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Less Is More: That Aging Gadget is Still Worthwhile

Consumers go crazy for the latest gadgets, but as soon as the packaging is off, the device becomes a "used" good on its way to obsolescence.
/ Source: TechNewsDaily

Consumers go crazy for the latest gadgets, but as soon as the packaging is off, the device becomes a "used" good on its way to obsolescence.

But what if consumers used devices for their full life instead of buying a new one every year or so?

Remy Labesque, senior industrial designer for frog design Inc., believes products should be used until they reach the end of their useful lives, instead of throwing them away every year or so for something that's just incrementally better.

Labesque spoke to TechNewsDaily about how wear and tear is part of the life cycle of technology and how people (and designers) should embrace it.

A lot of people protect their gadgets, especially smartphones, with protective cases. Do you think consumers should just embrace their ultimate demise and leave the covers off?

It's understandable why people want protective covers, but the truth is these folks really aren't a far cry from my grandmother who lived in fear of removing the plastic wrap from her living room lamp shades. Fleeting new-ness and wear is part of the life cycle of every manufactured product. Some products can wear their deterioration in the form of a patina as a badge of honor, while others are denied the chance. In the case of tech products, it's more often because of how they were designed. Most tech products will become obsolete long before they reach this aesthetic maturity.

Are they designed to become obsolete before this happens?

Yes, the grim reality is that some products are actually engineered to have a shorter life than they would otherwise enjoy. For example, printer ink cartridges have planned obsolescence. Sometimes a product will become obsolete because something better is released into the market, rendering the original product less useful. Other times a product becomes obsolete because it's not compatible with its newer counterparts.

What about keeping up with the latest trends?

Yes, perhaps the most common culprit is simply that stuff goes out of style. There's a funny unspoken social anxiety that compels people to buy products they don't need with money they don't have. It's about staying fresh. It's the keeping up with the Joneses. It's why 70 percent of Americans are in financial debt.

Are there any products now that you think could stand the test of time?

In the case of Apple's products, the contoured square aesthetic is non-offensive from an industrial design standpoint and largely sustainable for that very reason. Take, for example, a Charles and Ray Eames chair, which was once the Ikea-affordable furnishing of the mid-century. Some of these chairs go for respectable prices on eBay. For products that still have some life in them, a newer version hitting the market doesn’t have to signal the end of the road.

Do you think people will actually want to keep and preserve aging products?

A colleague of mine, Mark Rolston, explores the notion of rejuvenating products by swapping out obsolete components. He makes the point that nobody visits Rome to see the new buildings. And as is the case with everything from mobile phones to cars to buildings to cities, there's a place for appreciation of that which is familiar and even nostalgic perhaps. So there's a case for embracing the aging, analog, the low-fi and the imperfect. We live in a world of excess, but 20 years down the road you might look back on the good old days and reminisce about that... whatever the product may be.

Reach TechNewsDaily senior writer Samantha Murphy at Follow her on Twitter @SamMurphy_TMN