Tech journalism, consumerism, waste, and responsibility?

TLDR: Doesn’t much of tech journalism promote tech consumerism and waste? Should we care? Should it change?

I think the TLDR get’s the point across pretty much, but just to explain where I am coming from:

H1 - Everyone may be getting a bit tired of reporting the gradual advances in tech as the second coming.
A couple of weeks ago, we were discussing Jeff in another thread. There,@sawgrass mentioned something insightful at C’mon Jeff - a little objectivity would be nice :

I hope to be allowed to borrow his thought and would like to extend it to the fatiguing discussion of phones, laptops, smart light-bulbs, watches, etc. Stuff that has been there and now gradually evolves. A new phone with many megapixels, a new iPhone, the new roti grill, rinse and repeat. I believe that Leo also mentioned that a few times (“Do you still care?” if I remember correctly) - I believe on his call-in show. Surely we all have as much phones, laptops, and smart stuff as we’d like. However, the reporting on gradually new stuff has become so obsessive that even the journalistic and not-paid-for stuff borders on advertising of an increasingly harder to sell offer: tech. The market is saturated. A bending screen is not going to help that. Journalism appears in caught between a rock (many having positioning on product reviews) and a hard place (products becoming less and less worthy of reporting and more and more in need of attention). Nowadays, it’s just as fashionable to make many videos ranting about tech giants not bringing out enough great innovations - but all of it is geared towards making people buy more (even though often that is disguised as “making people buy smarter”).

H2 - The market saturation of tech nudges journalism towards advertising.
In an interesting instance of very open reflection, one of the leading tech reviewers, Linus Sebastian of Linus’ Tech Tips, posted a candid and noteworthy reflection that came to him in context of his channel reaching 10 million subscribers. After a pretty intense reflection on a specific anecdote, he got into reflecting about whether the review-oriented share of tech journalism - which he counts himself to - makes much sense. I’ve forwarded for your convenience: . Of course, his perspective is also shaped by being a young dad and thus possibly having a more pronounced streak towards the responsible. However, he is also a tech journalist and more or less explains that his professional work (however interesting, useful, successful, entertaining, etc. that may be) is at odds with his personally held beliefs of having less that lasts more and being very critical of a waste-promoting society. His work being at odds with his beliefs was interestingly palpable - just as his open and appropriate conclusion of “I don’t have a solution to it - I love tech and I want to make videos about tech.” Just to be sure this is understood correctly: this is not to point a finger, but to applaud the reflection.

Most certainly, you might simply recommend: if you’re not interested, don’t watch it. I suppose you are right and I wonder why I keep at it. Tech journalism has been such an interesting and enterprising field of reporting in the (albeit more consumerist) media, that there have been many interesting formats, perspectives, and ideas coming from there. TWiT is a a good example: the integration of several media channels and own social media is pretty well done. Tech people tend to know best how to work with tech I suppose. I’d like to continue to follow their talent, buy shows, etc., but would love to see it applied to more stuff other than “that’s the new bendy phone” (throw out the old) or “this rotisserie is excellent” (throw out the old). Of course, I am in no position to ask for a change there (and this is not a change I’d ask of TWiT first an foremost - there is plenty social and political discussion here, often it’s even criticised for being to political), I am merely reflecting on a trend that might be emerging.

Do you agree with the premises? What did I miss?
How do you see tech reporting changing?
Is there a problem here or not?

1 Like

It seems that a lot of technology reporting concentrates on the wrong things. New phones come out and it is all about the camera.

On whether it is repairable, how long the manufacturer will provide updates, and how regular those updates are and how far behind the official Google updates (obviously for Android, iPhone is another story) etc. is either totally ignored or just mentioned in passing.

For me, the longevity of the device is more important than a slight improvement in the camera or the launcher. We are at the stage, where a smartphone is “good enough” and should last for a good 5 years, yet they are artifically “end of lifed” after 2 - 3 years, because they don’t receive any more security updates - I’m not necessarily talking about new versions of the OS, just keeping it secure. Our “lives” are now on these devices, in many cases, and the most important factor for a phone is, “is it secure?”

People aren’t aware of the security, they either don’t know or don’t care about security. Therefore it is up to the manufacturers to ensure that devices are secure and remain secure for their lifetime.

When you buy a lightbulb, you expect it to last at least 5 years, and we have lightbulbs in the house that are probably 15 - 20 years old. Yet with a “smart” lightbulb, that cost at least 10 or 100 times as much as the 20 year old lightbulb, it will probably be a security risk or stop working, because the cloud servers are gone or speak a different language, after a couple of years.

We have gone the other way. We are only buying high quality, repairable and “dumb” devices for the home, because it doesn’t make sense to spend 1,000€ on a “smart” dishwasher that will become dumb after a couple of years. I still have to fill it up with dishes, I still have to put the tabs, salt and rinse aid etc. into the machine and I still have to remove the dishes when the cleaning cycle is finished. If the tabs, salt etc. are running low, I jot it down on the shopping list. I don’t need it to tell me, when I am at work, that it needs tabs and I don’t need to be able to turn it on, when I’m not home.

A lot of smarthome technology is a solution looking for a problem and it is a way to push consumerism to areas where cheap, durable devices can be replaced by expensive devices that break / stop working after a relatively short period of time.

I like the way the German government is moving. They want to change the guarantee laws to make white goods have a minimum of a 10 year guarantee - which would also cover the “smart” side of the device. There is too much waste being generated for no good reason; only for the profits of a few corporations. But if we destroy our environment, who is going to be able to spend those profits?

Goodwill and customer loyalty were watchwords as I was growing up. Investment was long term, you bought shares in companies you thought had a future. And the companies knew that their future was based on customer loyalty - provide them with a quality product that doesn’t break and they’ll buy other products, or they will tell their friends and they will buy your products.

Nowadays, it is all about maximising the profit for the next quarter, it is irrelevant whether that profit growth is sustainable, or even if the company will be there next quarter, just so long as you can dump your shares before the pyramid scheme collapses. Therefore it isn’t about quality products, it is selling as much shiny for as much as you can get away with, before the customers work out it is a dud.

Apple is somewhat better in this regard, with its iPhones, although I’ve been stung by them with them killing my iMac off long before it was too old to be useful - they stopped providing software updates for it in 2014, Microsoft stopped providing OS updates for the Bootcamp side last month.

Their phones aren’t exciting and are well behind the leaders in terms of features, but they are probably the most cost-effective luxury segment devices, because they are supported longer than Android devices.

The problem is, you can spend 1,000€ for an iPhone and it will last, maybe, 6 years, before Apple cut off the updates. But an Android phone for 200€ will last 2 - 3 years, so “throwing away” 3 Androids to 1 Apple is still more cost effective, even when it destroys our planet faster. Flagship Android is another matter entirely, because of the short support life-cycle, they just don’t make any sense at the Apple-like prices. These devices are powerful enough that they would last 5-6 years, but the manufacturers are only interested in selling new products, not ensuring what they have sold is safe for its functional lifetime.

These attitudes need to change. The environmental impact needs to be part of the “profit” calculation. Start subtracting millions or billions from the balance sheet for bad environmental practices and the companies might listen.

Interestingly, Germany is also talking about putting a deposit on 'phones. If you buy a smartphone, you will have to pay an additional 25€ - 75€ (amount is still under discussion), you get this back, when you return the phone to the reseller or to a recycling point, once the phone has reached its end of life. This is to stop people just chucking them in a drawer or box and forgetting about them, when they get their next phone.


I appreciate each of your views and thank you carbonga for bring up such an important and timely discussion. I wish I had the answers to the questions raised about waste. Technology changes so frequently that shelf life is hard to build into a product. In short because of over changing tech tech is made obsolete in a shorter time frame than what we wished as a long shelf life. I believe it to be the nature of the beast for technology.


Some of it is about the technology changing frequently and some of it is about the money. When they sell that Smart phone or Smart device to you they are only getting paid for it once but it needs constant maintenance and upkeep so what they want is to find a reason to move you to a new device that has some sort of enhancement even if you don’t need that enhancement. Because that is the only way they can make money from you again and that is the only direction you have to go since support and security will disappear after a set amount of time. Some devices come with a service which I guess helps them to continue to make money on a constant bases but it seems even those devices have a short end of life. I myself do not own hardly anything new, most all of my technology is refurbished older technology simply because it does what I need and I can’t stand to see useful things discarded for no reason other then a new feature is added or a smaller version of the circuitry is made.


Perfectly right. I had two related trains of thought when travelling to Armenia and Georgia in fall on the problem of innovation and responsibility - both deal with cars which might also count as tech:

Yerevan smog
When travelling to Yerevan (Armenia), we quickly got reintroduced to something that’s not that common in central Europe anymore: pretty heavy smog. We do have air pollution too, but it’s on somewhat of a different scale. Anyhow - did not take long to spot some of the causes of the smog: the busses were likely fifty years old and smoked accordingly. Of course, there were plenty of trucks too, etc. The cars were rather modern. Good share of latest-model luxury cars, too. Being all European about it, we quickly went on our high horse of “ha, that would need updating!”. Somewhat later, I corrected myself a bit thinking about how many times that one bus would have been replaced to the latest and most efficient model in Germany - probably every third to fifth year. So ten new busses built for the one that was still carrying on. Which means that little smoker of a packed Yerevan bus may have had a better energy balance than our rather clean hybrid busses if you take into account the amount of new bus generations it took to build to get there. Sure, it made the air smoggy, but in the mean time we would have done a great job at offshoring the negative impact by “over-innovating”. Which is a horribly backwards thing to say in a modern world, but I wonder whether the use of innovation is not - just like many other things - on an inverted U-shaped performance: too little is bad since you loose the opportunity to benefit from technological advances, too much is bad since frequency of innovation always brings up the concrete problem of waste - there is a sweet spot.

Tiflis e-mobility
When walking through Tiflis (Georgia), we were surprised to see a) a pretty large share of right-side steering cars and b) likewise, a pretty large share of hybrids. We learned that Georgia is the prime used-car market for Japanese hybrids since the country used to have pretty relaxed regulations about left- or right-steering vehicles (which since has changed). Anyhow - so there was this country which has a pretty tough economic situation but a much larger share of hybrid mobility than any place I know from central Europe since they, in a way, benefit from being a target market for other another nation’s second hand innovative technology. Should there be such a thing as an optimal innovation cycle, it would need to correspond with the product category, the market, and the subsequent usage scenario. Consequently, there is not one optimal innovation cycle, but many. They all have in common that there’s really no incentive of considering these cycles since after the product is sold, only very few producers really care for their future. There are only few exceptions like - and I can right now really only think of one - toner cartridges. :smiley: Sorry: EPSON too, probably - ecotank and all. Sure, there are cradle to cradle concepts, but… are they effective?

Hey @Leo , how about a “This Week in Sustainable Tech” ? :slight_smile: Yeah, it would be difficult to differentiate the green-washing from the substantial contributions, but that could be part of the fun. It’s a big topic, I suppose - from enterprise to consumer.


Yes, that’s the critical sum of it all, I suppose. It’s such a fragmented and difficult challenge, though. One critical facet of it is what is fashionable, what will get you corporate laurels, what will get you not promoted. If you’re a product manager in pick your industry and you don’t offer smart products based on AI, you’re just not with it. Does not matter that your company sells bricks. Needs to be smart bricks.

BTW: Of course, our place is fully equipped with three Alexas, smart thermostats, lights, scale, … I wish I could introduce my brain to my purchasing behaviour one day. Wonder whether they would have much to discuss. Might get awkward.