Neophilia: Boom or Bust?
Over 50 years ago, in the automotive heyday of huge tailfins and chrome everywhere, people learned about planned obsolescence. Their concern quickly spread to other industries. Everyone has a story of some gizmo failing the day after the warranty expired.
Today’s cars are better designed and built. Many require nothing for 100,000 miles beyond gas, oil, and the occasional filter. Are people keeping these better cars longer? You know they’re not. The question is why?
The answer is the same for cars, computers, cell phones, and the rest. The new ones are not always better, but people really want them. While it began with planned obsolescence (see Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America by Giles Slade), it has been manipulated into something really new.
In the sixties, this craving for the new was given a name, neophilia: the love of new things. But it’s more than just love of the new. It’s also fear of being seen with, of possessing, of associating with the old. Neophilia gave the economy the rapid turnover it wanted—but at what cost?
Buying more of the new demands getting rid of the no-longer-new. There are only three paths: resale (as used), recycle (or re-use), and refuse (i.e., garbage). As more and more people buy the new, who will be left to buy the used? And recycling is not a viable option for hi-tech materials.
Garbage is no longer an answer, because there’s no place to put it. Should we create great mountains in the desert? Or perhaps a new Atlantis? Dumping anywhere on this planet is dangerous because these devices contain deadly chemicals that poison the underground water we drink.
This leaves two expensive choices. Find a way to turn garbage into energy (expect dangerous byproducts), or shoot it into the sun. Either way the cost of disposal goes sky-high. If it can’t be done cheaply, continually replacing the not-so-new with the new will strangle this economy with its own abundance.