The Light Bulb Conspiracy

Using historical photographs, film footage, and interviews with people in Europe, the United States, and Ghana, the female narrator takes viewers from the beginning of mass production in the 1920s with Henry Ford’s Model-T to General Motors’ annual car models to Bernard London’s proposal during the New Deal era for compulsory planned obsolescence that he believed would keep people working and create a continuous market demand for consumer goods to the 1950s when designers subscribed to this mantra. For example, light bulbs, originally designed to last, were given a maximum life of 1000 hours in the 1920s. Products are designed and engineered to fail, and manufacturers refer to this as the “product life cycle.” The film points out that as far back as the 1950s, people have fought back against this throwaway consumerism.  An example is the 2003 class-action case involving the battery in Apple’s iPod. Although the case never came to trial, Apple began to offer a two-year warranty with the battery. Planned obsolescence has created environmental problems, including the disposal of electronic waste, much of which ends up in dump sites in Third World countries such as Ghana. Advocates speak to the issues of limited resources and the need to take action: fix things, don’t throw them away. An LED light bulb that has been designed by Warner Philips, the great-grandson of the founder of Philips Electronics, can last 25 years and shows that sustainability and business profitability can go hand-in-hand. This outstanding presentation of a timely topic can be used in classes across the curriculum.–Patricia Ann Owens, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, Mt. Carmel

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