Christmas and Planned Obsolescence

We have a long-standing Christmas tradition. Actually, we have quite a few, and I suspect all couples who’ve been married (or together) thirty years have long-standing holiday traditions. But the tradition under discussion is an extensive display of outside Christmas lights – white icicle lights on the gutters on the front and rear of the house, twinkling white lights on artificial garlands affixed to long rear deck railing, some lighted figures on the front lawn, and various strings of lights on the fitzer hedge flanking the front walk and in the side yard.

Needless to say, a number of hours are required for installation, usually taking much of the weekend after Thanksgiving. The labor is necessary for the enjoyment the lights provide us, occasional visiting family members, and the neighbors – and, of course, the power company, which surely enjoys the increased revenues.

We have, however, noticed a trend in terms of the lights themselves. When we first moved to the house we occupy some twenty-eight years ago, we bought six strands of white-wired white icicle lights for the rear of the house. We still have four strands remaining. On three of them every light still works. The fourth strand, alas, lost the lights in a three foot section this winter after two days of winds gusting to 50 mph, likely because several bulbs were smashed. Replacement lights for a 28 year-old strand are not available.

The trend we noted is that almost no set of lights manufactured in the last ten years lasts more than two or three years. The other interesting factor is that although my wife scrupulously saves all the spare bulbs, every strand of newly-purchased replacement lights has a slightly different bulb design, so that if you need more than two replacement bulbs, you essentially need to buy a new strand. And it’s worse than that, because it takes needle-nosed pliers, a surgeon’s touch, and the strength of Sampson to replace one of those bulbs.

Which is why, every January I end up tossing a strand or two of lights, and every late November I buy more, which invariably give out more quickly than their predecessors. I have the feeling that we’re on the way to one-season disposable Christmas lights, and that may be a reason why light displays are becoming limited to those of us who are slaves to our traditions.

4 thoughts on “Christmas and Planned Obsolescence”

  1. John Mai says:

    It’s that way with everything, we’re a disposable society. Try and find a general repair shop anymore for house hold goods.
    This planned obsolescence is ridiculous anymore. I had a full size freezer built in the mid 60’s that ran continuously for the fifteen years I owned it without a hitch. when we moved I sold it to a friend of mine who has now had it for 13 years. It’s still running fine. In that same time I’ve repaired and finally replaced four newer refrigerators for various issues. There is a great deal of truth to the statement; “They don’t build ’em like they used to.”

  2. Hanneke says:

    To compensate for the lack of repair shops and general handymen, several volunteer ‘Repair café’ groups have sprung up, which hold a repair session once or twice a month at the local library.
    Anyone can bring something that needs (simple) repairing, and often there will be a volunteer who can do the repair. The customer only needs to pay for the materials used, the volunteer’s time isn’t charged.
    It’s meant for fairly small and simple repairs, like putting a new plug on a lamp cord, repairing a loose connection, darning a moth-hole in your favorite sweater or stitching up a torn-out hem (or if the volunteer lady with the sewing machine is really good, she might be able to put in a new zipper). It all depends on the local volunteers, often retired people who are handy at some specific area of repairs. If the man with the soldering iron who knows electric appliances isn’t there this werk, you can’t get your toaster with the loose connection repaired until next time he attends.
    Still it’s very useful for everyone who hates throwing out good stuff because it needs a small repair, and isn’t handy at that particular sort of repairs.
    It just needs a variedly-handy group of people willing to spend an afternoon together helping people out in small ways, and a library or public building willing to host the gathering; and most importantly: someone to organise it.

  3. spiffikins says:

    Eleven seasons ago when I moved into this house, I purchased 3 strings of blue icicle lights – solar powered.
    This, I thought, is the future! Solar powered Christmas lights – not only do they save money, but since I have no exterior outlets, they are perfect!
    They are still going strong – I’ve had to replace the batteries once – but I’m very worried, because every year I assume this will be the last year they work as they are not terribly sturdy.
    Worried, because every year I look – and solar powered Christmas lights just…are not a popular item. I have not found any replacements for when these finally die on me.

  4. Jim S. says:

    I feel you saw this coming and warned about years ago in your Timegod books…

    More and more things today seem to be either designed to fail and not be repaired or built around “black box” repairs where you just swap some mystery component out. Some of this is undoubtedly linked to increasing complexity, but some of it seems to be deliberate designed and intended forced upgrades.

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