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  • Writer's pictureJose Arrieta

On Planned Excommunication Not Obsolescence

Everything, everywhere, eventually breaks down. This reality is central to product design, from food to Formula 1 cars. As we engineer our lives, obsolescence is a central element that guides our work. We do not bake bread a week before we need it, we do not wear our wedding dresses before the wedding, we do not use what we value recklessly lest they spoil and break down before we need them.

Obsolescence

A key difference between a Formula 1 car and a normal one is the lifetime. An F1 car is painstakingly designed to survive for a little bit more than one race. Everything, from the tires to the valves, is meant to work exceptionally well during the race and become obsolete directly after. The reason is clear, a tougher valve, a longer-lasting brake, or a more resilient polymer would be slower, have more mass, and make the car perform worse. Formula 1 cars live in the production possibility frontier, on the edge of chaos, push them a bit, and the cars will break apart.


Normal cars do not work like that. Not really. A car should work. It should turn on and, provided nonnegligent maintenance, should run for as long as the user needs it to. Or at least as long as the user chooses to pay for its maintenance. This key difference determines how engineering design decisions are made. There is a clear translation of knowledge between the two domains, with technologies such as ABS braking moving from F1 to our driveways in the past. Same for eBoosts and other innovations that start on the frontier and diffuse toward the commodity market.


That said, all products break down. There are simple reasons why the most sold car of all time, the Volkswagen Beetle, is seldom on our streets today. Regulations can deem it unsafe to drive (e.g., lack of side airbags), they might become too uncomfortable to use (e.g.. new cars are much roomier now), or companies could make it harder to maintain (e.g., VW not providing spare parts to the mass market). All these reasons compound, and eventually, it becomes a nuisance to use the product. The users choose new products, and the old ones go into oblivion.


Denial of Service

The story I just told is true in hardware products. Not so much on software. Think of the WannaCry virus that leveraged the choice by Microsoft to stop updating their Windows XP operating system and realize that thousands of vital infrastructures were vulnerable to attack (e.g., NHS, Deutsche Bahn, etc.). People who used Windows XP products in 2017 did it for a reason. The systems worked well. All was more or less fine. These devices were not obsolete, just old. Not everyone agrees with this view. Microsoft, saw Windows XP as an obsolete technology, a technology not worth the upkeep. A technology they would rather let go of. In doing so, there would be a flurry of product updates.


Note the crucial difference. Microsoft singlehandedly decided to stop maintenance of their code, and the world faced a crisis. When we stopped having Beetles in the road, it was clearly due to some choices VW made, but that explained just a limited part of the variance. It is true that most people stopped using Windows XP and had transitioned to Mac OS years before Microsoft decided to provide seed funding for the WannaCry hacker team, which eventually made Windows XP obsolete.


Yet, I cannot accept that someone else chooses to make my products obsolete. It inherently steals my Privilege of Rejecting Your product from me, and thou shall not steal! It breaks a covenant between me, the faithful user, and the provider of all goods and services. It breaks my hope and my soils my faith in the producer. It makes me feel excommunicated not obsolete.


Excommunicated

Recently, Google decided to Brick via software by phone. My phone was three years old, and the "Don't be evil" company decided that Doublespeak worked wonders for Big Brother: Why wouldn't it for them? I left it charging overnight and it without a signal, it stopped working. Thousands of others have experienced the repercussions of Google's choice. I am just the newest member to be booted from the Alphabet Church.


Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is filled with a plethora of firms. A true Alpha and Omega of product offerings. Ever since I got my GMail account in 2005, I have been a faithful advocate of the Mountainview behemoth. I cherished their products and tools. Google made/makes my life better, and monthly, I send them tithe. In exchange, they keep my memories safe in the clouds. They track my every movement, and for a bit, they even knew how well I slept and when my heart missed a beat.


As a true believer of the abc.xyz canon, I bought a Pixel 4 three years ago. I enjoyed its clean Android experience and interface. I felt as if I could.touch the skies with my phone, Or well, at least crisply image its stars. As time went by, I had been thinking of my next phone. Naturally, Pixel 7 Pro was my only option. I was set to buy it in a week or two. But the community of Page and Brin had a different idea. They noticed my use of an old product in their clouds. They noticed I had not changed my phone, although they had told me it was not part of their herd. I was committing a sin, an intruder in their heavens, polluting their clouds with my three-year-old device pictures. I should be ashamed. Better still, I should be excommunicated.


I am, it seems, a persona-non-grata at Google. My contributions to their cathedral of bytes deemed insufficient, my membership to the holy Adsense revoked. I woke up on Sunday, and my phone did not work. It is out of warranty. There is nothing I can do. Larry and Sergey threw me out of their flock. I am now a believer without a church. I feel now, as thousands felt when the Dieselgate fraud from VW was uncovered. Betrayed and fooled. I cared about my products. I cared about this story. I liked this company. And what I get in return is a boot. I am booted out of their heavens. At least, in my case, I will not be one of the thousands of Europeans who will die young due to VWs lies; I just need to buy a new phone.


Disgust

I am disgusted by this behavior. I know it is imbecile of me to be angry at Google for having believed for decades their marketing. "Oh Poor Jose, the biggest Ad agency gaslights him, and he is mad".


I am mad. Directly, after my phone got bricked, I took my eight-year-old Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. This phone has a cracked screen that leaked liquid crystals in places. The battery lasts about 6 hours on idle. The USB charger does not work. And it is slow as an Italian vineyard restaurant. But, after three years in the bottom of a drawer, it charged, updated, and ran. Some apps don't work, and every interaction with them makes me buy a new iPhone almost as much as the shameful action of the owners of the Android ecosystem. But it works.


I find this tells a lot. Technically speaking, both phones are everyday drivers. No phone has ever been built as an F1 car. All are meant to be used by idiots like me and survive trauma. However, Samsung is a good hardware company. They designed their phones in such a way that after three years of usage, I hated it and needed a new phone. Google did not, I liked my Pixel 4 as much as I did on the first day. Therefore Google had a problem.


The same problem the Phoebus cartel that coined the coined the idea of planned obsolescence, Google had put a too good product to the market. It needed to kill it, and it could. Google chose to arbitrarily decrease the number of working Pixel 4 phones in the market by randomly bricking them. This is clearly not obsolescence but excommunication. And fine, bitch bye



Coda

One morning in 2019, Tesla drivers woke up to a car that could *almost* drive by itself. They were asked to keep their hands on the wheel and not fall asleep, but many disregarded these indications. All of a sudden, a software update led them to have a better product. Their investment in Elon's dreams came to fruition, and their cars became better. That is the power of digital technologies. Old trivial tools like cars can be augmented overnight by a South African Tony Stark. A phone one deems suitable for everyday use can be deemed unsuitable to inhabit the pearly Mountainview Alphabetical clouds.



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