallet.

Typed on my iPhone.

I have a cel for my trips to the US only. I just wait to get home to call people. I do have a tablet now. The Nook Color, which I bought when the design was already a year old. Seeing as I use it 99% of the time for reading PDFs and books and 1% for Angry Birds, I think I won’t upgrade until it dies (and maybe I’ll change the battery first).

In fact, this weekend I soldered a new battery into my electric toothbrush and a cordless phone battery pack. Nothing beats milking life out of these old products!

I did the downgrade of my phone (and a whole bunch of other things) when I decided to go to grad school at an expensive University and taking on student loans. I lasted 8 months until the inconveniences piled up enough that I had to go back; email, news, entertainment, GPS, camera, etc, etc……It’s so many things I use every single day.

Now having the latest and greatest smartphone (IMO) is one luxury I allow myself. Everything else in my life I buy to last, fix when possible, and don’t have the same opinion about at all.

I just finished watching the documentary and it was pretty interesting–a few slow parts here that there. One thing that really resonated with me was a quote towards the end of the video:

“We increasingly rely on objects to give us a sense of self-esteem and identity…It’s consequently of the breakdown of things that use to give us identity like the membership of a community and all sorts of soft and social things have have been replaced by consumerism.”

I think this idea has some truth to it and shines a light on how modern consumer habits have become, at times, more important than what we consider traditional, face to face, physical interactions. I have always been interested in how design can develop more emotional, more “human” experiences and foster a more personal experience between people. Consumerism is here to stay in my opinion, so why not, as designers, use our resources to create a more “human” society that thrives to buy the next best thing that gets them that much closer to having meaningful interactions and experiences.

I haven’t see the movie yet.

Is our consumption/consumerism driven by culture or economy (as iab put it “consumption-based economy”)? Or are these basically the same thing?