Consumerism and the Rapid Advancement of Technology

Samsung_Galaxy_S6

Photo From Wikimedia Commons

By Matthew Koerner

The next big thing is coming soon. The words flash across the television screen. I feel absolutely nothing at first, followed by a comic twinge of repugnance. Marketing for Samsung’s Galaxy S6—the latest smart phone. Despite the sleek design and imagery coupled with futuristic techno music, I find the ad doesn’t actually entice me into wanting to buy the phone. There were no features shown, nor any substantial claims about superior quality outside the vague slogan asserting itself as “the next big thing.” Does the claim stand up? Do I expect it to? Will I purchase this phone in an eager frenzy? The answer to all these questions will most assuredly be no but I am now filled with hunger to find out what would possess someone to buy this phone that retails new at $599.99 or “about six hundred dollars,” while they have a perfectly fine phone in their pocket.

Visiting the website, I perform my own comparison between S6 and the preceding model, the Galaxy S5. The new S6 feature (note the singularity) is side by side app usage in a multi-window viewing system. Edit your calendar while watching YouTube, or look up someone’s Instagram while talking on Tinder. That’s the single new feature. While nifty, I don’t think it necessitates spending extra dollars on a new phone.

Beyond this feature, S6 boasts superior graphics on a screen that will be roughly the size of my hand. Both S5 and S6 have 16 mega pixel cameras, make phone calls and can download a bevy of apps, except S5 has longer battery life than the newer S6. Why pay more for a product of near equal, or in certain categories, inferior quality?

I don’t mean to pick on Samsung. I enjoy their products and all my cell phones until recently were Samsung models. The game of hype and excitement with electronics is merely a symptom of a larger issue: consumerism and marketing. We need to ask ourselves some important questions: Has technology moved too fast for consumers? Are we buying products just to buy them? Society has reached a point where consumers are offered new products with minor changes shortly after old products debuted. The appliance buying habits of 20th century consumers were sharply different: a phone would last until it broke which was a rarity prior to glass encased phones. The same holds true for other household items such as TV’s, stereos, speakers and other gadgets that have become more disposable with time. All of these devices are actually condensed on smart phones along with a plethora of once separate appliances. But the price tag varies greatly between old used iPhones and newer ones, with the new iPhone 6 plus retailing at $749.99 and older models selling between $15.00 and $60.00 on Ebay.

I purchased my iPhone 4 shortly before the iPhone 6 was released for $0.99 at the Verizon store and have felt no inconvenience for it. In contrast, the iPhone 6 was released with consumer chagrin upon its debut. Reports of the phone bending in tight jeans circulated throughout the Internet. This is a common tale of woe electronics consumers know all too well. There is a lesson: always wait for new products to go through buggy releases when inevitable kinks are fixed. This has been seen time and time again, from the negative initial reception of Xbox One and Playstation 3 to the overwhelmingly negative reception of Windows 8.

Both tech savvy and technologically challenged people complained about the non user friendly layout of Windows 8. For users who upgraded from Windows 7 and then found Windows 8 too difficult, the reality was Windows XP would have sufficed. As long as users consistently checked Windows XP for viruses and updated RAM space accordingly, the older OS could have performed just as well as Windows 8. The older system, however, would have been cheaper and more familiar. A word processor with Internet capabilities is all many people require, hence the popularity of the lighter notebooks and Chromebooks. These compact computers lack the same power as full desktops or laptops but perform the basic functions. Yet due to flashy marketing, people are constantly buying new products that companies offer only to feel frustration and annoyance.

There were record sales for the iPhone 6, but the technology that old phones contained was far from dated. Marketing tactics have effectively tricked consumers into feeling that their two-year-old phones were antiquated. But the iPhone 5 is far from obsolete. Even the original iPhone could perform all the necessary commands and tasks that I need from a cell phone. It can text, call, take pictures, handle email, surf the web, keep notes, maintain and sync a calendar, download (albeit dated) apps and games, navigate with GPS capabilities, predict the weather, play music, calculate numbers, spell check, shine light, etc. To reiterate, these features are on the original iPhone!

These smart phones are not marketed as tools (or more appropriately tool boxes); they’re marketed as status symbols. Jimmy Iovine said that he and Interscope marketed Dre Beats headphones the same way they developed artists. Iovine said, “[technology] is the new artist.” The advertising campaign aimed to personify them and give them the same marketing treatment that would propel rock stars to the top of the charts. He compared Beat’s by Dre to the iPod, saying, “Steve Jobs was the first to marry technology and pop culture.” This echoes what Marx defined as commodity fetishism, where consumers cherish the acquisition of products equal to or more the actual product itself.

I’m not saying that we all need to comb Ebay for antiquated smart phones that cost fractions of what they once did. I’m suggesting that we try to remember that our phones and our computers are not status symbols, but rather tools to accomplish tasks and jobs. So maybe the next time you see commercials talking about “the next big thing” you’ll decide to hang on to the phone already in your pocket, or the computer on your lap and hold out for something truly great, original and worth your money.

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