Obsolescence; from ink cartridges to Smart Meters

Bah, humbug! Having to buy new ink cartridges for the Badger’s printer always rankles. New ones are expensive, cheaper repurposed ones often prove to be of variable quality and using ink refilling kits has rarely been successful. It rankles that a set of black and colour cartridges now cost 60% of the price for the printer in the first place! Ink cartridge pricing is, of course, part of how printer companies maximise their revenues from selling their printers, but that’s no comfort for the consumer who feels fleeced when the ink runs out.  

This grumpiness was caused by printing an article on obsolescence in the tech industry for a friend. The ink ran out halfway through with no replacement cartridges to hand. Given the advances in technology since ink cartridges became commonplace in the 1980s, surely, the Badger mused, ink cartridges should now be obsolete? Surely printers can be designed and built with ink reservoirs that users can fill cleanly from ink bottles? Surely that would be a cheaper, user-friendly, and environment-friendly approach? The printer companies, of course, prefer to preserve the current ‘obsolete’ status quo because it provides a predictable and profitable long term revenue stream.

Anyway, this little incident made the Badger read the part-printed document which highlighted that obsolescence, planned or otherwise, pervades our daily lives. The tech advances of the last forty years have shortened the lifespan of the gadgets, equipment,  and systems we use daily with many companies making huge amounts of money from this fact. Just look at the evolution of the smartphone over the last fifteen or so years. Whenever you bought one, a better one came along within months of your purchase, and the solution to accidental damage or dodgy battery life was a new, better, device rather than repair. Obsolescence was essentially built in.

Technology continues to advance rapidly and so there’s an inevitability that major programmes with tech at their heart will be obsolescent by the time they deliver. The UK’s slothful Smart Meter rollout programme neatly illustrates the point.  As the Data Communications Company (DCC),  the organisation responsible for ensuring the smart metering infrastructure remains fit-for-purpose, highlights in its plan, assimilating earlier and the latest meters into an infrastructure based on 2G/3G communication is an ongoing challenge when the comms network needs to be upgraded. The programme, initiated over a decade ago, has yet to deliver as originally conceived.

The Badger mentioned these points to his wife as he went out to buy some printer cartridges. She just grinned and said that everything in the world was obsolete; the car, the high street, cash, housing, the railways…and perhaps also her husband!  Apparently, the Badger is turning into a Victor Meldrew for 2023…


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