Money can buy you sleep

We buy unnecessarily with the money that we don't have

"With the money we don't have, we buy things that we don't need in order to impress people we don't like" - this quote from the film Fight Club fits in with the phenomenon that many people are old, even though they are still old works perfectly, replace with new one. The tricks of the manufacturers and retailers - and how consumers can defend themselves against them.

If a plastic gear meshes with one made of steel in a hand blender, it cannot go well for long. The hard material wears out the soft one, the device breaks, a new one has to be found. That manufacturers deliberately build their products in such a way that they self-destruct shortly after the warranty period has expired - this is the thesis of planned obsolescence. There are some suspicions for this; but this has not yet been proven to any manufacturer.

One thing is clear, however: there is psychological obsolescence. It is as old as advertising, retail and fashion. This does not destroy the function of a device, but its image. Manufacturers and retailers spoil what they own for consumers - with small changes to the product, modified material, different color, changed shape, new name or different packaging.

"The new is rarely really new," says the cultural scientist Markus Krajewski, professor at the University of Basel. "The shell of a product is polished, but its content remains largely the same." The manufacturers work with very simple mass psychological means, says Krajewski and explains: "For us, the cycle has worked so well that the newly polished product comes onto the market once a year, be it a car, smartphone or laptop. A new tail fin - you can feel it the car that you own and still work perfectly looks outdated. "

Mental obsolescence is about well-planned product lines - and about making consumers feel like their things are old and ugly. Business economist Stefan Schridde explains the phenomenon as follows: "The manufacturers want to induce us to buy something new as quickly as possible by addressing needs, hopes, instincts and drives in a low-threshold way, even if the old product is still working." Schridde called the campaign "Botch? No thanks!" into life.

Krajewski says: A manufacturer's trick is not to work with the best currently available technology for a new product, but to allow room for improvement first. "Then next year you have to sell something new that makes the old products seem obsolete - for example the better camera resolution of a smartphone."

A study by the Federal Environment Agency and the Freiburg Eco-Institute shows that this works. According to this, more than 60 percent of the still functioning flat screen televisions were replaced in 2012 because a new device was supposedly better. Only a quarter of respondents bought a new television because the old one was broken. Rainer Grießhammer from the Öko-Institut says: "Today more electrical and electronic devices are being replaced, although they still work well." Technological leaps are often a trigger for this. According to the study, consumers replaced almost a third of their washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators while they were still working. "It is often said that the customers are to blame, they wanted it that way, every year a new cell phone, a new television set, a new car," says Schridde. But that's not true. "It is the manufacturers and retailers who push buttons in a very targeted manner, including through neurobiological marketing."

In the focus of the seller: the amygdala, the pleasure center of the brain. "The amygdala is set in such a way that new things are interesting for us, and we are rewarded with happiness hormones when we experience new things," says Schridde. When we buy something, it releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter known as the happiness hormone. So, says Schridde, we went on a hunt and filled our home with trophies that we didn't need but wanted.

Manufacturers and retailers specifically exploited the basic psychological framework of humans, says Schridde. All senses are addressed so that the incentive to buy lands directly in the subconscious: restaurants blow kitchen scents onto the street, the sound of the car door is optimized so that it closes nicely, peanut flips are made so small that you want to grab them again and again. Schridde: "You consciously don't even notice it." Basic social needs are also used in a targeted manner so that people buy something new even though they don't need it. Because most of them want to belong and get recognition.

"Mental obsolescence works best with status symbols like cars or smartphones - not with pencils," says Krajewski. "Psychological obsolescence is only one facet of planned obsolescence," says Schridde. Both are related to the economic system: "The economy does not work towards happiness, but towards lack. It needs it, otherwise it would not be able to sell us any products." Many people are unhappy and think they can overcome this by buying things, says Schridde. "But we know from research: You can't buy happiness with money. You can only do that with time. And we fundamentally lack that."

How can consumers defend themselves against this manipulation? Krajewski recommends: "You should ask yourself: Why do I want this? And if possible, sleep over it for a night." Schridde also advises critical self-questioning: "Do I really need that?"