Catherine Toth Fox: Why Do We Feel Compelled To Get A New Phone Every Year? - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Opinion article badgeDid you watch it?

I didn’t. Nor did anyone I know.

Apple has been turning press release material about new products and upgrades into special events broadcast around the world for more than a decade — and the buzz has been legit. Consumers and critics chatter online about these new products for weeks leading up to the events, speculating what the tech titan has been secretly designing on its Cupertino campus.

But this time around, when Apple announced upgrades and product redesigns at its “Far Out” event on Wednesday, only true Apple nerds seemed to care. Even Eve Jobs, the daughter of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, mocked the event on her Instagram story, showing a meme of a man holding up a plaid shirt identical to the one he’s wearing with the caption, “Me upgrading from iPhone 13 to iPhone 14 after Apple’s announcement today.”

Another great line from the comments of an online blog about it: “(Far Out) is a reference to the price of the new iPhone. Far out of reach of mere mortals.”

I feel the same way most years, when Apple reveals its newest lineup of smartphones, laptops and other gadgets that don’t seem very different from what I dropped an entire paycheck on the year before.

In a word: underwhelmed.

And yet, here I am, reading about the new, larger iPhone 14 with a longer battery life that I don’t need, a camera with a faster aperture that I don’t need, and a crash detection feature that I don’t need. And I’m thinking, “Maybe?”

Apple is the master of getting into my head like this. I already own two MacBook Pros, a MacBook Air from 2011 (that still works), a 27-inch iMac that’s somewhere in the back of my closet, Apple TV, an Apple Watch, an iPhone 13, a pair of Air Pods, a classic iPod that might be worth more than it cost when I bought it and an iShuffle that won’t even charge. Now I’m almost convinced that this new iPhone could save my life. (I mean, what’s $1,099 when you’re talking about your life?)

And there it is: The idea that I may need an overpriced upgrade to a phone that I already own, that works just fine.

This is how Apple has become one of the richest public companies on the planet by market cap at nearly $2.5 trillion as of September.

Mobile phone.
Apple has carefully and systematically designed a user and lifestyle experience starting with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007. But the buzz surrounding new launches has become increasingly low-key. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

It has created what’s referred to as an ecosystem. Apple has carefully and systematically designed a user and lifestyle experience — also called a “walled garden” — starting with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007. It’s a system-wide integration where having more Apple products results in a better user experience.

It’s not something the company talks about — and definitely not something it outright sells — but it’s why we plunk down hundreds of dollars on products we probably don’t need but feel like we can’t live without. Like using your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac or responding to iMessages from your laptop (which is, to me, the absolute greatest thing in the world).

But in this day, where people are struggling with health care costs, housing costs, unemployment, the rising price of everything from used cars to steaks, combined with a sensitivity toward frivolous spending and over-consumption and its impact on the environment, it seems irresponsible to drop $1,000 on a new phone when I already have a working one.

And it also seems irresponsible for a company worth trillions to continue to push out high-priced products and entice consumers to buy buy buy when it’s really not necessary.

So why do I feel the urge to rush down to my nearest Apple Store and buy a purple iPhone with a new feature called “dynamic island” that I still don’t quite understand? Or new Air Pods that have a button at the bottom of the case that alerts you to the location of your missing earbuds? Or an Apple Watch with a compass or one that can predict my ovulation?

Because, as journalist J.B. MacKinnon explains in his 2021 book, “The Day the World Stops Shopping: How Consumerism Saves the Environment and Ourselves,” we can’t stop shopping — and yet we must.

“It is another of consumerism’s ironies that, although it functions like a mental trap, we often think of it as an escape.” A very misguided and expensive mistake — and one that I won’t make today.

I’m holding out for the iPhone 15.


Read this next:

Chad Blair: Look North To Alaska To Improve Hawaii Elections


Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.

Contribute

About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.


Latest Comments (0)

I had a Nokia 3010. It wouldn't die. I took it out into the backyard and beat it with a hammer. Later that night, it came back in the house and started ringing.

CatManapua · 2 weeks ago

Apple is doing what every successful company does to survive-advertise and promote its products. I don’t feel we should shame Apple for doing what companies do to grow. If they stayed stagnant, they wouldn’t grow and they may fold. They’re a hugely successful company and good for them! And I love it when they come out with new technology. It’s fun and I like to take advantage of it. Their products have enhanced my life. We’re lucky to have these tech designers who come up with all this great and innovative stuff. Like one of the commenters said, Apple isn’t forcing us to renew our phones every year. They’re just advertising their products because that’s what companies do to thrive. Apple also helps keep the stock market afloat which benefits people like me who have their 401K in the stock market. I need to have successful companies in order to have a comfortable retirement. And we can recycle our products responsibly.

MauiAloha · 2 weeks ago

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

Intelligentsia · 2 weeks ago

Join the conversation

About IDEAS

IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.

Mahalo!

You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.