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|Written by Lauren Cheal|
|Monday, 31 December 2007 19:00|
Argh! I’ll try shaking the DVD player to see if that is the problem. Nope. Turn it upside down? Nope. Unplug it! Nope. Do a rain dance? Might as well. When it comes to our beloved technology, we act in very strange ways. In history class in elementary school we observed tribes of peoples performing ritual dances, attempting to pacify angry gods or change weather patterns. Those rituals are readily and easily dismissed as superstitious, primitive, weird or downright humorous. But what about our own superstitious rituals? Our western society tends to view itself as supremely rational and totally in control of what we think and feel, but when it comes to technology, we are losing that control. We have scraps of information about how our technology works, but we do not understand the intricate mechanical processes that drive these machines we rely on.
If my computer won’t turn on, I unplug every cord that is in the back of it, re-plug everything in and start it up and voila, the operating system launches! It is like a magic trick. We have become so far removed from the workings of the technologies that run our lives, we treat the devices themselves with a suspicious reverence. We pray that the computer will turn back on because we haven’t backed up our pictures in probably a year, and we can’t imagine losing those files for work and school. Don’t do anything rash, treat the computer with love, and maybe you can will it back on.
Even the mechanically inclined are unable to fix their own cars because of the computing systems that now control and monitor so many of the parts. So what do we do? In the case of my 2-year-old DVD player, we throw out the scrap of technology and buy a replacement. It isn’t economically feasible to get a DVD player fixed (I don’t know where I would take one). The scrapped technology piles up in our landfills and contributes to our ever-expanding ecological footprint.
How do we fix this problem? It starts with the way products are manufactured. Instead of producing cheap DVD players that only last a year or two, more reliable technology should be developed, and if it already exists, it should be sold. Another key to this problem is becoming active, informed consumers. People must be informed about the differences in quality between similar products. We can no longer rely on the salesman who stands to make his profit from our decision; we need to create a wider social effort to understand the products we use and the technologies behind them. The economic forces that drive the technology markets are based on a system where upgraded models and easily breakable parts force consumers to buy the same products again and again.
There is evidence of this trend all around us. My mother owned one hair dryer that she got in the 1980s for 20 years, and I have purchased 4 in the past 7 years; this speaks to the quality of products we are using and the money we are ultimately spending on this constant overturn. At one time, the companies that made hair dryer’s like my mother’s made them to last. It would have been ludicrous to sell a product that broke down within a year or so, because people would have demanded their money back. But now? I couldn’t tell you what store I bought my most recent hair dryer in or what brand it is. The brands become so similar that one $20-$30 hair dryer is as good (or as bad) as the next.
At first glance, it doesn’t appear that the cost of buying that replacement dryer is all that much. $20-$30 is a price most of us will pay every couple of years for a dryer when our old ones suddenly die (of what we’re never sure). The real cost comes in wasted materials. To throw out a piece of technology like a hair dryer as often as mine tend to break down contributes significantly to the problems we are dealing with in our environment. There are some places electronics can be taken to be recycled, which is a good step towards helping solve the problem of our material waste, but it would be even better if the machines were simply constructed with longevity in mind. Of course things will break down, but if we could get it repaired at less than the cost of buying a new one, for the most part, we would. It is up to us to pressure companies to create longer-lasting products and make the technologies we use more accessible to us if we want to regain some control over the amount of waste we produce and the way we interact with our unceasingly technological world.