Life Expectancy: Of Our iPods and Planet

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Personally, I am somewhat of a hoarder. I still have every old iPod, walkman, flip phone and even my first laptop. These items along with every gaming system I own are in a drawer in my room that is brimming with old sets of headphones, cables and chargers. For some reason when I do my spring cleaning each year, these items remain untouched. I know I probably will never use half of the old models, but at one point in time I was excited beyond belief at each one of these new products that I owned, and it was the coolest product on the market. Eventually, my iPod Nano could no longer hold a charge, my laptop was overheating any time I streamed a video, and my flip phone just simply was not ‘cool’ anymore. For one reason or another, the technology we invest in has a life expectancy that keeps the market alive, and our investment in owning the trendiest products tends to have us replacing our purchases with cooler models before it is even necessary.

The Light Bulb Conspiracy refers to planned obsolescence, or the “deliberate shortening of product life spans to guarantee consumer demands” (2010). Trautman writes that companies that sell products such as gaming consoles, have developed a predictable cycle with their production patterns. He argues that new consoles are released every 5-6 years, once the customers would trust that if a new system were to be on the market, it would be superior and withstand the test of time (Trautman, 2014, p.1). We not only get excited by “new” marketed objects, but in the brands that represent them as well. We replace our own machines in synchronization with ‘new releases,’ however our old products are disposed of in ways that are just as harmful to the environment as their mass production (Glanz, p. 1).

While I could easily individualize my technology consumption, and argue that I have never actually disposed of my electronics–a part of it is that I do not know how to. What is the protocol for throwing out an iPod once it reaches its inevitable death? Many people throw batteries in the garbage, regardless of their knowledge of the harm it has on the environment. I personally just find something so wrong with throwing away a $200 investment in a garbage bag, however I am sure most people dispose of their post-valuable electronics like banana peels. Although, at least with banana peels, some people know that putting them in a composting system is the best way to service the environment. I believe that our personal use of technology is both voluntary and involuntary, however I argue that our disposal of technology is almost involuntary, as we have not been given accessible solutions or options. This personal use is political in the sense that the destruction of our planet is individualized as a ‘you need to recycle’ problem, rather than a product of capitalism as a whole.  

Most people have come to terms with the fact that their car will not last forever, their beloved laptop will last approximately four years, and that they will simply lose interest in some of their possessions. While we consent to this shortening of product life span by not demanding other results, we should demand that instructions for proper disposal be provided along with purchases. What would it look like to have an advertising campaign that encourages the consideration for our planet’s future alongside the encouragement to impulsively invest in their product? Can the two coexist in a world that is driven by capitalism? Or are we choosing our iPod’s life span over our planet’s?

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