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Film screening: "The Light Bulb Conspiracy," followed by a Q&A with director Cosima Dannoritzer

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Does the ever-lasting light bulb really exist? How can a tiny electronic chip “kill” a product? Why are millions of computers being shipped around the world to be dumped rather than repaired? How did two artists from New York use the Internet to extend the life span of millions of iPods? And what has all this to do with “planned obsolescence”?

Planned obsolescence is the deliberate shortening of product life spans to guarantee consumer demand. As an influential advertising magazine stated in the 1920s, “The article that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business"—and a tragedy for the modern growth-based society that relies on an ever-accelerating cycle of production, consumption, and waste.

The story starts in the 1920s when a secret cartel was set up to limit the life span of the incandescent bulb, converting the light bulb into the first victim of planned obsolescence and turning it from a symbol of progress and innovation into a model for designers and entrepreneurs aiming to increase profits and sales. Ever since then, planned obsolescence has been the basis of our economy, affecting the life spans of products as diverse as nylon tights, cars, and cutting edge electronics.

The result of three years of painstaking research, The Light Bulb Conspiracy travels to the U.S., Germany, France, Spain, and Ghana, and uses rare archival material and hitherto unseen internal company documents to separate fact from urban legend. It shows the terrible environmental consequences of planned obsolescence—like the immense cemeteries for electronic waste, which have appeared in countries such as Ghana—and presents a number of practical ideas from thinkers, designers, businessmen, as well as rebellious consumers, all working on saving the modern economy and the planet.

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