An Interview with Bruce Cockburn

I had the sincere privilege of meeting with Bruce Cockburn for an hour this winter. We talked taboo: faith and politics, and discussed his recently published memoir Rumours of Glory (HarperCollins). Visit for the story.

Man-Made Cycles

Obsolescence (noun)

This is the word you are looking for if you want to describe a very real phenomenon you’ve observed about our world: the tendency for products to break down over a certain, almost determined, period of time.

Obsolescence, you see, is not just a coincidence. It’s intentional- a sly manufacturing policy so common that there is a term for it: planned obsolescence. It means designing a product with a limited useful life. Examples abound, as this trend is clearly visible in today’s manufacturing, whether cars, computers, batteries, or shoes. For industry, planned obsolescence encourages purchasers to buy again and buy sooner if they want to retain a functioning product.

Obsolescence doesn’t stop with actual physical breakdowns. Consumers are further manipulated by schemes run by everyone from Apple to Wal*Mart to Gucci to Ford Motors in which perceived obsolescence (older products being deemed less desirable [uncool] and in need of replacing with newer, cooler ones) rules advertising. Old is taboo, laughable. NEW is required, reasonable. NEW is the hook that draws the fish in. It’s why tens of thousands line up for hours to get the new iPhone on the day it comes out, as if they had been waiting on this moment all their life, desperate to find their long-gone fulfilment, to climb another makeshift step on the social ladder.

If you see through obsolescence it will probably piss you off. If you’ve identified it for what it really is, a grand marketing ploy that manipulates the beliefs and emotions of society to deepen the pockets of manufacturers and sellers, you’re not alone. You may no longer necessarily want to replace everything in your house from your phone to your car to your TV to your fridge. You may think yourself embarrassingly old fashioned to wonder if could just find something that lasts? Something that’s dependable?

Some manufacturers shun obsolescence more than others. One good example is this: It seems so archaic, today, but Moulton Bicycle Company still creates its bicycles by hand. I don’t know what the average life of one of their bicycles is, but the fact that they spend some 30 hours producing an average bicycle hints to me that obsolescence isn’t the name of their game. In true old English fashion, their pride lies in the quality and durability of their product. Some of their employees have been creating and assembling bicycles for decades. Working alongside them would be pretty inspiring, like apprenticing, alongside a master blacksmith, which is the image that came to mind when I watched this film. The film speaks for itself, and demonstrates the pride and love that can go into the creating of something another person is going to use, and for a long time, at that. Does it make a difference to you?