Book Review: Made to Break

"Why is it prohibited? asked the savage....The controller shrugged his shoulders. "Because it is old, that's the chief reason. We haven't any use for old things here."
"Even when they are beautiful?"
"Particularly when they are beautiful. Beauty's attractive, and we don't want people attracted by old things. We want them to like new ones."

Giles Slade quotes Aldous Huxley from Brave New World's brilliant attack on consumerism, in "Made to Break": Technology and Obsolescence in America, about the design and marketing of goods to encourage their replacement. George Bush was not far off when asked what people should do after 9/11, he said "go shopping." -that has been the message in America since World War 1, when store keepers put up signs saying "Clear the Track for Prosperity." Building to last was counterproductive, as Henry Ford learned at great cost from General Motors, who introduced annual model changes and almost wiped him out. From its beginnings in shirt collars and razor blades, our disposable culture with rapidly changing styles and technology is creating a mountain of waste that will bury us.

Slade was asked by a reviewer at Grist: How do we undo this cycle of consumption? "A lot of really sophisticated people devoted a lot of time and thought to developing this system," he says. "We need to look at the problem creatively and rethink it. Our whole economy is based on buying, trashing, and buying again. We need to rethink industrial design." ...

The book that explains what motivates us to buy new things; It is perhaps a bit weak in the later sections about modern technology and computers in particular, but nobody can argue with his conclusion "The golden age of obsolescence -- the heyday of nylons, tailfins, and transistor radios -- will go the way of the buffalo." ::Made to Break

Tags: Books | Technology