Friday, April 11, 2008

posted by Sarah Krasley @ 1:29 PM
I'm convinced that the best remedy for sleepless nights is midnight baseball. Every March I breathe a sigh of relief that soon almost every night, I can switch on my radio and hear the soothing sounds of the Giants' victory or defeat and will be guaranteed to be asleep by the third inning. It's not that the games are boring, it's just that at a low volume, the announcer's voice and the crack of the bat lulls me to sleep every time. I switch on my trusty Panapet (see image to the left) and head off to the ballgame where all the thoughts from the day are hit out of the park (so to speak). If I've had a particularly rough day and make through the whole game, I get to sing along to Journey's "Lights", which is kind of a treat at 3 am, let me tell you.......

My Panapet has served me and its previous owners faithfully since 1972. It needs some new batteries from time to time, but for the most part, all I have to do is turn the dial on the side and KNBR comes in crystal clear. I find that many of the appliances I own that are older than I am work much better than the stuff I buy new at stores. I recently found out why this might be the case. A little thing called planned obsolescence.

Basically, the idea started shortly after WWII by a guy named Victor LeBeau, an economist who believed the key to the United States' economic prosperity was in the hands of product manufacturers. If goods were not manufactured to last a long time, people would buy more of them and consumption, a key component of GDP growth, would rise, bringing forth "economic prosperity." Corporations liked the idea because it meant higher revenue for them and longer relationships with their customers. An amazing piece called "The Story of Stuff" articulates this phenomenon beautifully. See that here:

So, I've presented you with a lot of gloom and doom here that is likely to be no match for midnight baseball's sleep inducement.

Enter in the design community. Designers have a lot of power. They pretty much conceive of almost everything we experience in the built environment. If you think about it, your home started as a sketch on someone's desk and your iPod might have been a fleeting thought while a designer was showering. I attended a very inspiring panel discussion this week called "Design Green Now" that highlighted the growing movement within the design community to consider the entire life-cycle of a product--cutting a big gash into the tired, old "planned obsolescence" idea that's unfortunately still hanging around.

Additionally, there are some pretty cool innovations happening within smart nano-materials. Angela Belcher, a materials scientist at MIT, and one of my heroines, has uncovered some very interesting research about abalone shells and how their regrowth systems could possibly be applied to electronics allowing components to "regrow" themselves. Read more about that here.

In short, there are very bright people working on these problems--but they need help from us. If you're not a designer or a MacArthur genius, what can you do? Well, you can show your support through what you buy or what you don't buy. Before you rush out to buy a new product think about why you're doing the purchase necessary? What is motivating you to buy it? Does the byproduct or container have an additional use after you're done with it (use ReadyMade for help on that one)? And watch the full "Story of Stuff" here.

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