Quick now, take a look around you. How many things do you own that are 10 years old? 20 years old? Older? If you’re like me, the answers are a few, not many, even fewer.
Now think about your grandparents and their possessions. Your answers to the same questions are probably much different.
Lori Thornton at Smoky Mountain Historian got me thinking about our changing consumption habits with her post on how she had to replace a perfectly good scanner because her new computer operating system couldn’t use it. Giles Slade’s observations in this Christian Science Monitor article show how cutting-edge, innovative Apple uses planned obsolescence to stimulate sales of its phenomenally successful iPod.
And while I knew that young folks have largely abandoned reading print newspapers, I had no idea that teens were similarly abandoning wristwatches, presumably because digital clocks are built into virtually everything electronic these days.
Without getting too far off topic here, our consumer society simply can’t continue on this unsustainable path of planned obsolescence. Our landfills are filling fast with the toxic remains of discarded PCs, cell phones and portable music devices with millions of soon-to-be-antiquated analog TVs waiting in the wings.
The pace of American consumption, which has quickened at an exponential rate since World War II, will likely be suppressed by economic and environmental realities in the not-so-distant future. Our descendants may find consumer habits of the past 60 years or so bewildering. Are you tracking the change for them?
As you write your own family history, consider seriously how your ancestors influenced your own buying habits. Write, too, of what you hope your own children and grandchildren have learned from yours.
Larry Lehmer is a personal historian who helps people preserve their family histories. To learn more, visit his web site or send him an e-mail.
Flickr photo of Colorado landfill courtesy of Jason Kosena.