Why your next purchase is a political choice #28daysofwriting


These are my headphones, a set of Sennheiser HD 25s. I always wanted a pair of these when I first got interested in DJing as a teenager, but I couldn’t afford the £130 they cost then, and still do.

Now the marketing genius behind the Beats by Dr Dre brand has created a consumer market for large and expensive headphones, but then these were about the top models for DJs. Despite the more expensive products we have now, they still are. Here’s Calvin Harris wearing a pair.

The HD 25s came out in 1988 and as far as I know have changed little since. The reason I bought a pair about a year ago is that they sound great, are built to be very hardwearing, and are actually designed with replaceable parts so if something breaks you can fix them. They don’t have any noise cancelling frills. They just work.

The paragraph above is about as far from a description of most technology you see now as you can get. How many pieces of consumer technology have been around for 27 years largely unchanged and are made to be repaired when they go wrong? Many products these days seem to have obsolescence actually designed in to them.

When we choose to buy a piece of technology, or any product for that matter, we are usually making a simple choice. We make a choice for ourselves here and now, asking whether it fulfils a need or a want. If we are planning ahead we might ask whether it will still fulfil these for us in a year or two years. It’s an individual choice.

It isn’t just an individual choice. As technology becomes increasingly central to our society, it increasingly becomes a political choice.

We are seeing a trend at the moment towards computers and devices that are designed to be smaller and lighter than ever. The trade off is that it is increasingly difficult to upgrade them and keep them useful. It is also increasingly difficult to recycle them when they are no longer useful.

The more of us that buy computers or devices that are sealed boxes we can’t upgrade, the more manufacturers produce, the more they continue this trend. You vote with your purchases. When we are talking about items the manufacture of which have a significant impact on how society is shaped, or on the environment, that is a political choice.

It’s not just ‘do I want a thinner laptop?’, it’s ‘do I want to live in a world where what is needed to bring me a thinner laptop happens?’.

The choices we make about the technology we use are political choice. A purchase is effectively a vote. With ‘free’ tools, so is the sign up.

How does this fit with the technologies we see in schools, or those parents buy for children?

That’s a question I don’t think we are regularly asking. We should.





One response to “Why your next purchase is a political choice #28daysofwriting”

  1. Doug Belshaw Avatar

    Reminds me of this article from when the MacBook Pro Retina came out: http://www.wired.com/2012/06/opinion-apple-retina-displa/

    I was as up-in-arms as everyone else, and swore I’d switch to something else. Yet, here I am merrily typing away on one a couple of years later.

    Something I think that we miss is that choices don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s dependencies, social pressures, and a limited window of ‘real’ choice when it comes to some technological decisions.

    One day, I’d like to map out those limiting factors and constraints but, for now, all we can do is point out that we *do* have a choice – even if it’s difficult.

    Thanks, Oliver! 🙂

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