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The 'Light Bulb Conspiracy' probes planned obsolescence

Consumer Reports News: October 27, 2011 12:28 PM

The Light Bulb Conspiracy, a 2010 documentary by Spanish filmmaker Cosima Dannoritzer, is screening this month in several U.S. cities, including Miami, New York and Albuquerque. The film explores the issue of planned obsolescence, and argues that the lightbulb is the first case of a product being designed to have a deliberately short lifespan.

The story begins in Livermore, California, home of the world's longest-burning lightbulb. The filament-style bulb, which hangs in the Livermore fire station, has been glowing continuously since 1901. The secret to its longevity apparently died with its inventor, a French immigrant professor named Adolf Chaillet.

The Light Bulb Conspiracy goes on to show how many early incandescent lightbulbs lasted upwards of 2,500 hours. But then the leading manufacturers of the time formed an international cartel whose ostensible goal was to standardize the lightbulb. Its real intent, however, at least as the conspiracy theory goes, was to shorten the lifespan of all lightbulbs. By the 1940s, bulbs were burning for 1,000 hours, which is their expected lifespan today.

From lightbulbs, the film suggests other examples of planned obsolescence, including computers, printers and iPods. It then looks at ways consumers are pushing back and challenging manufacturers to develop more resilient products. Where lightbulbs are concerned, planned obsolescence (if you support the theory) is already on the way out, thanks to the emergence of LEDs, which are part of Consumer Reports' lightbulb Ratings, and which manufacturers claim could last up to 50,000 hours. That's well short of the 100,000 hours that at least one early incandescent lightbulb supposedly managed, or the one million hours that the Livermore bulb is closing in on. But it's a step in the right direction.

Watch more of The Light Bulb Conspiracy at Top Documentary Films.

Daniel DiClerico

   

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