ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Why they don't make lightbulbs that last a lifetime

Updated on June 23, 2014

The Eldorian Empire

Tech companies make cell-phones that have to be replaced every few years. Did you ever stop to think how weird that is? One would assume that if the housing of a phone stays the same (the different iterations of the iPhone are a point in case), it would be simple enough to just send back the phone and have the company upgrade some of the inner components. It would be cheaper, more efficient, and less polluting. But the truth is, there are all kinds of reasons why we don't do this.

There is a kind of basic schizophrenia that exists in the minds of tech savvy and forward thinking people. On the one hand we are all cool with saving the planet and get positively excited by new possible alternative energy solutions. And on the other hand the stuff we own needs to be super up-to-date and have all the latest features, even if it means we have to buy new models so we can toss the old ones away. But how can we somehow retain our love for progress and new things, while still being able to spare the planet? This is the kind of paradox that I like thinking about but no one really seems to be addressing.

And its only a paradox because we lack a comprehensive vision of what a sustainable economy could look like, and how it could sustain us. Because innovation would still be innovative if it could be done in view of improved durability. How can we innovate while adding that one very important parameter of sustainability to the quality criteria we use to assess the adequacy of our product designs? How can we, and I now mean ‘we’ as in ‘we, the human race’, get it into our head that to innovate a product means that we need to add lasting value to things, not just features.

Why don't they make lamps that last a hundred years?
I am from Holland, the small country where the huge lamps- and gadget factory Philips comes from. We explain the way economy works to our children by using Philips as an example of successful business. Now for all of my life I have heard the story that Philips is able to manufacture light bulbs that could last a hundred years. And for as long as I have been living I remember thinking to this: ‘Well, then why don’t they?’ Obviously the answer was something along the lines of: If Phillips would make a light bulb that lasts a hundred years, they would not sell any more light bulbs once everybody has one. That’s like kicking themselves in the teeth. They would stop having a reason to exist, and all the people that work at Philips would be out of a job. While this is true, the assumption that this is automatically a bad thing, is just that: an assumption.

Enter Eldorica
I have long known about a book that deals with changing the destiny of our world to a sustainable future; what would happen if all of our industriousness would suddenly just fall away; how we could deal with the subsequent loss of jobs; and what we would be doing instead. It’s called “Eldorica: with a travelogue to a better world”. It was written by Dutch avant-garde artist Jurriaan Andriessen. Unfortunately it has never been translated into English, so you’ll have to do with what I tell you. Bear in mind that even though the book was written around 1970, the main gist of his writing has still not really settled in the mind of the general public, even though there is much more ecological awareness now than there was then, and the idea of sustainability is now more or less commonplace too.

‘Eldorica’ is an alternative planet that is very much like earth: it is capable of producing the same resources and food for its inhabitants. Until 1970 the history of earth and Eldorica runs absolutely parallel. Then in 1970 on both worlds the Club of Rome starts to talk about the negative impact of economic growth on our ecosystem. From that year onward, life on Eldorica develops rather radically different from life on our planet.

One comparison between Eldorica and our world that really rang true in my imagination when I first read the book many years ago, was about cars.

Changing the car industry
The car industry in our world is mostly here to produce jobs, not cars. When General Motors was on the verge of going out of business, it was the loss of jobs that people worried about. To fret about the loss of jobs and not cars seems like the natural thing to do. After all: jobs equal money, money equals food and a standard of living. But this is what that looks like with bigger picture in mind: Since the creation of the first car around 1900 the life expectancy of cars has decreased every year. A car produced in 1900 would last 40 to 50 years. But cars produced in 1950 would only stay on the road for 15 years or so. And in 1975 a car would only last 6 years. Theoretically, if the trend continued from then on, a car would be broken the moment it is produced in 1995. And three years later a car is already broken two years before it is even produced.

Sound ridiculous? Maybe. But from an Eldorian perspective this is what happened and is currently happening to the automotive industry the world over. It is producing cars that are economically broken before they are even produced. That’s why the industry can’t sustain itself anymore, I don’t care how green their emissions are. We innovate our products, not to make them more durable, but to create constantly updating incentives to buy newer models. And that’s a course of action that will eventually run into a brick wall.

Car size

We would drive enormous cars!
We would drive enormous cars!
Car front and side
Car front and side
Back and inner workings
Back and inner workings

Built for sustainability

The cars in Eldorica, on the other hand, are built for sustainability. They for last over a hundred years and can be up to four times as big as ours. The reasoning is this: in 50 years of a normal human life, we own on average 12 to 15 cars. Now if we would use the materials of these 12 cars, we could build one really large one. We could even put a sofa and build a game room in them, and travel comfortably. But how can these things be so big and heavy, and still use a minimum amount of energy? I hear you ask. Well for one because they run on high speed low friction tracks, that are controlled by computers that constantly monitor speed and the distance to other cars. And because they run on tracks, they can be much bigger and heavier without using more fuel (just think about our trains). And the ‘roads’ themselves can be much smaller while accommodating more traffic. The whole system somewhat resembles our train system, except it is private, and you never have to wait. The interior of the cars is something else. Imagine a car interior made from all sorts of luxury materials like solid gold, silver and marble, simply because they can be built to last and don’t get trashed so easily. The price of all of these luxury materials is actually the same as what you would pay for employing wasteful materials a dozen times over.

Worthwhile Labor
The point is that what we want as a lifestyle, has a profound effect on how we need to conduct our work in order to support that lifestyle. I can go to work -and it really doesn’t matter what kind of work I am in- and work one day for a car that lasts a hundred years. Or I can work one day for a car that lasts 5 years. In this case I need to work 20 times more in order to enjoy having a car. With working one day for a car that lasts a hundred years, I save 19 wasteful cars and 19 wasted days. The logic of this is so profoundly and devastatingly clear, that it is quite remarkable that most everybody, probably without consciously realizing it, operates in an entirely opposite way. We believe it is essentially good to perform much labor to achieve something, but we don’t put that labour into things that are really worthwhile. Instead we take part in a system that will ultimately, and by its very nature exhaust itself, and us. And we are already beginning to see the contours of this taking shape on our horizon. Work increases, and the time and space to enjoy the fruits of our labor seem to decrease all the time. I don’t know how it is for you, but that’s sure what it feels like to me.

So what more can we learn from the world of Eldorica? Well, what goes for car transport also goes for housing, energy consumption and every other area of life. Everything in Eldorica is built around the notion that it should be made to last, and that doing so, is in fact the most efficient and labor saving way of running an economy. In this economy there is still money but much less inflation, because the value the money represents does not decrease so rapidly. It is not an ‘Economy of Less’, as so many people tell us nowadays we need to learn to live with less. But rather an economy thrives on the natural abundance of nature. In Eldorica the gifts of the earth belong to everybody. When a child is born, with that child the plot of land that the child will come to own when its older, is also set apart for it. The child will get many of the durable objects needed for life from its parents and family. The belief in Eldorica which is certainly not new to us, just rarely acted upon, is that we do not inherit the planet from our ancestors, but that we borrow it from our grandchildren. Private property is still very important in Eldorica, and is because of its family history, intensely personal. But it can also easily be upgraded to fit the modern needs.

Replaceable and modular design
One of the key concepts in this, is that design, as much as possible, should be replaceable and modular. Take housing, for example. Instead of laying down houses brick by brick by means of manual labor, which is how most house building takes place in our world, In Eldorica the skeletons of houses are steel modules with plumbing and electricity already included. And they are placed on the plots of land by automatically operated machines. The ‘dressing’ of the houses is up to the individual taste of the Eldorians, and this is an area where they can spend much of their time with, if they like.

Packaging of products is considered taboo in Eldorica. If you want bread, you take your bread box top the bread vending machine, throw in a quarter and take the bread home. If you want to travel overseas, you can do so in a sailing ship the size of some of our largest cruise ships.

By orienting on weather satellites the ships can in theory reach any destination, you just can’t predict how long it will take.
By orienting on weather satellites the ships can in theory reach any destination, you just can’t predict how long it will take.
The insides of the ship
The insides of the ship
Clean energy is produced by windmills the size of oil rafts that are bobbing in the sea many miles out of the coast. The electricity is used to split the sea water hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is pumped to the shore for use in fuel cells.
Clean energy is produced by windmills the size of oil rafts that are bobbing in the sea many miles out of the coast. The electricity is used to split the sea water hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is pumped to the shore for use in fuel cells.
An Eldorian Living Room. Some energy, to be used for luxury items, is even produced by the Eldorians themselves by way of a sort of fitness exercise.
An Eldorian Living Room. Some energy, to be used for luxury items, is even produced by the Eldorians themselves by way of a sort of fitness exercise.


This picture of producing energy in these clean ways, and producing sustainable stuff, only becomes really feasible, when we start to need much less energy. And another fact is that most of the energy we do use is ultimately used to produce many things that are dispensable, and a great many other things we produce only to wrap these dispensable things in. When we look at what would happen to our world when, like the Eldorians, we would start producing this way, we see that we would not need to own less, or enjoy less.

Our Towns vs. Eldorian Town

A much cleaned up infrastructure
A much cleaned up infrastructure

A new luxury

No, we would lead truly luxurious lives while enjoying much more free time to work on the things that are really important. The absence of industry would mean we would enjoy much more room to live, which is really important in a world which due to its growing population will be clamoring for space. And yes it is true: jobs would fall away. In fact they would fall away to the extent that we would only have to work for our material possessions and food for 4 to 8 hours a week. But the fact that we cannot imagine now what we would do with all this free time, cannot be a good reason to cling to the fear of a 4 hour work week. It is high time that the reduction in workload that automation and computerization promised us some decades ago, and that so many people feared, becomes a tangible reality. After all, there will always be underdeveloped areas in the world that need work. There are always other people to help. And there are always things to improve. We just would not need to buckle under their pressure anymore.

Books I recommend


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)