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This is only tangentially related, but this article reminds me of Galbraith's "The Affluent Society" which should frankly be required reading for undergrad social sciences. In it, he argues that, at the time of writing (late 50s), the industrialized West has largely solved what had previously been the main preoccupation of economics - improved standard of living. As evidence, Galbraith points to advertising.

The argument is simple: when important productivity improvements take place, say the invention of a new way of baking bread, they don't need advertising to gain mass use. Their benefits are so obvious that they don't need to be sold. Demand doesn't have to be created, because demand comes from human existence.

The existence of advertising, in contrast, shows that the thing being advertised probably isn't that important. Indeed, the item is so trivial as to require advertising to create demand for it. This then leads us to wonder what benefit is being served by both creating this product and the demand for it; Galbraith argues that we've essentially fetishized economic growth at all costs (a holdover, in his view, from the early days of econ which was concerned with our metaphorical bread making instead of our metaphorical advertised widget making). He then attacks planned obsolescence as the dumbest outcrop of this process, because now we're purposefully wasting materials on things which we hope to replace in the near future for no reason other than to keep making the things, things which we don't need anyway - as evidenced by the fact that they're advertised.

Anyway I think this fits in perfectly with the whole influencer economy phenomenon, because that's literally all they do. Their raison d'etre is to generate demand for items nobody needs or even previously knew about.

There was a commentary somewhere that while someone in france had discovered the cure to smallpox in the form of variolation, the king of france was dying of it. The reason he died was not because no cure existed, but because his doctors weren't aware of it and thus didn't know to apply it. The spread of knowledge is not magical. It will happen over time, but in that time knowledge will be lost. Variations of variolation have been used for thousands of years, but smallpox was only eradicated after galbraith wrote his book. The application of capital to the spread of useful knowledge can still happen even when the knowledge ought to be obvious and important to everyone that encounters it.

Sure but do we need a push or pull based model. Ads are pushed into our attention. Google searches and "research" are pull based. If you solve the pull based model the king's doctor just looks it up, discovers something exists, and obtains the treatment.

Recommendations are similar to ads in this regard as well. Maybe blurring the lines between the two depending on how the algo is designed. I'd personally be in favor of recommendation type approaches with combinations of human curation, and an adjustable spectrum of push/pull based results; and the ability to swap between these on a whim as needed.

Pull only works if you know what you're looking for. You'd end up researching race horses when you needed a moped.

Are you seriously saying that we need modern "push" marketing because doctors can't be trusted to google a cure for smallpox?

I agree that sometimes it's true that people need marketing to discover solutions, but, in the vast majority of cases I've encountered, marketing is self-serving, manipulative crap. For a concrete example, see cigarette advertising, corporations funding climate change denial, or most political advertising.

They probably work for Google, because they did seriously say that and it is seriously ridiculous.

How does that adage go?

> It Is Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It

Not only that but it implies that specifically targeted forms of advertising (ie aanti privacy) are the ideal. Certainly an interesting perspective

On the creator side, it is not so easy. If I think that someone is interested in my knowledge or product, I will write a book or produce it. But it only comes available until it lands in some shelf where it can be found. Hence, this is a push.

Alternatively, I could have waited until someone noticed my advertisement to start to write the book or produce the product. Pull.

So where is push and where is pull better?

I wasn't looking at this through the lens of creating content but rather starting from the point you "land in some shelf where it can be found". From this point it's about getting customers/audience which is where push/pull comes into play.

I see ads as purely a push based model; to the GP point, if it was worth looking for why wouldn't you already be looking for it via a pull based method. But you obviously don't know what you don't know. Either 100% push or 100% pull won't be optimal. This is where I see recommendations and being able to swap between a spectrum of XX% push and YY% pull algos is helpful.

For example physical music, i can walk into a record store and decide to buy a handful of records; the store owner can then see those records and recommend more that I could also enjoy and even ask me questions to make those more accurate. This isn't 100% push or pull and also has an element of human curation that inherently doesn't scale but is possibly the most effective approach. I can do the same thing online via discogs and get some automated recommendations. I have a choice between the two and depending if it's a genre I'm familiar with (human recommendation might give me something new) or a new one I'm trying to explore (most popular records recommended by discogs are a good starting point) i can choose one or the other.

I see solving this problem as a key one for the whole creator long-tail, 1k fans, etc... problem-space. Don't have the answers but those are some general ideas.

I'd argue that you definitely need a push-based model for preventative measures: vaccines, smoke detectors, Personal Protective Equipment to reduce the spread of disease.

If you don't know how serious a danger is, you won't start doing research on it until it actually occurs, at which point it is too late. It doesn't do much good to remind someone they need to have smoke detectors and check them regularly after the house burns down, or that a vaccine is available after they're infected.

The issue with this is that advertisements don't exist to answer a question, or provide useful information. They exist to sell a product - whose efficacy, usefulness or appropriateness to the buyer is orthogonal to the effectiveness of the advertisement. Anything can be advertised, from a crooked demagogue to a placebo herbal remedy. The only difference is the budget and the regulation. Advertising is not about the spread of knowledge, it's about the promotion of a good or service that's being sold, period.

Although some advertising is fairly useless or harmful, this ignores a lot of gray areas. For example, companies write interesting and useful blogs to both inform people and sell product.

Wouldn’t it be better to “push” or “advertise” these things science and medical journals though ? That’s what I’m assuming they’re for.

So it’s not advertising rather journalism which is required.

Comparing "The application of capital to the spread of useful knowledge" to 99% of modern day advertising with a straight face makes me wonder if some people ever use the Web.

advertisers don't solve the transitory period problem, which is what you're describing.

There are lots of things that exist that doctors are not aware of and advertising may fix that for a few projects, it's not going to fix it for more than a few.

There ARE other solutions, but those solutions involve peer review and journals and require doctors to consume the material.

And who says doctors are going to meaningfully consume advertising?

Similar thesis with Goodburn, Klien, Rumpfhuber Till - "The Design of Scarcity". A short, kooky but enjoyable read.

There are two kinds of advertising. One is a grocery store putting signs in the windows that say "Fresh cantaloupes, 99 cents". This was back when food was seasonal. People knew what cantaloupes were, but may have kind of forgotten about them, because it's been nearly a year since they could get them. So the store advertises that they have cantaloupes. This advertising just says "we have this thing".

Now think of Coke and Pepsi ads from during the "cola wars" era, or beer ads from a wider era. It's all about cool people and beautiful women, and you're supposed to think that maybe you could be cool like that and have a girl like that if you drank that. It has nothing to do with the properties of what's being sold; it's all about image.

The first kind of advertising is what you see when things are scarce; the second you see when things are abundant.

I don't have a problem with the first kind of advertising.

I strongly disagree with Galbraith's argument essentially about "the end of quality". We did not reach an absolute zenith of product quality in the 50s.

What did change was the coverage of mass media.

Instead of relying on long and expensive genuine user feedback loops to generate positive buzz around a product, advertising manufactures that buzz directly. This is why is it everywhere, and influencers are just the latest innovation. Not because product quality/QoL reached a high point.

> I strongly disagree with Galbraith's argument essentially about "the end of quality". We did not reach a zenith of product quality in the 50s.

As someone who actively seeks tools, furniture and other consumer products from that period, I tend to disagree.

Let's take furniture. Mine was made during this period by Stickley in New York state. One cannot find commensurate quality today unless you wish to commission handmade pieces.

We have devolved to the point of disposable $5 extruded-plastic chairs, which may provide service for a time, knowing full well that the inevitable trip to the landfill is just around the corner. I reckon we're a ways past said zenith.

I agree with you -- let me rephrase -- we may have hit a relative peak in quality in the 1950s, but not anything resembling an absolute limit that caused advertising.

The subsequent decline in product quality was caused by advertising displacing genuine user feedback in creating demand for products, among other things (planned obsolescence).

You no longer needed to create a great product that people would buy and recommend because it is great. Simply skip the loop and go straight from A to B via advertising (fake buzz).

The Galbraith argument that advertising was a necessary technology that benefits consumers is a Big Lie. Advertising benefits large producers, while consumers suffer from losing their voice and declining product quality.

Yes, plastics hadn't been invented yet and there were still enough forests around to deforest that furniture could economically be made out of large chunks of solid wood. Nowadays, forestry requirements in most developed countries have (understandably) become tighter and it makes more sense to use less wood to make engineered wood products to build furniture than solid wood. Engineered wood products last a long time but still less than solid wood.

Also, when new, a lot of old furniture was quite expensive and families would save up for pieces. We get the benefit of that being used and transmitted now (though obviously particularly striking pieces will not have a reduction in value.)

While I certainly appreciate older, sturdy furniture (especially solid wood furniture as someone with some cabinetry background), I prefer modern lightweight materials, even if they last less long. They still last most of my lifetime which is enough for me. Marketing is not the issue, sustainable materials usage is.

This seems like survivor bias. The 1950s furniture and tools that still exist are obviously well-made and have been considered worth preserving by decades of people. Karrot_Kream has good points about materials too.

They survived because of their quality, nothing today stands up to the same level of quality.

The things today won't survive, that's the point.

Some (most) things from today won't survive, just like some (most) things from the 1950s didn't survive. I own some recent furniture and tools that could comfortably survive 70 years; they are at just as high quality, if not better. E.g. I have some metal-framed chairs that could last centuries if they were re-covered every few decades.

Our house was made in the 1950s using California redwood. Design aside, this product quality is impossible today; you simply cannot find old-growth redwood to construct sufficient housing. I'm not even sure it was justifiable to utilize those materials during that era either -- hence the mass exploitation of global resources that is precipitating ecological collapse today.

There's clearly a cost-benefit spectrum between artisanal craftsmanship & throwaway consumerism. Balance is probably the best approach. It's time for the pendulum to swing back toward fewer, better items with a longer product life.

If you want to pay a fortune now, like your grandparents did then, you can get just as good and better stuff made now.

> What did change was the coverage of mass media

That and the shift toward psychological advertising in the wake of Bernays. Closing the quality/opinion loop only makes sense if quality is really a concern. Post-Bernays the gig switched to manufacturing desire by attacking the self-esteem of the "consumer". The product itself became largely irrelevant.

The critique of advertising rings some bells; however, planned obsolescence is not always a bad thing because the advances in new versions might outweigh the energy necessary to produce a better version.

So something like a bread toaster probably suffers from planned obsolescence; LCDs (or generic display technology) likely benefit from planned obsolescence.

Before Telecommunications deregulation everyone had pretty much the same telephone that was leased from the phone co. It was electromechanical with sizeable transformers and magnets in there. Compare that to the sets that were available after deregulation with miniaturized components.

Basically it's not always cut and dried and there is nuance especially when it comes to energy efficiency. On the other hand, it's really annoying to buy kitchen appliances that are poorly manufactured.

> planned obsolescence is not always a bad thing

To whom? We now have floating islands of plastic from obsolescent devices. That plastic blender I bought 3 years ago is now in the trash heap. My mother's blender she bought 40 years ago is still going. Obsolescence is terrible for the environment in the entire lifecycle of a product. In my opinion, obsolescence are rarely good for the society, never good for the customer. It is only good for the manufacturer.

> Before Telecommunications deregulation everyone had pretty much the same telephone that was leased from the phone co. It was electromechanical with sizeable transformers and magnets in there. Compare that to the sets that were available after deregulation with miniaturized components.

Just to be clear, are you suggesting that deregulation brought in the "not always bad" obsolescence? I know it brought innovation and customer choice, but can you unpack further how it brought obsolescence?

It took me a while reflecting on engineering and design practice to come around to understanding planned obsolescence as a potentially positive thing.

Imagine designing a very high quality metal chain. However, some of the links need to be made of an inferior strength plastic, perhaps to stop them corroding. It's therefore not worth designing the rest of the chain to a higher tensile quality than the weakest links. To do so would actually be very wasteful.

One must distinguish genuine design efficiency, which is a kind of designed obsolescence, from strategic sabotage. That's what most digital goods contain; remote kill switches, countdown timers, deliberate weak fuses, remote updates that remove features, embedded DRM and all manner of user-hostile shitfuckery that amounts to no more than vandalism.

> That plastic blender I bought 3 years ago is now in the trash heap. My mother's blender she bought 40 years ago is still going.

Adjusted for purchasing power, how much did the former cost and how much did the latter cost?

Excellent question. This came up because it just died recently. She said the blender (really a hand mixer) cost $26, and she thinks she bought it 1984 or 1985. So that would be approximately $72 in today's US dollar.[0]

I can find hand mixers online from $13 to $238 (amzn). Let's agree that today's mixer will last 5 years. Also, let's pick the price "average" at $50. That would put the total cost at $400. If we go with $13, it is still $104, and unlikely we could get 5 years out of it.

So, to a customer no it is not an improvement. For the environment, no it is not an improvement. Correct me if I am wrong

[0]: https://www.saving.org/inflation/inflation.php

> Let's agree that today's mixer will last 5 years

Why? Your entire analysis is based around this completely unfounded assertion. My cheap plastic kitchen appliances are lasting much longer than 5 years.

> The average Lifespan of a Kitchen Blender is around 5 years. This average includes all the high-end blenders such as Blendtec or Vitamix as well as low-end cheap blenders by less-known brands. A blender can work for as short as a few months for a poor-quality machine. While a great quality durable blender may keep working for more than 20 years. [0]

And, I cross referenced it with other sites from a search "life expectancy of small home appliances". they were mostly manufacturers, and insurance companies.

Since this is not scientific research, but simply my opinion, I am open for you to suggest an alternate time frame and source for your data that contradicts.


Lol, read the parent. It’s because a relative had a blender die after 3 years. He gives his justification.

5 years is quite a long time for modern devices. It’s sad, but I rarely see something last as long as 3 year; 2.5 ish seems to be the norm.

As an aside, my MBP16in 1st gen has had two motherboards die, each in less than two years. The tech blamed dirty power and said because the customer next to me had a 2012 that was still working it was my fault… he’s right, this was my fault for buying apple.

I routinely find products with obvious faults. My JBL smart speaker had an obvious mechanical problem, that killed it. Same for my acer, which had faulty connectors on two laptops almost a decade apart. I could tell as soon as it was plugged in that it was gonna die.

Mine last much less than 5 years.

The argument the poster is making isn’t that garbage implementations aren’t cheaper, it’s that their externalities are terrible.

Of course--that's my point. Those externalities aren't priced in, which is a large part of the purchasing power change for consumer goods over the last couple decades. We can start with the cost of salvage and recycling being priced into COGS, amortized across expected lifetime (and refined as data comes in--make something good that lasts longer, get a refund against your up-front deposit as a manufacturer).

Sorry, I should've been more explicit in my first post. My bad.

Unfortunately some people only seem to consider money as important, all else be damned

I often wonder if PPP comparisons are relevant anymore. What is the significance that you could buy 10 blenders in 2022 with $1 40 years ago in 1982? I guess its meaningful because you didn't have the buy a new blender every few years. But what happens to all of the old blenders being replaced?

Isn't most of the plastic in oceans from fishing nets? Landfills aren't all that much of a problem.

At the end of my comment I carved out an exception for kitchen appliances as they are notoriously ill designed.

The telephone is an example of a good that improved and was kickstarted with deregulation before that it was WE500 types.

> The argument is simple: when important productivity improvements take place, say the invention of a new way of baking bread, they don't need advertising to gain mass use.

I mean, to look at your example again, in the United States, where technology gets adopted the quickest, 99% of bread sold is utterly disgusting (and expensive) and would be illegal to sell in many countries. A $100-150 automated bread maker fixes this, and yet they do not have mass adoption. Everything is marketing driven.

The reason you like the bread that you eat in your country is because it's the bread that you grew up with. While there are certainly some breads in the US that I don't like (mostly the mediocre-quality mass-produced stuff[0]), the variety of good bread is pretty amazing. If you don't like it, that's fine, you do you.

[0] Which is undoubtedly made by an automated bread maker, so I don't think using a machine "fixes" bread.

While this might seem shocking to a Frenchman, many Americans (including me) just don't eat much bread.

The last time I was at CES I went to one of the outer wings of the event where they had all the random booths of people shilling cheap backpacks, cheap cell phone cases, cheap Bluetooth speakers, etc. etc. etc. Every booth basically the same as the next and each one promoting what was definitely nothing more than near-future landfill filler.

I remember having two really clear thoughts.

1) CES is mostly a megachurch dedicated to buying crap we don't need with money we don't have.

2) It's a special kind of existential debasing that goes into being a person who has to tend one of those booths and stand there pretending like your hot pink camouflage backpacks are so much better than the ones that look exactly like them in the booth next to yours.

A lot of people get really excited to go to CES. I've had to go for work several times, and it always just makes me depressed.

When I did consulting landing gigs was mainly based on knowing tools others didn't. From frameworks to speedup the project to knowing of existing software that filled their need that others simply didn't know about.

Tech wise one of the biggest drawbacks to no longer living in the Bay Area is that lack of exposure to what most consider the unimportant stuff. I used to go to all kinds of meetup style events and learned as much just from watching people work and seeing the tools they used and ways they used them I never thought of versus the main point of the meetup. That almost made the drive over 17 worth it.

Better advertising would have killed that niche for me, instead it was left to the unaffordability of healthcare when you are self insured at have a family to do me in.

You'd have to be naïve to assume the standard of living in Western countries today is comparable to how it was in the 1950s.

I think looking at a single metric is a mistake, though. Certainly, there was a lot more poverty, especially in areas where we've made giant strides, like elderly poverty. And we've made other huge strides in some areas of health, like reduction in smoking rates in the US.

But, if I look at my parents, who were raised in "average" middle-class families in the US, there are many ways today's families' "standard of living" is worse, despite the fact that they can buy a lot more shit. 2 simple examples:

1. There is a ton more obesity today, and it has a disastrous effect on standard of living.

2. There is a ton more anxiety about maintaining a standard of living. My grandfather worked for "Ma Bell" for 47 years and raised 4 kids on that single salary. They ate dinner together as a family every night. Today your "average" middle-class family has both parents working and still with a constant undercurrent of economic anxiety.

Look, I'm in no way arguing the 50s were some idyllic "Leave it to Beaver" utopia, but I am arguing that once you get to a "comfortable" middle class existence that focusing on "ability to buy more stuff" as the primary driver of "standard of living" is a mistake.

The '50s weren't when advertising was invented. They are, however, when planning laws were invented, artificially suppressing the housing supply and ensuring that as the population grows, a "comfortable" existence requires ever more struggle in order to be able to afford a place to live.

Regarding #1 it's because our cities have become hopelessly auto dependent. In the 50s, much of the US was still walkable and nutrition was less easily available. It was hard to see what car dependence would do to human well-being and scaling human cities, but the US is trying to fix these mistakes piecemeal.

#2 was unique to the US. The rest of the world was either in shambles from colonialism or from WW2. Factories were destroyed and the US produced much of the world's manufacturing output. This temporarily gave a huge boost to American industry. As other countries recovered, competition became stiffer. Moreover the US labor market at the time was compromised almost completely of white men, so there was a lot less labor competition. The story was very different for others.

I agree with you, but if you actually polled people on this issue you would perhaps be surprised how naive the US populace generally is.

And the remedy (if you believe the status quo needs a remedy) is right in the closing sentence of the article:

> The promoters want our attention more than our cash.

Try to avoid mass media, minimize exposure to advertising, question externally imposed values. Our human status-seeking rat race is real, but individual degree of participation optional.

(I say "optional" but it may be in the same category as "simply choose to stop shooting heroin", for some psychological profiles, I realize.)

Even here on HN I see comments celebrating that culture of demand-generation driven innovations, apparently the staple of progress in our society. Without which value discovery would collapse overnight. As if inventing a car was on the same level as producing a bottle of Clooney's Casamigo. Which is what the OP is really about, it's a lengthy but fairly focused article.

Interestingly enough you are spreading word about his work on social media to people (incl. myself) who have not heard about him. I wonder if that makes you an influencer.

So if someone invented the best thing since sliced bread, it wouldn't need advertising?


Great take. A large section of our economy (say 50%) is supply driven, not demand driven. Just busy work.

I agree with the general observation that "needs" are a more powerful means of making a sale. Advertising tends to focus on "wants".

Yet, at the huge risk of getting downvoted into oblivion isn't rejecting "wants" as a legitimate source of growth a bit Marxist? If the economy only served needs and not wants we would be living in a very bleak and oppressive world.

Hasn't advertising been around since way before the 50s? But anyways, I think the capitalist society cannot keep churning unless there are new products/services being created regularly...the whole thing is like a house of cards. If production slow down, people lose jobs, no disposable income, consumption goes down, etc...

Yeah this is the argument I usually hear for why things are this way.

You have to keep the guy in the factory slaving away making widgets so he can afford the Mercedes that the ad promised would make him happier so that the girl in the lab will slave away on the cure for cancer to pay for the widgets the guy in the factory made that the ad told her would make her happier.

The above sure sounds sad to me, and I can imagine another system might be better for many people in many ways, but I think it's at least an argument worth acknowledging that there is still meaningful progress to be made, and economic growth might contribute to it.

this assumes humans are capable of understanding the value of things. They aren’t and values shift over time. advertising helps to inform and influence these changing values

Why do humans need advertising to understand the value of things?

I'd agree with you if your statement was more along the lines of, "people may not know that widget X exists and solves their problem well." But that's wholly different from understanding the value of things.

People aren’t rational, they lack awareness, and even when they are aware of a new behavior they are hesitant to change behavior unless there are significant signals from media & peers that the new behavior will bring value .

Besides all of this, the cognitive load of being aware of every possible new behavior, activity and product in the world would be overwhelming.

I’m not advocating for more advertising (i live somewhat of an ascetic lifestyle myself), nor soft or hard paternalism. But assuming people will be able to discover and adopt high value behaviors without advertising (or other outside influence) is preposterous.

If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses

There was genuine skepticism over the horseless carriage when it was first becoming available. Vaccines wouldn't be in widespread today use if significant money and resources weren't spent convincing people of their safety. Lots and lot of useful technological innovations requires advertising before people were convinced to use them.

You know, I often see this faster horses thing quoted to point at how dumb consumers are. Wouldn't you agree, however, that a car which doesn't drive itself home after you've had a bit too many drinks at the local saloon is a downgrade? A car which doesn't graze its own food is a downgrade? A car which doesn't automatically make more cars is a downgrade? Perhaps if someone had figured out 'faster horses' sooner we wouldn't have literally millions of people dead from car crashes. Perhaps we wouldn't have an atomized society with little social interaction.

It seems to me that once people know that something exists, which is possible through way more methods than the constant cognitive assault of our advertising-based culture, then they can do just fine at figuring out if the thing is useful to them.

But yeah, keep gloating about how dumb people are for not just wanting a better version of what works.

Horses are much more expensive to own than cars. You can't just leave them sitting in a lot for 20 out of 24 hours a day, they only feed themselves if you're living out in the middle of the prairie, and you can't just replace a broken leg.

If horses are more "pro-social" than cars, it's because the only people who could afford them are the very wealthy and people who made their living riding horses like cowboys and taxi drivers. Cars are "worse" than horses because they're too superior, which means the middle class all own personal cars and have stopped financing public transit and pedestrian-friendly city layout that the lower classes would coincidentally benefit from.

>Wouldn't you agree, however, that a car which doesn't drive itself home after you've had a bit too many drinks at the local saloon is a downgrade? A car which doesn't graze its own food is a downgrade? A car which doesn't automatically make more cars is a downgrade? Perhaps if someone had figured out 'faster horses' sooner we wouldn't have literally millions of people dead from car crashes. Perhaps we wouldn't have an atomized society with little social interaction.

You're only saying this because you don't know how much labor it takes to keep a horse in working shape.

Given the choice between a horse and a Model T it's a no brainer.

Oh and plenty of people died or suffered life altering injuries from riding horses or riding in carriages and nobody ever got maimed because they surprised a car.

Faster horses would still leave our streets full of horse manure. "Grazing their own food" doesn't work in a dense urban environment. You're cherry-picking the upsides of the old way, but there were some pretty significant downsides.

My car doesn't die if I don't attend to it for 2 weeks. If my car breaks its "leg" I can swap it out, I don't have to shoot the poor thing. My car can't get me in trouble for grazing in my neighbor's pasture. If horses traveled at car speeds, I doubt death counts would be any lower, and you'd have to figure in the number of horse deaths too.

If horses traveled at car speeds they would refuse to do so when it is unsafe. The same way you won't knowingly run full speed down a ice covered street.

Henry Ford wasn't saying that people are just too dumb to understand how great cars are, he's saying people become so uncomfortable with what already works they don't understand how much better the alternatives could be. Ford understood because he ran a car company.

You may be the exception in preferring horses (although you should note, some states don't look kindly to drunk driving horses), but when people had the choice they chose cars.

> Lots and lot of useful technological innovations requires advertising before people were convinced to use them.

Fortunately, we have had a parallel universe, called the Soviet Union, where advertising was more limited (but still present, of course), and as anyone who lived there will tell you, nobody there needed to be convinced by advertising that they wanted a car, or a fridge, or a color television.

Fair enough, but there's a huge gap between vaccines and products like Raid Shadow Legends and Snuggies.

There is a tremendous amount of pharmaceutical advertising.

I understand it's appealing, oh let's hate on the influencers. We DO see influencers advertise pharmaceuticals / health adjacent products, like with public health campaigns, that is a regulatory distinction and not a substantive one. When asked what was the one thing he wanted, Dr. Fauci said, 'Leonardo DiCaprio to encourage people to advocate for COVID measures.' They use ad inventory, they use ad techniques to reach their audience, they ARE ADS. Seemingly regulators have figured out a process for them.

Video games are really interesting too. For some people, they are medicine! For some people, they substitute alcohol!

> This is only tangentially related, but this article reminds me of Galbraith's "The Affluent Society" which should frankly be required reading for undergrad social sciences.

Oh? What ideological indoctrination does it provide?

> In it, he argues that, at the time of writing (late 50s), the industrialized West has largely solved what had previously been the main preoccupation of economics - improved standard of living. As evidence, Galbraith points to advertising.

Oh right, taking the stated goals of an established field which has been central in the shaping of modern nation states at face value—its advertising.

It’s not social science but I find the narrative of The Century of the Self to be convincing. It makes a lot more sense to sell things by way of manipulation than it does by just stating facts.

But then you ask, why manipulate instead of just selling things that people more or less organically want? Because the economy has to grow. Into infinity. Is this a controversial point to make? And further, what is the current iteration of capitalism called? Consumer capitalism. It is not merely a culture of consumption since the system itself is built on consumption.

> He then attacks planned obsolescence as the dumbest outcrop of this process,

Planned obsolescence is an economic myth. There is very little evidence that it actually exists in the real world, unless you are really willing to stretch the definition. It's just not possible to successfully pull it off in a competitive market.

I guess "selling things that will wear out soon even though it wouldn't be hard to make better ones that last way longer" is stretching the definition? Because that's everywhere.

Yes, it's stretching the definition. The fact that consumers are buying plenty of things that will wear out soon is not evidence of planned obsolescence. It is evidence that consumers prefer those products over those that last longer (probably because they are cheaper).

I'm just taking issue with the word "prefer".

Do people really prefer cheaper things? Often people can only afford cheaper things, and don't prefer them over well-built things. I buy cheap things and often would prefer a more expensive thing.

I can further unravel the logic of my two statements if you prefer, but it's probably annoying.

You are right, I was not using the colloquial sense of the word. I was using it to mean what people choose to purchase under price/budget constraints[0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revealed_preference

You're assuming that the intelligence of a consumer of well designed products is at parity with that of a consumer of cheap products.

You're also assuming that the critical mass of people have enough money to choose.

No, I'm not making those assumptions. Can you elaborate?

There is no strong incentive for companies to make products that last longer than a certain period of time, so they put no effort into it. I think that's really what people are calling "planned obsolescence." I think "unplanned obsolescence" would be a more accurate term. I really doubt any companies have teams of engineers tasked specifically with reducing product longevity.

Companies evolve whatever strategies work best to extract the highest amount of consumer dollars at the lowest cost. I also doubt most of them have specific goals to make their products worse, but brand power, walled gardens, monopolies and cartels let them get away with quite a few tricks that _end up_ making them worse.

People aren't willing to pay more for things that last longer.

Individuals are. I buy more expensive boots knowing they'll last longer. Communities like the BuyItForLife or the Frugral subreddits discuss products and durability.

A large enough cohort of consumers to influence manufacturers aren't doing so, unfortunately.

The assumption that markets are mostly competitive is deeply flawed. Markets are controlled, managed and monopolized more often than not, via strategies like control of chokepoints (computer chip production is a case example), interlocking boards of directors of major corporations, government subsidies for specific industries (and import tariffs as well), etc.

Case example: acceptable cell phones could be produced today that would last for 20 years using the same internal structure, with decent audio/video capabilities and memory storage, if they were designed to be easily repairable, i.e. if the components that are likely to wear out could be easily replaced (battery, touchscreen, etc.). The operating systems could be locked-in to a standard format, or OS upgrades could be made backwards-compatible.

Major phone manufacturers really are not interested in making such devices, because new sales would fall:


Where is the competitive market providing the long-lived alternatives?

The smartphone manufacturing industry is super competitive. Many of the largest phone manufacturers didn't exist a decade ago. I guess you got a billion dollar startup idea in your hands, go ahead and create that phone company. Personally, my hunch is that you're not the first to have this idea and a phone like the one you described is either not commercially viable and/or there isn't real demand for a phone that lasts 20 years.

Are you sure smartphones are even relevant anymore? They seemed to have devolved into doing everything mediocre and are much like a dildo/toothbrush hybrid without clear instructions. Dialtone 2.0 sounds like a winner already. The seperation of data and dialtone.

And with influencer marketing, its like celebs decades ago harping about the health benefits of eating a placenta... Are you eating placentas to maintain health? All those vitamins and minerals... Yummy :/


Just because they invented it/said it, doesn't make it a good idea/product.

Product evolution is already well documented. The 1767 invention of carbonated water/soda water did not make large strides until 1886 and did not get HFCS until 1981-1984.




The point of a free market participant is to escape it.

Very little evidence, you say? Well, here you go.


PS "not possible to pull it off in a competitive market" is not a meaningful statement. The fact that it is possible to pull off implies it's not a competitive market already.

That's probably the most successful cartel in history and was largely assisted by government through basic lightbulb patents granted to GE. It lasted about half a decade before it started falling apart due to external competition. I'm not saying no one will attempt to form cartels or engineer planned obsolescence, just that it isn't sustainable from an economic standpoint.

I see you're ready for the advanced course. Here's the continuation of that history: https://daily.jstor.org/the-birth-of-planned-obsolescence/ Planned obsolescence through advertising is still planned obsolescence.

TL;DR: It happened. They did it on purpose, that purpose being to make more money.

> Planned obsolescence through advertising is still planned obsolescence.

No, it's not. It's also a pretty elitist/condescending view of the American people, as if they are passive victims incapable of discerning what's good for them. Might as well do away with democracy while we're at it.

I can tell you've read nothing of the history of advertising, marketing, propaganda, public relations, and other methods of mass persuasion. My guess is you also think you're one of those "independent thinkers" who's "immune" to propaganda. Guess what: you're not.

This seems like a pretty strong claim given that 4 billion Android phones are made each year with <2 years of kernel support. Where are you even getting this from?

Again, this is a misunderstanding of what planned obsolescence means. Supporting software costs money. The longer the support offered, the higher the cost of the phone. A line has to be drawn: a reasonable duration that doesn't increase the cost of the phone by too much. That line is ultimately driven by consumer preferences.

Planned obsolescence would be setting a timer on the phone that disables it after two years.

> Where are you even getting this from?

From basic economics 101 theory and empirical observation.

I’m not sure how you’re trying to define planned obsolescence in order to say it doesn’t happen. Maintenance has costs and it has benefits and a corporation tries the weigh those according to its best guess. But the biggest cost for maintenance as far the decision makers are concerned is not the extra 10 engineers required to support a product with 100M unit volumes for another year. It is the opportunity cost of not selling a new device next year. The fact that the device is not working as long as its usable lifecycle as a conscious matter of corporate planning is pretty much the definition of planned obsolescence. And I can personally vouch that when execs are pressed about why they don’t commit the to longer support terms the answer that comes back is “we want to sell more units next year”.

Those execs are not very clever. Why not drop the support after just 2 months?

Writing software costs even more money. And software is more profitable if you break your old software and ruin the attached hardware after 2 years.

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