The Consumer Electronics Association sent out a report saying that electronics sales would dominate purchases this holiday season, accounting for as much as one-third of all purchases.
Specifically, the association states, "Consumer spending on electronics gifts this holiday will reach an all-time high...Consumers plan to spend on average $246 on electronics gifts, an increase of six percent from last year and the highest level since CEA began tracking holiday spending. Overall gift spending will also increase. Consumers plan to spend on average $769 on gifts this year, three percent higher than last year. CEA expects holiday retail sales to increase 2.5 percent this year."
First off, that's a whole lot of spending in general. But it is also a whole lot of spending on electronics. It seems to point toward the fact that electronics are a staple of today's society -- e-readers are taking over book sales, digital cameras and tablet devices are must-haves, the list goes on.
In a time when we're reading daily about protests arguing for the reform of our economic systems, when the 99% are falling farther behind the 1% and homes are still foreclosing left and right, what does a boom year for electronics sales say about our consumer culture?
And in a time when e-waste dumps are an incredible environmental and social burden yet the number of thrown-away gadgets is growing at an insane rate, and when the top performing consumer electronics company scores a mere 5.9 out of 10 on Greenpeace's latest green electronics guide, what do soaring device sales say about our understanding of and perspective on the impact our gadgets have on the globe?
It's not fun to be a Debbie Downer as we roll into the holiday season, but if this doesn't make us seriously question the way we are bringing technology into our lives -- from the pace of consumption to the production of the products themselves -- then I honestly have a very dire view of our future on this planet.
The summary of the report states, "Computing products will lead the way this holiday season. Tablet computers trail only clothes as the most wanted gifts overall. Notebook computers are also high on the list, along with peace/happiness and money. When it comes to electronics, behind tablets and laptops, TVs (any type), e-Readers and video game consoles are the most wanted CE gifts."
Really step back and look at that statement. Notebook computers are high on the list along with peace/happiness and money.
I mean, really.
And it doesn't stop there. While it is not surprising, it is disheartening to see the report state, "Price will be the most important factor as consumers decide where to buy their CE gifts. The ease of making a purchase and return policies are also important purchasing factors. Two-thirds of consumers will compare the price for electronics online before making a purchase. However, consumers are more likely to buy CE gifts at mass merchants and electronics stores than online or at warehouse clubs."
Guess what that means. The environmental impact of devices factors nowhere on the list of concerns. How cheap one can get a gadget is most important. And the fact that consumers are most likely to buy products at mass merchants means that few will be checking out resell companies that stock pre-owned but like-new devices. Even when money is a serious concern, we don't seem to be considering the notion of buying used.
I know, I know. The holidays are what they are and people are going to spend, spend, spend during them -- and if electronics is where the excitement is, then there's no stopping the dollars from rolling in that direction. And I know that for many of us, we can't run our lives without electronic devices (I say this as someone who depends entirely on her laptop, her smart phone and her camera for income to pay for food and shelter), so it's not like our gadget lust is unfounded.
But I can say this: the report from Consumer Electronics Association should be taken as an invitation to seriously consider where we place technology in our lives, why, and what impact that choice has.
I don't suggest we roll back the clock to one-computer-per-family-if-that times. But I do suggest that we think harder about our purchases than price and where the latest model of the latest gadget is located.