Unless you consciously shun contact with the outside world, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the latest craze in the world of tech–the new Apple iPhone. The untimely death of Steve Jobs only amplified this effect, with a bright spotlight on Apple and their place in technological history.
However, I reject the notion that iMania, the craze that surrounds every release of the latest Apple device, is good for us as a society.
By no means is this an attack on Apple exclusively–they just happen to be better at cyclical marketing than most and create a buzz around their products that is unparalleled in the tech world. It is also not an attack on smart phones–they are useful tools for those who need them or can take advantage of their features.
It is, however, an observation on the social phenomenon that surrounds the release of these devices.
The whole idea of standing in line for weeks to buy something is absurd. People used to stand in lines in Communist Poland for things like toilet paper and bread, because they needed it to survive. Others stand in lines for concert tickets or to meet their favorite stars because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and cannot be relived. Yet others stand in line to get the latest iPhone because it’s something they want, and to tell their friends they were one of “the first.” It’s like watching Black Friday on steroids.
Let me share a bit of history. You may recall that nearly a year ago, I gave up my smartphone completely and saved over $100 a month in the process. By now, that decision has more than paid itself off and simplified my life in the process. Since that time, I’ve watched friends and colleagues purchase iPhones, Blackberries, Androids and other devices. Some of them legitimately need it for work purposes (though even that is up for debate another day), some of them have consolidated multiple devices into one and have less to carry around, and still others did it for no other reason that because it was “the thing” to do.
So how do we go about course-correcting this fixation on always getting the latest tech? In January, I suggested a unique approach to buying technology: the timeframe shift. In its essence, it argues that buying technology that’s at least a generation older than the newest stuff will save a ton of money in the long run, and teach you to be more satisfied with something that was considered “cutting edge” only months before.
If you prefer the minimalist approach, you can cut out advanced technology completely, and learn to live with only the basic functionality you need from your devices. That was the choice I made.
Whatever your approach, I hope that you at least consider some of these pitfalls with going out to buy the latest of anything, but particularly phones:
- You abandon your existing technology. This has a number of implications, not the least of which is that you’re getting rid of something that still has a lot of value, especially if you’ve only had it for a year. Don’t believe me? Watch for all the “we’ll buy back your old iPhone” commercials on TV this month. This is like selling and buying a new car every three years, which is to say–a waste of money. Secondary, but still important for many, are all the trash and environmental issues of all the waste products you’re producing by churning through technology at an alarming rate.
- You’re paying a premium. Every time you buy the latest craze, a portion of the price pays for the privilege of having the latest craze. Makes sense, right? That’s why you can buy last year’s iPhone at a significant discount. How much is “cool” and “cutting edge” worth?
- You promote a consumerist mindset. You do it for yourself (because your behavior will surely creep into other areas where you can purchase stuff) and for others (with this idiotic media coverage of people waiting in line every time a new phone comes out). Consumerism results in nothing but short-term highs and houses full of stuff you don’t need.
- You negate potential productivity. Unless the guy who waited 15 days “just to be first in line” is blogging about it or on a really long vacation, please explain to me how he is contributing to a productive society. I’m sorry, but I have better things to do than stand in line to buy something (or Occupy anything, for that matter, and I say that with no political motives).
- You contribute to accelerating the turnover cycle. Apple comes out with a new iPhone about every 12 months because it knows that you are willing to pay for a new iPhone every 12 months! Your unfounded desire for “upgrading” is driving the very thing that provides you with your fix. The rest of us eventually get sucked in, too.
- You buy the really expensive phone plan. Consider for a minute why my family pays $70 a month for unlimited phone-only service, and why we were paying nearly $170 for minimal Blackberry service only a year ago. Could it be that a good part of the difference is paying for your ability to get that latest phone for a $100, or at times–even free? By locking yourself into two-year contracts every time you buy the latest, coolest phone, you’re not only subsidizing that purchase over 2 years, but locking yourself into a contract that will be very expensive to break should you change your mind (or your income!).
An iPhone, iPad, Kindle, WiFi laptop, or any other device you might want to get your hands on is not inherently bad. Many provide us with unparalleled access to anyone and anything 24/7, and for those who need or crave such access, it can be empowering.
Like rock bands, Apple and other brands will always have a segment of the population that consider themselves devout followers and are willing to camp out for weeks to be part of the phenomenon. If that is your passion and you can afford it, more power to you.
It’s only when we accept this behavior as “the norm,” and allow it to affect our own buying decisions, is when it starts to affect us negatively. All I ask is that you step back and evaluate your own behavior and ask yourself some important questions–“Is this what I really want?,” “Is this me?,” and most importantly “Can I afford to do this?”
Then make your decisions accordingly.