The Light Bulb Conspiracy
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The Light Bulb Conspiracy

2010, Conspiracy  -   176 Comments
Ratings: 8.69/10 from 669 users.

Planned Obsolescence is the deliberate shortening of product life spans to guarantee consumer demand.

As a magazine for advertisers succinctly puts it: The article that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business - and a tragedy for the modern growth society which relies on an ever-accelerating cycle of production, consumption and throwing away.

The Light Bulb Conspiracy combines investigative research and rare archive footage to trace the untold story of Planned Obsolescence, from its beginnings in the 1920s with a secret cartel, set up expressly to limit the life span of light bulbs, to present-day stories involving cutting edge electronics (such as the iPod) and the growing spirit of resistance amongst ordinary consumers.

This film travels to France, Germany, Spain and the US to find witnesses of a business practice which has become the basis of the modern economy, and brings back disquieting pictures from Africa where discarded electronics are piling up in huge cemeteries for electronic waste.

Directed by: Cosima Dannoritzer

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3 years ago

We have LED now with 50,000hrs.

3 years ago

I know a young man, struggling, who made a lightbulb that could last for decades and Kiefer promised to share with him; he may had taken this and got it patented-stole the idea and took his invention from him. This young man and I have lots of such stories, whereby the rich and evil will not let us earn money. I wish he could get an employment with someone who would pay him for his mechanical ingenuity; he won the Anderson's award in Virginia for Mechanical Drafting. Jay gave him 95 cents after showing him how to do this. These are the numbers of those who do not harm children. Since when is the United States about only the unskilled bullies get paid for what they steal from others?

4 years ago

Why the advert for amazon?
This place used to host videos.

4 years ago

PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE is a shocking and unacceptable exploitation of consumers

Hery Franz
5 years ago

"Planned Obsolescence" is NOT done by or with consumer approval, as the narrative states. That 'planning' is done through the collusion of corporate R&D, and their 'handlers'.

5 years ago

I did mean to say and good because if the product did last forever the manufacturer would go out of business I got to learn how to type lol

5 years ago

There is always a negative and positive to any story,planned obsolescence is both good and bad.bad because consumers have to pay for product that should last forever.and bad because if the product did last forever, the manufacturer would go out of business therefore putting workers out of a job who need the money to feed and clothes their until everything is free we all have to suck it it up

Robert Csiki
5 years ago

Very much enjoyed watching this fascinating journey into the world of corporate profiteering and planned obsolescence. All of our worldly problems have been solved and suppressed in favor of the criminal bankers greed. Highly recommended watching.

7 years ago

goodday friend

MichaelMyers Girl
8 years ago

This kind of thing,is not news,but it should be. Many companies deliberately lessen the life span and/or quality of products,out of pure greed. Everything from bug sprays,furniture,food,vitamins&of course light name it,now days,if something works too well,is too efficient,lasts a reasonably long time,it's taken off shelves&'dumbed down'. If they can get away with it,they'll do it. Sadly,the public(consumers),just bend over&take it. It's sickening. Corporate greed. Smh. I'm all for a decent price,but I believe if I'm going to spend my hard earned money on something,it should be of good quality,long-lasting quality. Ergo,I'd rather spend an extra few cents/dollars on better quality stuff,than waste my money,on cheap junk,so I speak with my wallet. These days,saving a dollar now,will often cost you more,later...just sayin'.

9 years ago

I'm curious if anyone who agrees with this documentary buys disposable diapers.
What is a better illustration of planned obsolescence than a single-use product?

9 years ago

The documentary claims that the Phoebus cartel "pressured" member companies, and fined them. How? Did they hire goons to beat them up?
If you are able to make a better lightbulb, then you have much to gain from undercutting the cartel and trying to gain marketshare for yourself.

A more general comment on the documentary is that it uses two different definitions of planned obsolescence. One is that the product is designed intentionally to fail earlier than necessary (who decides what is "necessary" btw?). The other is that the product is designed to be more desirable than previous products.
Using those two interchangeable made the narrative rather confusing at times.

Finally, I am quite suspicious of stories and arguments that do not acknowledge trade-offs. You could probably make an ipod with a longer battery life, but it would be bigger and more expensive. You could have a replaceable battery (like some competitors did), but it would not be as beautiful and solid.
If the East German lightbulbs (from 1981) or the communist fridges were so great in terms of trade-off, then you'd expect they would sell. The fact that nobody apparently wants them should tell you something.

9 years ago

So its you who raised hell when the US government tried to move toward the new longer life energy efficient light bulbs. Your gop congressmen took up your battle too. There is a conspiracy behind every locked door for some people. Just DIAF.

9 years ago

The Venus Projects "Resource Based Economy" is the solution to this BS(Bad Science)

9 years ago

I have an Apple laptop, an ipad, and an iphone. I bought them all second-hand in a recycle shop in China. I felt pretty good about it. Now I find that the ipad and iphone are horrible devices. Any software I add, Apple gets a chunk out of. But the computer is nice. When the ugly periph's die, I'm going to get a very simple phone and stick with a used laptop running Linux on it.
I've repaired lots of computers. I kept the original imac going for nearly 15 years until I just got too board with it. You'd be amazed at how easy it is to fix hardware. The hard part is getting the right part. There are a lot of people on the net out there that will help you though. Buy little, throw away even less. Give old things to kids who can't afford them. Be frugal and be generous.

9 years ago

New overpriced LEDs are great.Great energy savers. Last a life time. But the miniature florescent electronic bulbs do not last long . Electronic high voltage producing components are housed sealed tight.No means of heat escape. Caution in using them--fire hazard.
Do not have them without a enclosure fixture. Such bulb caught on fire over the bed and mattress started a major fire.No joke!

Stick with LEDs--great product.

Kristoffer Hestad
9 years ago

I think Life on earth has really great potential, If just the people sitting in the power positions die away and the ones taking their places are more interested in the well being of humanity than their own egocentric selves. I can understand that the people on top back in the days had a pure ego-driven business plan, but now every one can afford what is more than enough luxury and you don't have to own the whole world to be of wealth.

I really think we should combine our resources, Because we are clearly good at pretty much everything. The problem is just that we repeatedly work so hard not to work together, which is a total shame, as we are all of the same kind living on the very same planet. And its a total shame that the greed for money is rapidly destroying the future for both human life on earth as well as the animals on earth (which I feel has ever more rights , as they do not do **** to **** this once really nice planet up)

It's time for the human race to prove that we are not just total i*iots that crashes the car into a mountain side 5 minutes after getting our drivers license... And by that I mean totally destroying the earth and the ambition it has to obtain life right after we gained some technological knowledge, which we really should use to make this place better than naturally intended...

9 years ago

The Livermore light bulb never failed also because it was never turned off and on, it is on a circuit that is always hot. Moving it to the new firehouse was a real feat. Great documentary.

Alex McFarlin
9 years ago

Great Movie! Really hard to find though. I can't imagine there's a single American advertiser that wants this thing to hit the airwaves.

bigbearbland .
9 years ago

Ponder this. How do you think that the great arts were made before there were lightbulbs? Have you ever contemplated light refraction and amplification through mirrors? It is how all the masters painted, how the common lived and how we will all find ourselves. My kids loved it when I showed it to them. Everything Old is Made New Again

John Mac Canna
9 years ago

what is the link to the Russian software for printers in the video?

9 years ago

This is a great film. Definitely a top 5 for me. thanks for sharing.

10 years ago

apples message is disingenuous... plain and simple

10 years ago

Great film, I love the old lightbulbs all warm and yellow. I hope they don't completely phase them out.

10 years ago

I love this film, ever since I saw it I have a greater sense of nostalgia for admiring old technology. I'm thinking I should stock up on older bulbs, I love the warm yellow light they give off.

Greg Corcoran Jr
10 years ago

I want a money free society where everyone works for free 40hrs a week, 9 months out of 12, and all goods and services are free, financial jobs get displaced, but those brains are better suited for research and development, that will end wasteful products and promote the very best products. Big oil gets put in charge of alternative energy, we need oil for lubrication purposes, not fuel. If you want to hear more about my idea. Thank you.

We're all equal here, because how is my struggle to survive any different than yours?

Once money is removed from the equation 90% of crime and relationship problems go away. We'll all have a symbiotic relationship with our communities

10 years ago

dutch subtitles dont help me at all :/

10 years ago

Good film, very thought provoking and well presented. Could have easily lapsed into paranoid conspiracy territory, but didn't - so it made it's point more effectively. Some English subtitles wouldn't go astray though - would have liked to get the interview subjects in their own words rather than just paraphrased by the narrator.

10 years ago

Computer inkjet printers were (still are?) sold at a loss and the manufacturers made money selling their own brand of replacement ink cartridges, for a LOT more than they were worth. Some U.S. States went after these companies because they were telling their customers that the "no name" refills were inferior, and could even void your warranty. Independent testing proved that the "name brand" and "no name" inks were in fact identical. I was buying ink cartridges for $10 when the "brand name" was $70. The same damned ink!!

I was once in a checkout line at Staples and the guy behind me had 6 Epson printers in his cart, all the same. I asked him if they were for gifts, or a raffle or work and he told me that he threw them out when they were empty because a new printer was less than half the price of refilling the empty ones. I told him about the cheap ink being the same stuff but he didn't seem to believe me. On my way home I started to laugh when I realised that the Epson people were losing money on that guy, and wondered how many others were doing the same thing. If you were convinced that the cheap ink was no good, I guess it made sense.

11 years ago

Educate your kids so the change in the future will be iminent .

11 years ago

This is why the world should adopt Resource Based Economy.

11 years ago

There IS an alternative. Read Longer Lasting Products, edited by Tim Cooper and published by Gower in 2010. We just need enough people to demand the necessary cultural shift...

11 years ago

If african counties like ghana cant make use of them, they probably should ship the unusable scrap to manufacturers like China. Manufacturer countries would have the factories, skills and manpower to make use of them. Add in environmental controls and it would be complete.

Manufacturers need to view e-scrap as a resource (and many probably do). And make the most of e-scrap instead of letting them rust away outdoors.

From the video "Nature does not know waste, she only knows building materials."

Dont get me wrong, we should still use something as long as possible. Making the most of the resources, ideas and effort that went into making the stuff provides more satisfaction both for the inventors, manufacturers (who have their brand names on the products), retailers (who can have confidence in the things they are selling) and consumers.

Inspired by previous posts: We can be satisfied with less if we need to buy less things that last longer. We can choose quality. We can choose to be contented. We can build and work in channels that pass on these quality goods to others. We can have work fixing things, making things from old ones, keeping things and people clean and healthy, meeting each other's need, working as a team, providing nourishment to others.

New things are still welcome, for example harnessing energy from typhoons, tsunamis and earthquakes, or ways of being able to meet these natural occurrences such that there will be little damage or loss of life.

There is a need to make things more efficient and last longer, for as we all know, the human population is increasing. Let's welcome that and adapt our old ways of thinking.

11 years ago

iPhone - a perfect example of Planned Obsolescence.

11 years ago

english version with over dub or english subtitles?

11 years ago

There are several things that need to be done in order to solve our sustainability dilemma...

#1 People need to know there is a dilemma. This would have to come from changes in our media... and our educational systems. Right now, most people listen to corporate media and go to public schools... neither of which tells us the truth about REAL history or the corporate agenda's affect on our lives.

#2 Emphasis needs to be placed on making quality products that last. This won't happen as long as the people remain dumbed down and brainwashed into believing that we can continue to consume at this rate and not have problems.

#3 Emphasis needs to be placed on conservation. I'm 44 years old, and my parents were older when they gave birth to me. I can remember my grandparents being VERY frugal people. (They would be over 100 years old now if they were still living.) They had money... they weren't poor at all... but they would NEVER consider spending that money on the nicest, newest, overpriced gadgets... and they never threw anything away. (They grew up during the depression era.) They still had a garden for food (in the 1980's) even though they could buy whatever they wanted from the grocery store. They even saved old rubber bands and popsicle sticks which we (the grandkids) loved to play with when we came to visit. You can build all kinds of cool stuff with popsicle sticks, rubber bands and elmer's glue. Cheap fun. We didn't have to have the newest plastic "Transformers" toy in order to have fun. We played with sticks.

#4 We need to put more emphasis back on the family unit, and taking care of one another...instead of the emphasis being on getting ahead or having more stuff than the next person. Everyone is so busy trying to afford their Lexus SUV that no one care about each other any more. If people were frowned upon for being wasteful, like they are frowned upon now for not having the newest cell phone... there would be much less waste in the world.

Notice all of the suggestions above have to do with the GENERAL MINDSET AND EDUCATION of the people. You will not solve this problem with government intervention or laws. People must change their mindset.

The economy may be affected, but in the end it would be better. You wouldn't have to work so hard to afford the newest gadgets... because the old gadgets would be much better and last much longer. Life would be simpler... but would that be so bad?

Like he said... not back to the stone age... just back to the 1960's.

12 years ago

and it is simple because the corporate rich are misanthropic sociopaths, we simple cannot have the beasts of the field enjoying anything other than the heeling kiss of the boot of providence

12 years ago

Many of us have experienced modern gadgets giving up just after one year when guaranty has expired. Later they increased to three years lifetime to be able to sell us insurances (e.g. extended guaranties) It is all under control.
It is defined in ISO 9000: "Quality is what fulfills the definition of the one who commissions the product": So if a the commissioner defines this "what so ever" shall break down after 12 month and you deliver something that lasts 10 years it is NOT quality, it has to give up exactly after one year! So ISO 9000 does not not mean anything to you and me!
The argument to keep workforce going is also stupid: double the lifetime of the product, double the price, produce half of it and let every body work half the time for the same salary. Without this system we really could have such a good life!
Innovation: I think the speed of innovation is far to great, we need a speed limit! Why do you think all of the sudden so may people "burn out". They can't keep track, it is too much, they drive us mad.

12 years ago

But where is the DEPRECIATION of the so called durable consumer goods measured? When do we ever hear economists mention


Economists only compute the depreciation of CAPITAL GOODS so we are running the world on defective algebra.

12 years ago

The subtitles are in Norwegian. This particular version of the documentary aired on NRK2, a Norwegian TV channel, and was also available for viewing on their website for some time.

Sergio Cruz
12 years ago

Kidding. I agree with Vandermoore. I speak Portuguese, as native language, and i can understand Spanish due to that. I also speak French, but not German, and just from the English speaker/third person and the few sutitles one can have the main idea without the interviewed people comments... The comments from Serge Latouche were nice, but in most of his interview there were subtitles.

Sergio Cruz
12 years ago

Recycling programs... That's the answer... If the planned obsolescence didn't exist. We would never have better computers, cellphones, cars, etc. If cars were still all made in steel, not aluminium, nor other recycable product, imagine how could be recyclins. Surely the chip made to stop that Epson printer is the worst idea in harming the consumer. And the ideas for transfering trash from the developed countries to the developing ones is the worst from the wild capitalism, and corruption. I'm an optimistic, and i do think that internet is doing a revolution by informing, but we still need blackberries, iphones, etc to be kept informed in real time. Giving preference for products we know are made by recycable material and resposible with workers (such as Levi's :) ), environment, being not so much cunsumists, i think we can be rational and equilibrated in a planned obsolescence world.

12 years ago

the principle of obsolescence does not apply to my LEVI's... thank goodness!!!

12 years ago

thanks!! what a world we live in???

12 years ago

I DID kind of hope this was going to be about the lo energy lightbulb hoax, about how they were foisted upon us as a dumb down mechanism for the masses, stop them rioting in the streets et al, the frequency at which they oscillate being something Tesla would understand but none the less found it an interesting doc, I knew my printer hadn't just packed up, it was so obvious it was designed to fail - now i'm stuck with a new one i LOATHE, i slung the old epson out, which is a shame as i loved it really, cheap, cheerful never thought to look for a software crack. - i mean we're talking printers look at what they do with ocean liners. SS Canberra for example, electric ship, electic city (look it up) essentially a fully functioning town, own water, projection rooms, schoolrooms (if you like to call the officers mess a school room) church/libraries etc rolls into town on the last wave, pakistan, i think, without checking (its late) and the people who have never experienced such wonder have to take it apart??? why not just moor it up and charge them rent? oh yeah, they don't care - bohem!an grove, they cremated it there.....

12 years ago

Am I supposed to speak 4 languages in order to watch this thing?

12 years ago

A very good and interesting documentary. I highly recommend it.
On the comments and critique: The argument that obsolescence is needed to stimulate growth and development is, I feel, a flawed one. Firstly, because I often have the feeling development is deliberately slowed in the service of planned obsolescence. Surely energy and oil companies have green alternatives to fossil fuels, but why would they put them on the market when they are still making major profits on oil.
Secondly, people will always, even without planned obsolescence, want newer/hipper/fancier/better stuff, and thus development will go on. The real problem of course is that even people who do not feel the need to have every new model of Ipod or whatever, such as myself, are forced to buy such items far too regularly, because they are not made to last. Cloths are a good example: while some people might revel in the latest fashion, or simply love shopping for clothes, I for one, simply need something to put on. Clothing these days however last barely a few months and I find myself forced to join the mindless masses in those forsaken stores, buying new chinese crap that again won't last till next year.
Finally, I would like to point out that as long as there are people on this planet without any lightbulbs, iPods, nylons or printers, there will be a market for everlasting stuff. Perhaps by the time they've sold every person on earth a lightbulb that shines for a 100 years, the first will have expired.

12 years ago

But I like working on ever increasing tehcnologies. I tire easily of old technology. Been there, done that, need something to keep me interested. Really, if I have to work on the same old design no matter how efficient and knowledgable I get about it, it seems like a dead end to me. My brain needs some form of obsimence to keep thing alive and fresh. Granted, there should be a comfortable length of time a product remaon relavent and some corporations can take that too far, but eventually, we all must evolve.

12 years ago

Think about it this way, Dr. Huang, if I built a time machine today and went to the future where the society had used up all the fissionable materials (plutonium, uranium, etc.), How would I fix my flux capacitor if it broke? The answer is, I wouldn't, and consequently would forge an alliance with the powerful morloks, trading my skills in innovation and non-light sensitivity, for food (dessicated Elio) and security. The other option would be to join the latest consumer good, the Elio (AKA HUMANITY). Is that what you and your communist overlords want Kevin? A dystopian society of segregation and cannibalism, because that's where planned obsolescence will lead us.

12 years ago

@ Kevin Huang - You put forward an interesting argument, but I think that perhaps you're underestimating one of the key characteristics of humankind, and it's the very characteristic that brings us all to this amazing site.....curiosity!

When Einstein formulated his theory of relativity, he wasn't motivated by profit. Nor were Watson and Crick, when they worked out the structure of DNA. I could go on and on here and list a whole load of scientific advances that were not even remotely driven by market forces, but I'm sure that you get the point. The history of humanity is one of scientific discoveries and advances, constantly driven by our seemingly innate curiosity, and the one thing that has stymied those advances time and time again, is the marketplace. This documentary illustrates that point perfectly.