A friend of mine recently acquired the latest smartphone model and he could hardly wait for me to comment on its design. Never one to miss an opportunity to “upgrade”, as he calls it, he was all over me, showing off the gadget’s new features and services.
I am sure he has several cellphones at home that he has declared “obsolete”. For him, the desire to keep up with current trends is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
Acquiring the latest electronic gadget in the market is closely connected to how he defines comfort and the “good life”.
This is characteristic of a consumerism culture. Advertising and marketing campaigns are crafted to show how happiness will be derived by buying certain products or services. Advertisers creatively put pressure on consumers to consistently buy new products lest they miss the associated glamour, joy, happiness and excitement.
Unfortunately, little attention is paid to what happens to the items we suddenly dump after they are overtaken by fashion. The changing trends result in the accumulation of goods that are disposed of during the wild goose chase for happiness through materialism.
Let me use cell phones to illustrate my point on the environmental strain brought on by this consumerism culture.
By the beginning of 2014, over 31.3 million Kenyans had mobile phones. The entry of smartphones has drastically changed the mobile telephony landscape because of their sophistication and the convergence of media in one gadget.
With a smartphone, you have Internet access, a camera, a radio and TV, among many other features. Over 11.6 million people currently subscribe to data services and more are changing their hand sets to tap into this new technological magic. Our daily lives have become consumerist-driven.
Mobile phones have become many things to us apart from being a communication gadget. They have acquired symbolic meanings.
You are not just holding a mobile phone, but you are also communicating about what kind of a person you are and perhaps what you are worth. Therefore, we take them seriously and constantly upgrade them to ensure they communicate what we think is the “right” image or identity.
When a new model is released, we throw the old phone away. Environmentalists detest this culture because it increases the amount of non-degradable waste.
Cell phones contain toxic and rare substances that eventually find their way into our environment with long-lasting, adverse impacts. Many of these toxic substances accumulate through the food chain and end up on our plates.
Dr Kimotho is the acting director, communication & awards, at NETFUND