It was a sobering moment to say the least.
I consider myself a progressive and conscientious person. It definitely concerns me that we are losing touch with our natural environment and consuming resources at rates that are well beyond sustainable. Up to this point I’d given gadgets a free pass simply due to the joy they created for me. However when thinking about the scale of products like the iPhone and how many are sold every year, it was not hard to imagine a troubling bigger picture.
Let me help paint this picture by tossing out some numbers to think about. In the last 9 months, Apple has sold well over 100 million iPhones around the world. If you want to talk Android, they project over a 1 billion smartphones will ship in 2014. That’s a staggering amount of plastic, glass, silicon, lithium, gold, platinum and other rare earth metals; some toxic some not. Looking back to 2013, 1 billion smartphones were sold and there were 1.45 billion smartphone users in the world. Looking forward into 2014 it’s projected that companies will sell over 1.2 billion smartphones. This year a quarter of the population of the globe is said to use a smartphone, or 1.76 billion people. An increase of 300 million users. Doing the math: 1.2 billion smartphones sold — 300 million new smartphone users = 900 million smartphones left. Does that mean 900 million phones are replacements? Probably not completely, but the actual number would probably be scary big. For example: it’s projected that next year phone replacements could make up 80% of Apple’s iPhone sales. Using this stat with 2014’s sales numbers, that’s 120 million iPhone replacements. Given Apple’s market share is roughly 18% compared to Android’s 78%, that 900 million number doesn’t seem far off the truth.
That is an incredible amount of hardware.
These numbers bring up a troubling subject around consumer electronics, and specifically smartphones. There is immense pressure for the product companies to continue to increase their sales by increasing the output of electronics. They’re forced to find ways to constantly re-invent their gadgets so they remain targets of consumer’s desire. Rapid software innovations make our older phones sluggish and fail to perform in ways that it used to. The wear and tear of everyday life takes a toll on the devices and accidents happen. The result of the rapid increase in innovation and wear and tear creates a degraded user experience for those on aging devices. The problem increases as electronics become critical to the functioning of our daily lives. The more these products become essential, the more we demand them to function at a very high level. Reading through a cracked screen, or dealing with the sluggishness of the new operating system on an older model just doesn’t cut it. Upgrading becomes a normal and expected thing and the old gadgets are sent to pasture. You could argue that consumer electronics are created to be disposable or in other words electronics are created with planned obsolescence at their core. As much as the positives of planned obsolescence move us all forward features wise, the environmental cost mounts on the other side.
Original Article first appeards on : Electronics Wasteland