It’s the time of big tech sales and middle-class guilt for being a consumer.
e are entering a time that at times feels like an orgy, a sanctification of the endless pursuit of “stuff”.
Worse, we shy away from being lulled by a capitalist machine that sees us as passive markers.
As a tech journalist, I’m often right in the thick of things.
“Look at this new phone or this new smartwatch or this new laptop,” I write. “Look what it’s doing that’s never been done before.”
In the last six weeks alone, I’ve written almost 20,000 words on over a dozen reviews – everything from Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro Max to Google’s latest Pixel Watch.
In truth, no one who examines things – from a car to a dishwasher to a restaurant or a play – can totally deny that they contribute to an endless cycle of consumption.
Even cultural journalists, who may feel above it all, regularly review 100-euro live events or shows on expensive pay-TV platforms.
A smartphone is the single largest piece that people use in their daily lives. A laptop is a work and culture tool
Which brings us to last week’s Amazon Prime Early Access sale. Although I haven’t written about it, most online publications have.
Why? Because the price for a really decent Echo Smart Speaker (i.e. “radio and egg timer in one”) has shrunk to around 20 euros.
There were also other things that would have saved a normal household a lot of money if they were planning on replacing a unit anyway.
Are you a consumer handyman to make use of it? Am I a scapegoat for pointing this out?
Some definitely think the answer is yes. And if it’s Amazon, well, that only makes it worse.
Not only that Amazon is still considered a problematic source of sales even in the minds of the middle class.
Or that it had a questionable employment record, albeit mostly in low-regulation jobs in the US and UK, dragging the rest of online retail into a sweaty place where everyone has to assume a grim, bare enclosure in order to survive stay.
It’s not even that Amazon is just too big and poses an existential threat to local shops and boutiques that we like to think part of our social fabric.
It’s the notion that it’s an artificial demand for artificial products. It is the thesis that you don’t need a coffee machine, a smart loudspeaker (“radio”) or a smartphone. Or even if you do, you definitely don’t need a new one.
It’s the nagging feeling that if you indulge your gadget craze, you’re also an environmental vandal.
On this last point one cannot disagree. It’s almost never worth upgrading from last year’s model to this year’s phone or laptop, a point I keep making in reviews.
Are you a consumer handyman to take advantage of the latest? Am I a scapegoat for pointing this out?
Even putting the environmental aspects aside (which you shouldn’t do), the upgrades are never that great. Nobody with an iPhone 13 or even an iPhone 12 should upgrade to the iPhone 14.
There just isn’t enough difference. And that comes from someone who tests and rates more new phones than anyone else in Ireland.
But as someone who’s thought about it and studied it for years, it’s really harder to come up with a quick and definitive rule about Amazon or any digital product in your life.
For quite a few people, the chance to save $10 or $50 or $150 on a household item isn’t really the kind of ethical choice that some of their wealthier, middle-class critics find casually available.
Likewise, it’s likely that most Irish no longer subscribe to the middle-aged columnists of the 1990s that a smartphone or a flat-screen TV was some kind of frivolous, unnecessary luxury.
These are social basics that really shouldn’t offend any sensitivity.
A 2020 study by Amárach Consulting found that around a fifth of Irish people do the bulk of their Christmas shopping around next month’s “Black Friday”, partly to take advantage of the lower prices sometimes on offer.
The study found that this was particularly common among 18-24 year olds, who were almost five times as likely to make a purchase on Black Friday (or “Cyber Monday”) as those aged 55 and over.
This isn’t a case of avocado toast-itis as some would like to frame it.
Young people simply don’t have the disposable income of over-55s.
You can’t all support the local retailer who charges 15 more or survive on a Nokia.
As pointed out many times in this column, some offers, like Black Friday, are riddled with exaggerated or dishonest discount claims.
But others offer a rare window to those on a tighter budget to feel like they’re participating in modern life.
Yes, it’s consumerism; but it’s a taste of it that’s certainly not obnoxious or offensive.
When your kids ask for something all year long and you can finally afford it on sale, it’s a bit harsh to be labeled as a thug allowing an evil capitalist system to run amok.
As for my role in all of this, my consumerist guilt is real. But I see the other side of it.
A smartphone is the single largest piece that people use in their daily lives. A laptop is a work and culture tool. A smartwatch can be the kick ass you need to improve your health. A sale, if genuine, can help.
That doesn’t mean you should feel pressured into buying endless stuff.
And if I’m part of a system that actually makes you feel that way, maybe I need to be more careful about how I present things.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/as-a-tech-journo-am-i-a-capitalist-stooge-enabling-an-evil-amazonian-system-to-run-amok-maybe-42066942.html As a tech journo, am I a capitalist stooge enabling an evil Amazonian system to run amok? Maybe