Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America

By Jackson, Kathy Merlock | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America


Jackson, Kathy Merlock, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America Giles Slade. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

The book's cover, depicting a storage space filled with discarded computer monitors, says it all. As American technology advances, the waste increases. We are living in a society of obsolescence, where consumer products outdate quickly and are simply made to break. Although this is not new, Giles Slade shows in Made to Break how the computer age of the twenty-first century has taken it to greater heights. His statistics are staggering. In 2004, about 315 million working PCs were retired for newer models, with only about ten percent of them being refurbished and the rest being trashed (1). In general, Americans expect to replace their home computers every two years, and sometimes even sooner. Cell phones do not even last that long. The average American replaces a cell phone every eighteen months, creating a huge stockpile of still-functioning equipment ready for disposal; in 2005, more than 100 million cell phones were discarded, creating 50,000 tons of waste added to the 200,000 tons already taking space in landfills (2). According to Slade, "discarded cell phones represent a toxic time bomb waiting to enter America's landfills and water table" (2). Other items, television sets, radios, automobiles, and clothing, to name a few, add to the garbage.

How did America get to this point? Slade charts the history of obsolescence, explaining its various forms-technological, psychological, and planned-and calls it "a uniquely American invention" (3). "Not only did we invent disposable products, ranging from diapers to cameras to contact lenses," he writes, "but we invented the very concept of disposability itself, as a necessary precursor to our rejection of tradition and our promotion of progress and change" (4). As technological innovation increases, as things look outdated, and as manufacturers construct items with limited life-spans so as to force consumers to buy more, Americans throw things away at an alarming rate, leaving Slade to ponder this question: "What can be said of a culture whose legacies to the future are mounds of hazardous materials and a poisoned water supply?

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?