How Much Of A New Thing?

It seems that every day I read a new article about a “hot” electronics or computer product preparing to be released to the public.  What did I read about today?  3D-TV.  I rolled my eyes.  I’ve had my nice LCD HD television for a little more than a year now.  It was an expensive purchase and one that I don’t want to repeat for a long time.  But wait, I MUST have what is next right?

I purchased my first iPod in 2004.  Now I can hardly use it anymore because it is “outdated”.  What?  Really?  When did I purchase it again?  Apple is way beyond counting generations now and has moved on to new devices and another will probably be introduced next week.  Yes, I made the iPhone purchase and I love it,  but I also feel like I have been intentionally duped.  I can’t help but think when I  purchased my third generation iPod that Apple had generation six done and the marketing plan ready to roll.  A strategy where upgrades are the marketing plan.  Get the consumer sucked in, get them addicted to having the latest hot technology, and then continually feed their habit with new products.  Unadulterated consumerism at its finest.

I am one of those who will never purchase first generation electronics.  There is typically one of two reasons to camp outside the store for first gen and that is the desire to be cool or the enjoyment of cutting edge.  I haven’t cared about either for a long time.  I just want my product to work correctly and for me not to be the testing ground to get the bugs out since I’m not heavily tech savvy.  Still, when I throw my hard earned money down on an amazing piece of technology, I sense that what I’m buying has a very limited shelf life and I will be forced to trade it in to keep pace with the continually changing advances.

Which brings me to the question, how long can we afford it?  How much are you and I willing to fork out to stay in the game?  Will there be a time when we will all say enough is enough and cash in our chips?  Or will we have any chips left?  At what point does the percentage of expenses on electronics and entertainment within our budgets reach its zenith?

Speaking of zenith.  When I was a kid we had a mammoth Zenith TV.  If you are near my age, you know the kind – the big wooden case and heavy as a compact car.  It sat in our living room for at least 15 years and if we had trouble with it we called a repairman.  Today, if you keep a TV for more than five years it is considered a dinosaur and if you have trouble with it – good luck finding a repairman to fix it.  If you can, you will likely spend as much repairing it as it originally cost to purchase or you’ll just have to junk it.  Most products aren’t built to last anymore because that, unfortunately, is part of the business plan.  “Products that last?  No, can’t have that!   We have to beat our numbers from last year and how can we do that if all of our products are excellent and relevant?!”

In an email conversation with a friend of mine I mentioned this concern and he replied eloquently, “Too much of our economy for the last two decades has depended on consumption — whole industries (e.g. electronics) whose growth depends on people constantly buying the new thing. I don’t think it’s healthy or sustainable.”

I completely agree.

I just have to wonder when we, as consumers, will reach that realization?  I believe the destabilization backlash will happen at some point.  People will wake up and discover it has become too much of a burden.  They will find themselves with serious budget concerns, swimming in too much debt, or they will desire to unplug and focus more on the basics which have been lost along the way.

Whatever the reason, the breakneck pace of technology with its current breakbank price tag cannot endure.  Something will have to give way.

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