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Introduction

Thinking out of Sync: A Theory of Obsolescence
  • Babette B. Tischleder
  • Sarah Wasserman

Abstract

In a 2002 Ikea commercial, a woman unplugs a red desk lamp and carries it out of her home, depositing it with a bag of garbage on the sidewalk.1 The weather turns windy and wintry, and the camera lingers on the lamp standing in the rain, its shade and bulb turned toward the window of the house, where the woman sits dry and cozy in the warm glow of a new lamp. A spare piano score emphasizes the sad fate of the unloved red lamp until, suddenly, a man appears out of the darkness. He addresses the camera in an exaggerated Nordic accent. “Many of you feel bad for this lamp,” he says, as the rain drenches him. “That is because you’re crazy. It has no feelings! And the new one is much better.” The man departs and the ad concludes with the Ikea logo. Although the commercial suggests that we are “crazy” to feel sympathy for the old lamp and should instead embrace what is “new” and “better,” the ad in fact highlights the ambiguous dynamics of obsolescence that are the subject of this book. The lamp abandoned in the rain seems so charged with meaning, but the new nonetheless has a much stronger appeal. Obsolescence is fundamental to our consumer practices, our relationship to objects, and our everyday lives, and yet we reflect on it so infrequently.

Keywords

Digital Technology Digital Device Creative Destruction Industrial Mutation Warm Glow 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    Edmund Spenser, The Shepheardes Calendar (Eugene: The University of Oregon, 1996), http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/sfront.html. The original poem is written using deliberately archaic spellings in order to suggest a connection to medieval literature; we have used the modern spellings here for the purpose of clarity.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Giles Slade, Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 13.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Quoted in Glenn Adamson and David Gordon, Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World ( Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003 ), 4–5.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things ( Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010 ), 20.Google Scholar
  5. 19.
    Heather Rogers, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage (New York: Norton, 2005), 6–7. The trash vortex, or “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” is a gyre of debris in the central North Pacific Ocean. Greenpeace’s website ominously explains that the vortex is “an area the size of Texas in the North Pacific in which an estimated six kilos of plastic for every kilo of natural plankton, along with other slow degrading garbage, swirls slowly around like a clock, choked with dead fish, marine mammals, and birds who get snared.” It continues, “Some plastics in the gyre will not break down in the lifetimes of the grandchildren of the people who threw them away.” “The Trash Vortex,” Greenpeace International, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns /oceans/fit-for-the-future/pollution/trash-vortex, accessed August 17, 2014.Google Scholar
  6. 21.
    Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, “Hardware/Software/Wetware,” in Critical Terms for Media Studies, ed. W. J. T. Mitchell and Mark B. N. Hansen ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010 ), 191.Google Scholar
  7. 25.
    Hugh Kenner, The Counterfeiters: An Historical Comedy ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968 ), 96.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Babette B. Tischleder and Sarah Wasserman 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Babette B. Tischleder
  • Sarah Wasserman

There are no affiliations available

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