Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America

Article excerpt

Review: Made To Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America By Giles Slade Reviewed by Byron Anderson Northern Illinois University, USA Giles Slade. Made To Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. 330 pp. ISBN: 0-674-02203-3 (hardcover); US$27.95.

"Will America's pyramids be pyramids of waste?" (p. 7). Made To Break explores America's troubling technological waste problem, particularly e-wastes with their high levels of permanent biological toxins (PBTs) from arsenic to beryllium, cadmium, and others. This book concerns technological innovations and obsolescence in all its various forms-technological, psychological, and planned. Planned obsolescence is defined an "assortment of techniques used to artificially limit the durability of a manufactured good in order to stimulate repetitive consumption" (p. 5). Slade provides a 20th century historical background to explain how we have reached the point of producing an endless volume of e-waste products, from cheap throwaway calculators to continuously upgraded cell phones. A lot of background material is provided on the frenetic pace of computer development and obsolescence, with a focus on microchips, word processing, and video games.

Planned obsolescence, also called death dating, of products and goods is a uniquely American invention that permeates many aspects of our lives. For example, the automobile industry discovered early on that consumers were willing to trade up for style, a discovery that led to the annual model change. Even national defense is not immune to the lure of continual production and rapid-upgrades of weapon systems. Slade supports this assertion concerning weapons upgrading with some fascinating accounts of espionage and deception in the international arms trade business.

As American manufacturers learned how to exploit obsolescence, consumers increasingly came to accept it. …

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