We are all familiar with the current eco trends that seem to be all the rage at the moment. We must use shampoo bars instead of bottles, paper instead of plastic straws (let alone the ableist narrative) and of course, boycott fast fashion by thrifting. But, have you noticed that this eco-awareness doesn’t seem to extend to technology?
How often have you seen a picture of a minimalistic room with lots of plants, fancy recycled furniture and the newest Apple laptop on the desk by the window? When last did you get a new phone simply for no other reason than ‘but a new one just came out’.
This is a good example of what we might call perceived obsolescence. This is capitalism’s sneaky way of persuading us to believe that our existing (and perfectly functional) cell phone or laptop is out of date, which then justifies buying a new one. I for one, know I am guilty of this! At the end of last year, I spent a good amount of time complaining about my cellphone’s poor battery life to just about anyone who entertained it. What I should have done was just replace the battery, but instead, I was using that as an excuse to justify paying an exorbitant amount of money on a newer version of it (which I did). This terrible trend actually has nothing to do with functionality and everything to do with style and trend. You want that iPhone X because you perceive your iPhone 7 to be “uncool.” So you chuck your old phone out (filled with plastic and metals) but god forbid I use a plastic straw…
So, where does all this waste go, besides that one drawer you have at home dedicated to storing old cell phones? I don’t know about you but I have this warped idea that when something hits the bin it simply disappears- out of sight out of mind. But the reality is that all of these old computers, cell phones, electric cables, televisions, and tablets are piling up in landfills. Countries like China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Ghana being the main recipients of millions of tonnes of these toxic materials.
People used to wear the same thing all the time and just adapt their styles as trends changed, as opposed to incessantly buying things to keep up with trends. Thanks to documentaries like The True Cost (if you haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favor it’s on Netflix) we are slowly starting to change our perceived obsolescence toward fast fashion and single-use plastic.
But where is that same accountability with our tech usage? Do you see the irony of our consumer habits?
I recently started to rethink this idea that we millennials are “the smashed avo generation” (which I remember vehemently arguing against in 2016). In short, the idea holds that millennials are frivolous spenders and that we would be able to afford property if we essentially stopped paying ridiculous amounts of money on things like avocado on toast. But taking into consideration the nature of our ironic consumer ability, we have to ask; is this not true to a large extent? Why do we consume tech that breaks us financially when there is no real need to replace these things in the first place.
Yes, we have definitely begun to take a few steps in the right direction and that’s amazing but the reality is that our trendy eco-awareness is flawed. We need to hold the companies who make the majority of our plastic waste responsible and we need to hold ourselves responsible. We can’t be preaching about bamboo toothbrushes while still buying products from Amazon and not questioning their excessive plastic packaging.
So next time you feel the “new phone itch” question it. Who am I trying to pacify by buying this? Do I really need a new one, or can I just replace the battery? Find e-cycling centers in your area, ask your retailer how you can safely dispose of your tech waste or donate your old laptop or phone to a social program (or better yet, start your own social program). Nothing disappears when it hits the trash bag, it all ends up somewhere – you just might be privileged enough not to ever have to live with those consequences.