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On Planned/Unplanned Obsolescence

Posted: 27th January 2015
In: Blog

In my opinion, it seems that it is impossible to create anything of substance without a measure of love for and pride in your work. All the effort put into refining and perfecting your own process are what eventually defines it, and by extension, what defines you as well.

Maybe it's also impossible for someone else to love what you have created in the same way that you do. If you're lucky, they'll find facets of it that connect with their own experiences, victories, and struggles, and that thing you made will become a piece of their lives too. You can't predict or manage it - Alfred Nobel's invention of dynamite for construction purposes and its later use against his wishes in war is one example. Still, it is just as likely if not moreso that your work may fail to connect in any meaningful way. You might spend years learning how to make the gift, offer it to the world, and find there's nobody willing to accept it.

The maddening part, though, is that even if you can manage to make something that is beloved by others, and even if you can deal with the fact that in becoming part of the lives of others you lose control over its inherent meaning and it may be used in ways you'd never intended - even at this point, which would be considered 'success' by many, from the very second an object or idea is birthed it is destined for obsolescence. The struggle to invent/reinvent oneself and one's work is a perpetual war against the creeping fatigue and forgetfulness of time. Like a band trying to follow up a successful song or album, there is a pressure to continually improve so as to avoid the point where the peak of one's career has been reached and passed, and in that there is even an element of burying what you have done beneath the foundation of what you are building. You start creating solely to outdo and thereby render obsolete the things you have done before. Without planned obsolescence the creator becomes obsolete, since the thing they were themselves created to do has been done. However, in incorporating planned obsolescence, it also in some ways invalidates any effort and creation even as it is being created.

And so you build and create, and the reason why becomes ever more imperceptible, and if you reflect on it maybe you start to see that in a way it's all for nothing. Even without your own efforts to outdo previous accomplishments, if even the greatest empires sink into the sand eventually, so too do the comparatively minor accomplishments of those within. You knit something of nothing, knowing the effort, the designs, the love that went into it will one day unravel before you.

I'm not sure which is more difficult, ultimately: the realization that time is pulling you apart and watching as it erodes your own body and mind, or seeing it take the things you birthed into the world and knowing that they too will be erased. Either way, time is greedy. Perhaps we watch with fascination as it swallows the efforts of others as a means of coping with the knowledge that it is swallowing ours as well.

Photograph of the forms used to produce fine dinnerware at an abandoned china factory (full gallery here). This section was later destroyed by fire. Photograph and text by Matthew Christopher. If you're interested in more Abandoned America blogs, follow this link. If you enjoy my writing, check out my books: Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream (Amazon / Barnes & Noble) or Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences (Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Signed copies).


Photo comment By Bill Bayer: Your photos and your words strike a beautiful chord with me. Thank you.
Photo comment By Jean Bennett: these things you portray are important.

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