As I look at the veritable mountain of presents currently spilling out from beneath our Christmas tree, I am struck by how much we consume in this country. We are all pulled into stores or online e-commerce sights to drop money on those things that culture and commercials deem as necessary to modern life. But the reality is this is a game played by manufacturers and marketers. A game, as we are finding out, destined to end in our planet’s destruction.
But do I really need it?
Manufacturers play with our minds by making us focus on the next best thing, instead of reinvesting in the products we already own. Often, particularly with technology, we don’t use the products we own to the fullest extent or for the length of time they are capable of being used.
It’s this throw-away mentality which causes many of us to purchase devices we really might not need. And lest you be tempted to think this is purely an individual consumer problem, consider how often businesses are lulled into purchasing upgraded technology, faster servers, or tighter security systems out of the same “newer is better” thinking.
Now more than ever, the siren song of the manufacturer is difficult to ignore. Mostly because, as technology progresses, innovations are leap-frogging to an almost science-fiction future. What was considered magic a few decades ago is now in over 50% of Americans’ pockets. Video calls, world-wide interconnectivity, streaming data—that was fiction literature not more than 20 years ago.
A good question to ask in this onslaught of innovation is “do I really need it?”. This simple question can make you more sustainable than almost anything else you do. After all, at its core, being sustainable means being able to avoid the hype cycle of the tech companies. This is true because consumption is the biggest threat to sustainability.
Every time there is a new hype, some people do love it and have to have it. But sustainably, we should ask if it really does anything for us other than providing a momentary diversion. Something like folding screens has the potential to feel like a giant leap in technology that we simply must have, but the reality of what you already own—and how it handles the tasks that you never knew you needed to do before—is reason enough to wait on that next purchase.
My phone story
We all have a phone story, don’t we? That original cellular device that untethered us from the wall or home where our phones used to be—and how that independence changed our world. Well, mine was a simple, green-screened handheld that absolutely revolutionized my life. It didn’t have internet, or email, or even text capabilities, but it was the best thing that I had ever purchased.
Today, I have an iPhone. It’s fantastic, but it doesn’t really do anything more for my life than that first phone did. At least, not when I look at the principle reason to own a phone. All the apps and features that Apple added to my calling device have not improved my life tangibly in any way other than to reduce my day to how I can record or connect to the larger world around me—a task that takes me away from the here-and-now more than I’d like to admit.
But my progress to the iPhone was deliberate, and it all started with MP3 players. When the iPod first came out, I recognized something that has stayed with me through these past 20 years: I don’t need to jump at the changes until they’ve reached critical mass. What I mean is, I saw the potential for the iPod to bring music to my world better than CDs or even radio had done, but I also saw that there would be a better version right around the bend.
I waited to purchase the iPod with a touch screen instead of the original iPod—or even the Shuffle. This effectively saved me hundreds of dollars while eliminating the packaging, product, and time waste that purchasing those first two iterations would have produced. The same can be said for these new folding screens or latest round of iPhone updates (I’m happily using an iPhone 5).
Holding out for the technology to be vetted, or the devices to reach a new plateau is more sustainable than consuming whatever is newest.
This thinking is sustainable because it’s about not buying it unless it brings some value more than just being the next big thing. New technology that hasn’t been vetted completely often turns out to be a waste of money. And despite the fleeting prowess of being an early adopter, there is more cash laid out than necessary to be in that line.
Avoid the traps of innovation
Another reason to hold out for true technological leaps is that in delaying new tech purchases and reusing (or continuing to use) your current devices, you miss the bugs and hiccups that early adopters have to put up with. And, while we are at it, the ecological stain that technology leaves should also make a conscientious consumer think twice about their next purchase.
This has tangible benefits beyond just saving money, too. New technology can have adverse effects on human physiology (think carpal tunnel, social media depression, bad eyesight), and in waiting, you can go into new technology prepared to address those issues.
Last but not least, the other benefit of delaying your purchase with the question “do I need it” is that there is only so much more they can do with certain devices. In other words, the device you already own might be the last one worth getting.