From Solar Home Theaters to Minimalist Netbooks...Can America's Gadget Obsession be Green-Guilt-Free?

line outside apple store photo

Texting outside the Apple store while waiting to buy a new device on which to text... Photo via acnatta via Flickr CC

We have to admit that we Americans love us some gadgets. The average American household spends $1,200 a year on new electronics. Netbooks, for example, are a hot new item and sales have soared - they have gone from a 5.6% market share to a 22% market share in just one year. However, we're also on a noticeable kick to green up gadgets, with electronics manufacturers touting a growing selection of "eco-friendly" devices. While we're constantly looking for greener gadgets that use less energy, are recyclable, and will last long enough to be heirlooms, is it possible to ever make our obsession with gadgets guilt-free? The New York Times recently pointed out that early adopters of new technologies, once a small fringe group of the most tech savvy, is now fanning out into the mainstream. It's hip to have the latest device, and it's no longer just the gadget geeks who are lining up in front of electronics stores in the wee morning hours of a device release day.

From the article, "There's really no group out of the tech loop," said Jacqueline Anderson, an analyst with Forrester who was one of the study's authors. "America is becoming a digital nation. Technology adoption continues to roll along, picking up more and more mainstream consumers every year."

Even as we increase the energy efficiency of gadgets, our energy consumption continues to skyrocket simply because our gadget consumption shows no sign of slowing. The more things we have to plug in, the more energy we use, even if what we plug in is as efficient as possible.

So just how wary do we have to be about "green" gadgets? For instance, Home Entertainment Magazine is touting a guilt-free green home theater. But as you read into the article, what makes it guilt-free is simply slapping some solar panels on your roof. This doesn't make the home theater guilt-free in the slightest. It just means it's potentially run on renewable energy. The toxins in the electronics, the e-waste, the embodied energy from non-renewable sources and so many other factors still exist.

Another example is the previously mentioned netbooks. Netbooks have quite a few features that make them greener than notebooks. And their popularity is undeniable. Their sales rate of sales is currently twice that of notebooks, with 38 million of the tiny computers sold by the end of the second quarter of this year. But despite the features that make them a bit more eco-friendly, the fact is 38 million of the buggers hitting homes in one quarter is mind-boggling. That's all e-waste next year. Period.

So as long as we're rapidly consuming electronic devices, can gadgets ever be green-guilt-free?

Yes... This is the point in time where we need to consider gadget minimalism. While it's a whole lot of fun being on the cutting edge of technology and trying out the newest device to hit Best Buy, it's more important than ever to become comfortable with last year's model and select for green quality rather than quantity.

We sure love gadgets, but we hopefully also agree that we love a happy planet even more. There is a way to have both, with a little temperance.

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