It’s possibly too early to begin reflecting on the past year, but if there is one theme that has persisted, it would be that of sustainability. Be it organising a green hack day, pledging not to fly for twelve months or writing a number of posts on the topic, considering how I can reduce my impact on the environment has caught my imagination.
It’s worth noting that much of this post was written on board trains and ferries as I travelled from Brighton to Belfast to attend this years Build conference. Whilst it’s taken me the best part of a day to reach Northern Ireland, I can enjoy Wednesday’s conference without feeling any guilt had I flown the short distance to get here.
It is with this perspective that I wish to explain the frustration and annoyance I’ve felt recently as once again friends and colleagues open their wallets and buy the latest product unveiled by Steve Jobs.
This has been an astonishing year for Apple having launched the iPad, the iPhone 4 and now a refreshed line of MacBook Airs. There is no doubting the desirability of these machines, or the impact they’ve had on the market as competitors desperately try to match Apple’s pace of innovation and development. As web designers whose work is impacted by these devices, we need to use them so we can understand the opportunities they present and limitations they suffer.
Yet I’m surprised by the willingness of some who buy these products seemingly without a moments pause. Are there not other ways we can use these products without resorting to outright ownership?
A device for every occasion
The iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air have all been designed with different types of user in mind, so for those purchasing each new product, the reasons for doing so become ever more lavish. Do you really need a device to use on the go, one for lounging on the sofa, one to use on the train and one to use at your desk? Really?
I think the reason I’ve become so frustrated with this behaviour is because it’s in complete contrast to my own.
I’m more of a minimalist (or should that be appropriatist) so often take the view less is more — or perhaps any more than enough is too much. I use a compact Apple keyboard instead of the full-size version, three home screens on my iPhone is still too many and my ‘Applications’ folder is frequently purged of unused apps. The thought of having to deal with yet another device fills me with dread — I have enough trouble trying to keep my current devices in sync!
Understanding the motivation
I was once told you can measure the true cost of your possessions by their initial value divided by how frequently you use them. For example, a £60 jacket worn only once will eventually cost more than a £1000 computer used 8 hours a day, 365 days of the year. By that measure, everything I own that I’m not using is costing me money.
Whilst this may explain my frustration, I’m still left trying to understand the motivation. Why would somebody need to purchase every product Apple announces — and so soon after launch too?
Is it merely the act of collecting products that are admired? Or is it a question of status? In a technology savvy city like Brighton, does owning the latest kit give you certain bragging rights? Perhaps it’s a symptom of boredom or needing to own the latest products to sustain an interest.
I see the pace of change only existing to satisfy narrowly focused commercial interests. As such, I’m deeply uncomfortable living in a society where computers and mobile devices are increasingly seen as disposable items, yet require the same amount of raw materials to be dug up out of the ground, and continue to sustain cheap labour markets often found in countries with questionable human rights policies.
I brought my first Apple product upon starting university. Whilst not an entirely necessary purchase, I believed it would be useful as I was studying Graphic Design. Until I started my first term (and received the student loan cheque that would fund it) I had to wait several months before I could purchase the iMac I had been eyeing.
Whilst the wait was agonising, it gave me the time to read reviews, contemplate different specifications and find the best available price. The torment endured by waiting meant I had a greater appreciation for the product once I could finally use it. Today, with a fairly disposable income, it’s easy to make purchases on a whim so any satisfaction like this is fleeting.
I know my opinion is unlikely to dissuade anyone from buying the next product Steve Jobs unveils, and of course everybody is free to spend their money however they wish. However, I console myself by knowing that upgrading less often, and making more informed choices when I do, means I’ll appreciate these products more than those buying them out of blind habit.