After the recent release of the Apple watch, the new wearable has been praised and criticized in a cascade of blogs and reviews. Despite the fact that the watch doesn’t seem to possess any new, helpful functionality, it is still on the wish lists of many MIT students.
As a tech collector myself, I thought I’d be excited by the watch too. Unfortunately, I’ve been disappointed not just with the product, but by what its popularity says about our choices as consumers.
The popularity of wearable devices has been steadily increasing. As Samsung, Google, and now Apple vie for the hearts of consumers, there are still many other smaller tech firms trying to enter the market. However, not many of them hold any real breakthrough technologies. Most of them are platform-dependent or have similar looks, and none solve the pressing technical challenges of battery life and size.
Instead, the watch is a product of successful research into consumer habits and public attitudes in a focused effort to find new ways to sell products — not make novel technology. This reiteration of old technologies results in an accumulation of consumer goods that society does not need. Now, instead of trying to understand the specs and cool features behind these devices, our culture tells you to buy a new Apple product, simply because it’s Apple.
This is just the latest example in an unfortunate trend: more and more tech products are being purchased for their value as status symbols instead of pragmatic innovations. But the blame for this trend can’t be placed entirely on the shoulders of tech companies, and the only way it can be reversed is if we change our preferences as consumers.
Supply is a result of demand, and as consumers, we have no right to lament. Apple is simply obeying its incentives — supplying our robust and sustained demand. Yet this growth comes with a burden on already limited resources.
As MIT students, we have a unique perspective, standing at the nexus of the worlds of commercial and academic technology. We have a responsibility to make more informed and socially aware decisions. A purchase is akin to a vote. I spend my money on what interests me most, and I like to think of it as research in some ways too. Ultimately, I want to see these devices used in ways that might push away established systems and bring about more significant innovations.
So before you reach for your wallet, ask yourself, do you really want a several hundred dollar stainless steel watch that’s bulky, not waterproof, and has a poor battery life? Remember, every vote counts.
Shirley Lu is a member of the Class of 2015.