x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Obsolete magic

Dubai's 30th annual Gitex consumer electronics show makes us wonder why people love everything new and shiny.

Cars of the 1950s and 1960s were notorious for their short lives. Superficial styling changes made new models fashionable each year, but also cars even two or three years old began to rust and develop mechanical problems. This was no coincidence but rather "planned obsolescence", a strategy intended to sell more vehicles. Social critic Vance Packard even warned, in his book The Waste Makers, that the ancient virtue of frugality was under assault.

We wonder then what Packard would say about Gitex, Dubai's vast consumer electronics show of as many as 25,000 products, all of them up-to-the-minute (for a minute or two, anyway). The 30th annual Gitex is "an extravaganza of glorious proportions", one insider says.

There's no denying the appeal of all that gadgetry. But by the 33rd Gitex, we fear, most of the gear on display will be forgotten in the backs of cupboards, replaced by newer products. True, innovation keeps providing products that can do more, but there is also plenty of planned obsolescence in this industry - in discontinued support for old products, software upgrades that are not backward-compatible and so on.

Understanding how we are being manipulated will not, unfortunately, diminish the allure of the new. For better or worse, the world loves those shiny little boxes of magic.