About · Press · Contact · Write For Us · Top Personal Finance Blogs
Featured In:

How Addiction to Electronics Affects the Environment & Our Lives

By Holly Mangan

tv addictedAccording to the Consumer Electronics Association, the average American household spent $1,380 over the past year on consumer electronics (CE), such as HDTVs, cell phones, video game systems, computers, portable music devices, and Blu-ray players. This translates to a $165 billion per year industry that is apparently thriving in spite of a recession.

Already this year, I have purchased a new digital camera, multiple external hard drives, computer peripherals, and a very expensive, high-end printer. It seems like technology is getting smarter, smaller, and cheaper at a faster pace than ever before. According to Moore’s Law, technology doubles its speed and power every two years. But judging by how often new products come out at Best Buy, it seems closer to every two months!

Environmental Impact

While having the latest and greatest electronic devices can be fun, necessary, or both, our addiction to having them comes at a high cost to ourselves and our planet. Enormous amounts of raw, often limited, resources are used to make these devices.

Moreover, there are intensive levels of energy and work required to design, assemble, package, ship, and deliver them around the world to consumers. Not to mention that millions of devices are replaced once, twice, maybe even three times a year by customers eager for something better.

This results in a large amount of hazardous household waste that is often irresponsibly discarded in the trash. When electronics are not recycled properly, the raw materials inside them leech toxic chemicals into the ground, spoiling both our water and food supply for decades, at least. For this reason, it is extremely important to recycle electronic devices in a proper manner.

Consumer Electronic Waste

To get a better understanding of just how big our CE addiction is, let’s look at some telling statistics about electronics waste in the United States:

  • In 2007, artist Chris Jordan created a 60″ x 100″ work of art entitled “Cell Phones,” which depicted 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired each day that year. That’s over 155 million cellphones per year that were either thrown away or recycled. Since then, the number has probably gone up appreciably.
  • In 2009, 29.4 million computers were disposed of, but only 18 million computers were recycled properly. This leaves millions of tons of lead, mercury, and cadmium to poison our groundwater and soil for years to come. Moreover, according the EPA, recycling just one million laptop computers can save the amount of energy used by 3,657 U.S. homes in a year – that’s how important it is to recycle our computers in a responsible manner.
  • Every year the latest TV technology, such as LED or 3D, and newly thin and lightweight models, tempts consumers to upgrade their equipment. And upgrade they do! Televisions and computer monitors account for nearly one half of all e-waste in this country, yet only 17% of televisions are recycled in a safe manner. Most are left by the side of the road for the garbage truck to pick up or even covertly dumped in the local landfill. But it is incredibly important to recycle your TV when you replace it to avoid poisoning the earth and future generations.

Minimize Environmental Impact

The EPA estimates that over 438 million electronic devices were sold in 2009, which is twice the amount sold in 1997. At this rate, that number will jump to over a billion devices per year in no time. That being the case, it’s essential to recognize the damage we can do to the environment and our children and grandchildren by simply throwing an old device in the trash.

In addition to recycling, if we’re able to use our devices longer, we can reduce the number of them produced, which will save vital limited resources and conserve much-needed energy as well.

electronic waste pile

Social Impact

Not only does our demand for electronics harm the environment, but it can also harm our relationships. I remember the first time I saw a cell phone. I was in college and another student’s phone rang in the library. She answered it and actually carried on a conversation while the rest of us crammed for final exams. At that time, this was considered blatantly rude. Now, of course, it’s almost expected.

Physical Health

But I love technology. I work from home and on the road. Without today’s technology, my lifestyle would be nearly impossible to keep up with. However, I see the changes it’s causing in our society as well.

When I was young, we played video games and had cable TV, but none of it was portable, cartoons weren’t on 24/7, and the games were light years behind those available today. So kids played outside and ran around a lot more than they do now.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, children today are three times more likely to be considered obese than they were just a generation ago. Perhaps this isn’t entirely the result of electronics devices, but it’s hard to believe they’re not at least a contributing factor.

Relationships

Still, it’s not just the kids. It’s me, and probably you too. If I have a spare moment at a cafe, for example, I’m probably on my phone checking email or looking at Facebook. How much do I miss by not simply being present in that moment and in observing my surroundings? Maybe I miss out on the smiles of the baby at the table next to me. Or maybe I don’t notice the attractive person whose eyes lingered a little longer than necessary. Or worse yet, maybe I’m with my family and I interrupt our conversation to respond to a text. Not an important text – just any text.

What I’m saying is that we’ve come to value electronic interaction over actual, face-to-face interaction. And that’s what we’re teaching our children. Sure, our phones, laptops, and other electronic devices are necessary for many of us in our working lives. But it doesn’t end there. It seems that especially in our down time, we get online to find entertainment on a screen, even when our family – spouse, children, parents – and friends are available to hang out with in person. Real people with whom we can have live interactions are getting passed over in favor of electronics.

But aren’t relationships what make living worthwhile? Don’t we dream of getting married, having kids, and spending time with friends? I don’t think that’s changed. We still love our friends and family as much as ever. But many people aren’t aware of the impact their electronic devices have on these relationships.

For example, maybe your spouse or child really wants you to get off your phone or computer so they can spend time with you. But instead of saying so, they get online to distract themselves from your lack of attention. Then, perhaps the next time you want to spend time with them, they’re already online, so you go to your hand-held device since they’re “busy.” The cycle continues and feeds on itself until we have a society that’s more tuned into their electronics than what’s actually going on in the world around them. Does that sound familiar?

woman upset video game

Minimizing Social Impacts

If you buy the idea that pervasive use of CE can take away from our most valued relationships, what’s to be done about it? First, discipline yourself. When you spend time with someone, turn the phone off. Yes, turn it off. If you’re waiting for an important message and must leave it on, then don’t interrupt a conversation to check your phone. When you glance at your phone while someone is talking to you – they notice it. They may not say anything, but it sends a clear signal: “What you’re saying to me isn’t really that interesting.”

Second, realize you can ask someone you care about to turn off their phone as well – or at least to not check their messages or email in the middle of your conversation. If you set limits for yourself and ask others for their full attention when you’re together, other people will observe this and recognize they can do the same too. It’s all about balance.

Consumer electronics aren’t “bad,” unless they compromise other areas of your life, like your health and relationships. So try turning the phone off, leave your laptop closed, and look around you. Better yet, leave the phone or laptop at home or in another room and enjoy your friends and family without worrying about any information or messages you might have online.

Final Word

Still, one has to wonder where our collective desire and even dependence on electronics has come from. Apple, for example, brilliantly markets their new laptops to make them look “cooler” than other models. I use an Apple computer, and I fall for it. Electronics companies sell us on this and the “cutting-edge” factor. Forget about high fashion jeans – what type of phone or laptop you have is more likely to indicate how cool you are these days. At least, that’s what those who market CE want you to believe. And considering the statistics, they’re pulling it off quite well.

We all want to be cool and will pay through the nose to feel that way. It’s no different from those who buy a new wardrobe every six months just to stay in fashion, or a new car every year. Except that buying consumer electronics may be even more expensive financially and can threaten our quality of life for years to come.

So are we addicted to consumer electronics? You bet, and the trend will probably continue. Therefore, it’s essential we realize the cons as well as the pros to our new-found obsession. Once upon a time, even smoking was considered healthy and that resulted in a national health crisis. Let’s not allow the CE trend to lead to an environmental crisis, or a cultural crisis in which our best friends are only online.

So enjoy your new laptop or phone, but buy, recycle, and use your devices responsibly. Let’s teach ourselves and the next generation to balance face to face time with Facebook and to remember that the graphics outside are still more realistic than any video game ever will be.

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Holly Mangan
With a passion for accuracy and a background in finance, Holly Mangan has found a home with Money Crashers as Managing Editor. Her office mate and constant companion, a 12-year-old pit bull terrier, barks his approval of particularly pithy phrases or howls admonishment if she works too long. When not scrutinizing articles, Holly enjoys hanging out with her children, as well as cooking, being outside, and not really being a wine snob. A treasure hunter at heart, she believes everything we want and need is right in front of us, just waiting to be found, and that the same goes for life as it does for editing - doing it well is all in the details.

Related Articles

  • Winston

    Yes, we are addicted to electronics! They make our life so much more convenient. Or should I say they are part of our necessities right now. Without them, we will go nuts.

    The problem with electronics is that they turn obsolete so fast. Bang, after couple months, there is a new model coming out. However the good thing is that your purchasing power goes up in consumer electronics compared to other things. What would 4GB of ram cost 10 years ago? Probably huge chunks of your salary!

  • Mac

    I know I am certainly hooked on electronics. I find myself always wanting and eventually owning the latest gadgets because I “have to have it”. Yes, I’ve got a iPhone 3GS, a large HDTV, and a few computers. Do I need them? No, but they sure help me stay connected and I don’t want to fall behind the cutting edge.

    It’s too bad that electronics lose value incredibly fast…it makes owning a car sound like a solid investment.

  • http://agentdeepak.com/ Agent Deepak

    We are addicted. In fact I am currently going to buy a new Digital Camera. I want a kindle to but do not have money for it.

  • http://livingoffcoupons.blogspot.com Michele Pierce

    Want want want. We want a Flat screen tv(but settled for a $50 model from Goodwill). Oldest Daughter wanted “the brick” but settled for the 8G instead. And now we have been drawn into the Wii world. Need a extra remote, more games, Wii fit, Wii Fit Plus, etc. Nah, were not CE addicted in this house.

  • Susan

    I think if you can at least recognize that these CE companies are manipulating you into “needing” an upgrade so soon after your initial purchase that is half the battle. Don’t give in! I love my iPhone but the older one I have does everything I need and more.

  • http://grandgiveaways.wordpress.com Mami2jcn

    I think it has a lot to do with wanting to “keep up with the Joneses”. Everyone wants to have the latest gadget out there, so that they don’t feel like they’re being left behind in the stone age.

  • Michael

    Yes, we are…We use Christmas to justify buying the newest gadget, etc. Every year I would get the “coolest” new electronic and 6 months later, I wouldn’t use it or even sell it. Then next year the cycle would repeat.

    I told people to stop buying things and sold my Macbook Pro that I thought I needed and anything else that I don’t use.

    I didn’t cut off all electronics, just cut them back.

    Although it still amazes me that I got an iPod one Christmas and by the next Christmas, I am using a iPhone and don’t use my iPod any more.

  • Kendra

    Yes, I think we are addicted. At least I am!! I love seeing what new gadgets come out. I would buy them all if I could afford them.

  • Gina

    I think that we are addicted to electronics. We all want something shiny, new, and fun with the appeal of possibly making our lives less complicated. Personally, I believe I have fallen into that trap and what I find is that the gadgets do not REALLY simplify my life. In fact, I think that I am busier thn ever thanks to technology!

  • Mike

    I think the addiction comes from how much time we can save with them. Unfortunately, the more time we save, the more new things we take on, leave us often spread too thin.

  • Connie

    At our house we are geeks. Right to the core. Me and hubby are computer engineers and the boys are following in our footsteps (mostly…except they are a whole lot smarter). We cannot get around spending more on technology. We all have nice cell phones (hubby has an iphone). There are 17 computers in our house, only 6 in active use but others there just in case we decide we want to play rogue on a 512k mac.

    We do spend a lot on electronics, but we don’t spend a lot on clothes or home decor or automobiles or maybe the other areas. And I get most of our accessories on ebay so it is pretty cheap. We can also fix most anything we own.

  • http://blog.budgetpulse.com Craig

    Yes, I love hearing about the new electronics. Problem is they come out so often now and still cost a lot of money.

  • http://blog.insweb.com Robert

    Yes. Americans love electronics. Personally, I’d love to leave it all behind and never use a computer, iPod, etc. But try to find a 9-5 job that doesn’t use a computer…

  • http://www.chasingprosperity.com thriftygal

    Well I kind of am the exception to the rule. We get teased about our old box tv, and even my own father has hinted why we still haven’t purchased a flat screen. The reason is that I really don’t care about something we hardly use. And of the top CE wants on your list, I’ve only really wanted a laptop and an iphone or smartphone. And I think all 3 can be consolidated into one purchase for my needs by buying a smartphone. You might say I’m missing out on stuff, but what I don’t have I don’t miss.

  • http://www.chasingprosperity.com thriftygal

    Also who says you have to buy the latest gadget? If you wait a couple of years, it’s bound to go down in price.

    • Winston

      Yes, you can wait three years for the prize to go down. However after that time, that thing is then obsolete. The newest gadget will be so much better than the thing you want three years ago that I doubt you will want it anymore.

      • http://www.chasingprosperity.com thriftygal

        Not necessarily! I get puzzled by the culture of instant gratification and entitlement displayed by my peers. Sure the older models probably won’t have a sleek design or be as compact in general, but are the differences/advancements really worth the extra cost?

        And it’s also not always true that you’ll end up paying more for a new design if you opt to wait. e.g.: the Iphone 3G was unveiled at a $200 discount from it’s previous models in 2008, and then further discounted by $100 last year to make way the the Iphone 3G S. The difference in technology (between the 3G and 3G S) is faster speed and vedio capture. Considering that the 3G Iphone is quite fast already, how many people would really benefit from spending more to get the newer gadget?

        Apple also cut the prices of its 13-inch macbook pro by $100 and the macbook air by $300 last year! I bet it was definitely worth it for those customers who waited :)

  • http://www.weseed.com Joel

    An interesting question. I don’t know about addicted, but I definitely think we’re too enamored with The Latest Thing. I don’t necessarily think we’re in love with the work they do for us — I think we’re simply wowed by the cool factor. That’s why Apple is so smart — their stuff is simply cool.

    Consider your standard keyboard-based smartphone. Is it cool? Mmmm…. kind of. But think about the iPhone. That is COOL. Apple has tapped into the fact that we like stuff that’s simplistic, elegant, and provides us with games, music, or video. A pretty strong combination.

    http://www.theonion.com/content/news/new_device_desirable_old_device

  • http://www.twitter.com/airplaneninja Josie

    I definietly think we’re addicted to CE. Just look at my house for example! We’ve got TVs, video games, computers, laptops, you name it. AND we still want more.

    Try having someone give up just one thing (phone, TV, computer) for a day and see if they can handle it. I can but it sure is tough!

  • http://www.singleguymoney.com Single Guy Money

    Yep, I know I’m obsessed with electronics. It was the reason for a lot of my debt in the past. Now, I save up and pay cash for my next electronic gadget. It’s sad but I’ve owned 9 out of the 10 things on that list. I don’t have the Kindle and no plans to buy one.

  • Anne G

    I think we definitely are addicted to electronics. My teens keep telling me they are the only kids their age who don’t have cell phones and ipods, and we live in a poor area. My daughter just visited her friend who lives in a small trailer and they have 4 tvs, including one in the bathroom. It is amazing how much electronics people think they need.

  • Elizabeth I

    I have a $1000 coffee maker. However, I do not have a cell phone (gasp!) and we just got a high definition TV after not having any television for 4 years. We have made 2,500 cups of coffee with that coffee maker. Economically it is cheaper than going to Starbucks. As for the cellphone, I stay at home quite a bit. I can only think of a couple of occasions in the last 5 years when I thought a cellphone would be handy.

    I do not think people assess WHY they want these items. Is it filling an emotional need or is it really a necessity?

  • http://www.yourfinances101.com/blog David/Yourfinances101

    Controlling our wants to things that we need is the key. In addition to shopping frugally for such items.

    Yes, I own a flat screen, but I bought it second hand for $175 two years ago–and it was a 37″.

    We own a lpatop (a second home computer) but again, bought on clearance. Retailed for $950 and we got it for $700.

    I think anybody out there in this day and age who has a need to be the first kid on the block with the latest gadget is an absolute fool.

  • Jennifer Phillips

    I know I am addicted to TV. I don’t own most of the other gadgets, but would love to. I know my sons with their video games, mp3′s, cell phones and all they have sure are. It is rather scary too when you think how many people actually think these are needs and not wants.

  • jeccica simpson

    I am always wanting the newest and best electronic item on the market. I say for sure we are addicted!! Trying to out do each other, friends, family etc.. who has the better phone features, biggest HDTV, and the fastest computer or laptop!! I cant keep up!! HA HA HA

  • http://www.artificialrobot.com Sean

    Addiction is a powerful thing with electronics for sure. I succumb every once in a while, but lately I’ve found just adding what I want to my Amazon wish list helps a lot. I add it there and then every once in a while I go through the list. If I still really want something a month or two later and I have the money saved up for it, then I buy it. Otherwise, I just sit back and wait for the next cool thing of the week

  • Anissa

    I admit I have a lot of things on that list…but I don’t have everything and nor do I want it. We are definitely bombarded w/ the idea that we need the newest electronic gadgets. I mean people buy quesadilla makers and pizza ovens when they have a perfectly good oven in their kitchen! The best thing to do is to step back and ask, do I really need it, and will I actually use it enough. I adore my GPS as I am not very good at directions and can’t always read street signs fast enough. But I know that an E-reader would be a waste as I love books and would get annoyed w/ the format quickly. Just because it’s a must have doesn’t mean I must have it.

  • Cathy

    “Addiction” has such a negative connotation…or maybe I’m truly an addict just trying to justify my addiction. ;-)

    Yes I have an iPhone, but it’s brand new as I didn’t get it until my 3-year-old WM smartphone died. I was already on AT&T, with a data plan, so it was going to be another AT&T phone anyway.

    At the same time, I have absolutely no desire for a flat-panel TV or Blu-Ray player. In fact, my regular DVD player died last summer and I’ve been just fine since. I also cut the cable cord and watch everything on my laptop. Yes, HD is great (especially for hockey games!) but it’s not enough of a “need” for me to dump my current picture-in-picture on my laptop. One window with streaming program, while another window with something more productive.

    Yep, there’s that justification excuse again.

  • Audra

    I’m not surprised at all and I totally believe the majority of us are obsessed with Consumer Electronics. I’m not so sure though that it’s a lust for technology…I think it’s more of a lust for what’s cool. Tweens want the phone that texts because everyone else is texting. The CEOs want the smack daddy air book because it’s got that new car smell! Hubby wants a tv big enough to be seen from space because it completes him. Now I’m just teasing really…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with technologically advancing as a society and using technology to advance our careers. Some of us buy pants so we’ll have pants on. Some of us buy pants because they have glittery sparkly rhinestones in the shape of someone’s stage name…and I suppose that’s the very thing that keeps an economy going.

  • william

    I am addicted to electronics. I just realize that all my life depends on electronic devices. My laptop makes me stay connected to the world, my video game console entertains me, my game boy keeps me entertained as well, my mobile phone is important and more recently my electronic dictionary…
    If one of those things fails, the whole system I’ve created will collapse!

  • anya

    I am addicted to the latest trends. Although, I do try to reason w/myself on why I want it. Other than my 5yr old
    laptop, I puchased a netbook about a yr. ago. It’s small and portable. I justified the matter, It controled my urges for
    an Ereader and portable gamers. I was fine for a while. This yr. after B & N lower their price for the Nook, I soon
    brought it. Don’t really need it, just that it is nice and I like it. Use it sometimes. So it’s Christmas. I’d been reasoning
    w/myself once again why I should have the Ipod Touch. Since I already had the Nano 3rd genration. Welll, ny
    thought was it has a great video camcorder, and other good stuff. I tried to fight it, I told myself NO. :)
    Well Bst Buys; had a good sale on Ipods, so I brought it. I don’t buy clothers, I do my own hair, don’t eat out like I
    use to, nor do i spend money on outdoor entertainment. I’m glad I have it.

  • Anonymous

    er

  • Anonymous

    test

  • Peterwiig

    Holly . . . you have really hit the nail on the head! Thanks – I don’t consider myself an addict, but I could definitely cut back and encourage others around me to cut back. Peter Wiig

The content on Money Crashers is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as professional financial advice. Should you need such advice, consult a licensed financial or tax advisor. References to products, offers, and rates from third party sites often change. While we do our best to keep these updated, numbers stated on this site may differ from actual numbers.
Advertising Disclosure: We may have financial relationships with some of the companies mentioned on this website. Among other things, we may receive free products, services, and/or monetary compensation in exchange for featured placement of sponsored products or services. We strive to write accurate and genuine reviews and articles, and all views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors.
Links monetized by VigLink