One of the banes of listicle journalism is the outright promotion of goods that we are told that we “must have.” Are you sick of being told about the ten or twenty “must-have gadgets” that you just “can’t live without”? Thankfully, due to limited time and finances, most of us are doing just fine, breathing and walking about planet earth without a foldable keyboard and miniature speaker. How do we do it?
First, it is important to understand that most of the culture surrounding tech—to include writing on tech—has more to do with recommending good technology over less excellent to bad tech. From the birth of listicles, however, tech journalism has become inundated with content that pushes product, acting as a reference point for those of us who spend a significant amount of time researching tech. Where the marketplace, the hallway, the café and the gym were once the social milieu for exchanging ideas on burgeoning technology in the 1990s, today everyone is plugged into their tech devices, isolated within a hermetic bubble of sound reading up on tech news. Learning about new tech word-of-mouth is becoming as difficult as asking for directions when your smartphone battery has died. As most of us have experienced, people will walk right by you, even as you stand in full apologetic finger gesture left with the eery feeling of being invisible as you attempt to ask a stranger for information. Human interactions are becoming rarer today as technology grows and further divides us from real life interactions. Similarly, the culture of tech advice has migrated from the real cultural spaces of interaction to the journalistic sites of recommended purchases and tech news.
So how can consumers know that they will get any better sound quality or longer battery life from Apple’s AirPods than from an off-brand competitor? From over-ear headphones to in-ear devices, there are literally dozens of articles on each published daily leaving us caught between learning about new technology. From these articles, we must read further to then educate ourselves on the contiguous issues of safety, quality, durability, relevance, upgradability and so forth. We are told that social media is transforming the trading world even as social trading sitesand algorithmic trading verge towards the destruction of older market analysis culture. New technology manifests a plethora of information which is not just telling us what we “need” but this information is being put forth by a cultural industry firmly established in telling us that we need something in the first place. If not this technology, then four seconds later there will be another technology that we “absolutely must have.”
Whenever I come across these sorts of articles that attempt to convince the reader that we would drop stone-cold dead without a certain tech object, the first thing I think is, “Do we really need it?” This is a simple enough question, but it is an important question which plays into the everyday of most of us—especially those of us with children who are learning about the world. Children learn the stark difference between “hungry” and “starving” and between “I need” and “I want” through parents and it is these lessons which we impart to children the differences between these feelings and desires. These same lessons could be easily translated into technology and consumer review sites—but the opposite is happening whereby the Saturday morning advertisements of brightly-colored cereals and toys for children have now be adapted for an adult audience as we are constantly being told what we “can’t live without” and the “tech gadgets that will transform your life.”
From social media influencers to social media platforms, we are caught in a non-stop crossfire of recommendations of new-and-improved technology and apps that are mediated by the ever-changing parameters of speed and privacy. Certainly, privacy issues are driving much of the recent wave of software re-design that specifically sets out to protect privacy as app development companies like Retro Cube and Jumbo know too well. In fact, China’s WeChat platform is facing an exodus over privacy issues as other platforms like Apple’s Maps app is being redesigned with privacy as a central focus. Where privacy was once viewed as a technical feature is more and more being addressed as a cultural factor as people are more steadfast in wishing to maintain their privacy for more reasons than simply protecting bank information.
Aside from the ever-constant given of consumerism, what is driving our need to be constant consumers of tech must be discussed within a cultural framework just as much as from a purely technological perspective. As the expansion of software and hardware technology shows no sign of waning, we need to balance how we choose to update our technology against the greater resources of money and time.