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July 15, 2007

Electronics: Thoughts about RCA, iPhones, & the pursuit of happiness

 

Thanks to the folks over at Sustainable Is Good for pointing out that RCA plans to save 450 tons of plastic in the next two years by making smaller, environmentally-friendly paper gift box containers to replace the older clamshell packages in an initiative called “Smart Packing,” which they say has already saved over 81 tons of extra plastic.

I applaud this move on RCA’s part, and if I ever need to buy another electronic gadget, I’ll check out RCA-brand first, as well as any other brands that may be switching to similar packaging.

But we can’t forget that the electronics themselves are made of plastic and other non-renewable materials, and we need to ask ourselves before purchasing new electronics if we really need them and if they will really make us happy.

On Friday, June 29, I was walking along Shattuck Ave in downtown Berkeley when I came upon a huge line of people wrapping around the block. It was the kind of line you see at a box office when some mega-star is coming to town or at a bookstore when the latest Harry Potter installment is released. I asked one of the guys in line (yes, it was mostly guys) what they were waiting for, and one of them replied kinda snarkily, “Jesus.” Like what kind of an idiot was I not to know that the iPhone was being released that day and that if you didn’t stand in line for hours at the AT&T store to be the first to get one, you might as well crawl back under your rock and die.

I should have asked each and every person in that line if they already had a working cell phone. I should have aked them all if they already had an iPod. I should have taken a poll. I should have made a ruckus. Instead, I continued on my way, ranting to my sister on my cell phone about how ridiculous this whole phenomenon was. “What’s going to happen to all those old cell phones?!?!? Where are they going to end up?!? In landfills, that’s where. What’s WRONG with these people???”

What’s wrong with them is the same thing that’s wrong with me and most Americans. We think that newer and better technology is going to make us happy. And, while I admit that I thoroughly enjoy watching the new 37″ flat screen TV we bought last year, I wonder if I’m actually that much happier overall than I was before we bought it. And is that little bit of pleasure worth all the resources, energy, possibly human suffering that went into providing it to me?

I’ve discovered that since I started this project, I’m buying far fewer things than I used to. And it’s not only because so many products come packaged in or are made out of plastic, although that’s a big reason. It’s that with a cause to work on, with ideas to wrap my brain around, and a problem that needs my creativity, I simply don’t have as much desire to stock up on material possessions. I’m not saying the desire is gone; but it’s simply not as strong.
 



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