“Wants versus needs. There are actual needs, and there are arbitrary wants. The most basic needs you as a human require for survival are oxygen, water, food, clothing and shelter. Anything beyond those are “wants”~ Anonymous
Last week Tristan and I were talking about how – as a teenager – he had a cell phone, but never (and I mean NEVER) used it; and since this was the case, I queried why he had it in the first place. He said “Because I wanted to fit in with the other kids”… To be perfectly honest, his reply both shocked and saddened me; in fact, it actually broke my heart a little bit. Here’s a young, very shy person who – despite dealing everything else he’s up agains in life – didn’t feel worthy enough to have friends or peers unless he had the commonality of a cel phone. And since Tristan can barely use his hands, he wouldn’t have been able to use a phone the way other teenagers do anyway, so it would have been more of an accessory than an communication vessel… how ironic. And how maddening that it’s come to this, not just for T, but for people in general.
These days, society is bombarded with all kinds of messages suggesting if we don’t have the latest, most up-to-date technologies, then by society’s “standards” we’re not good enough or cool enough to fit in with the masses – regardless “who we are” as people. You know the ads I’m talking about: Happy, shiny college students comparing “notes” on their tablets, uber-hip people in the back of cabs making reservations on iPhones as they are heading to a club on Saturday night, or – my personal favourite – they guy who puts down his basketball, and sits court side (in a park, on a sunny day) to watch a movie on his “device”! Really? Are you kidding me?
Or how about this bit of wireless propaganda from Bell: Are we meant to believe that a few photos from friends (sent on an iPhone of course!) will make this chick’s month of darkness a less bearable sentence? If this were a realistic scenario, the “shack” would be much bigger, better insulated, and probably littered with empty whiskey bottles and crumpled chip bags; and I’m also guessing the gal would look less like a pop star and more like a Sasquatch; heck, she may actually even NEED to wear gloves whilst snapping those instagram photos outside in the -40 degree arctic cold, right?
But since none of these images are sexy, or remotely sell mobile services, instead Bell gives us this quaint – yet massively bogus – scenario instead, complete with an inspiring soundtrack to tug at our hearts, and make us believe that wifi makes every situation as cosy as a cup of hot chocolate. Incidentally in real life, the soundtrack for this scenario would sound like a high pitched whistling wind, one so cold it’d bring a frostbite so cold the skin would burn right off her face – but again, that ain’t sexy. Check it out:
Besides the fact that none of this technology even existed twenty years ago, (and yet somehow we survived) there’s another aspect to this phenomenon that is slowly sucking the life blood out of a lot of folks. Let’s face it: Folks today view technology as a “need” versus a “want” – end of story. However, I believe that besides being a very expensive “need”, there’s another – and far more serious – toll it’s taking on society, especially for our kids and young adults… I’ll even go as far as saying that unless people (especially parents) take time to consider the ramifications of these various “tech” habits, chances are they’ll wind up paying a lot more than just a hefty bill each month. Here’s what I mean:
Let’s start with the obvious: The massive financial hit all these gadgets have on our wallets – take phones for instance. Most people seem to have one today, including eight year old kids and those who deem themselves “homeless”; I’m not kidding, we see this everyday here in Victoria. And unless you are fortunate enough to have a job that provides you with a phone, chances are pretty good you are looking at a monthly bill of anywhere between $60 – $100 for the privilege of “being connected” 24/7 to everyone else. This monthly fee nets out to around $720 or $1,200 per annum, (in after-tax dollars of course) which is a fair bit of change for anyone to shell out. Now let’s be fair here – if you have an good income*, this is a fairly easy amount to manage from your monthly budget, right? *Question: What’s a “good” income these days?
If by chance you ARE in a higher than average income bracket, your iPhone is probably provided by your employer, therefore you don’t need to worry what it costs, right? I know for most of my career, this was the case – in fact, the ONLY cel phone I ever paid for was the one I briefly had in my car, way back in the early 90’s… and once I got the first bill, I took it out. The point is this: For those who don’t get a free phone with our job, the cost of buying/operating one is a big chunk of our take-home pay. Case in point:
Last summer when I was grabbing a bite of lunch at McDonalds, the teenage girl serving me commented that she had the same iPhone as me and told me that she just “loved it!” (Note: McDonalds doesn’t provide counter people with phones for their jobs) Since I was the only customer at the time, she excitedly pulled it out to show me not just the phone, but also the customized pink “jewel encrusted” case she’d bought for it. She explained how this phone (iPhone 4 at the time) was awesome, and super convenient for her to text her friends, send photos, get on Facebook etc. etc.
The whole time she was talking, all I could think about was “Why the hell would a 16 year old minimum-wage earner spend such a large chunk of their income on a phone?” but who am I kidding? The answer is right there, in front of all of us, 24/7 every time we look at YouTube, Facebook, the side of any bus, in the malls and for six projected advertisements before any theatre movie… it’s status. It’s to fit in. It’s to “stay connected” with friends. It’s why Tristan felt like an outsider unless he could have one strapped to his wheelchair.
As grown adults in our 30’s 40’s and beyond, we should know the difference between “needs” and “wants”; especially if we are putting roofs over heads, (need) food on tables (need) or paying off hefty car loans… (want? need? You decide) But to youngsters growing up in a society where they believe they “need” to have a phone or they aren’t worthy of having friends, or are less of a cool person without one, it’s a dangerous message to send – a message that is setting them up for a life of false expectations, and poor money management skills. I can only imagine what’s going to happen to the McDonalds counter person when she has to eventually pay for those things for herself; will she choose to (a) go in debt to keep her status and data plan going, or (b) give it all up so she can keep finances in check, and stay out of debt? Having been “trained by society” to “need” a phone, we all know the answer; and it’s the wrong one.
I’m harping on phones, but they aren’t the only culprits; the same applies to any technology that creates social stigmas for those without it, and creates poor, or non-existent social habits for those who do. For example, rather than teaching their kids how to read, or play, or converse amongst one another,how many parent’s use iPads as permanent babysitters for their kids of all ages? It’s true: “Go play on your iPad” had become a common part of many parent’s vernacular, and is not without it’s long reaching (social) ramifications. Even worse, who the hell would upload said videos onto YouTube to show the world just what bad parenting really looks like? Oh yeah; this person would:
As mentioned, having iPhones and iPads these days is seen as the expectation; “a need” rather than the exception “a want”, and (in my opinion) this perspective is creating frightening consequences for today’s society. Our kids are growing up without any concept of the cost, and worse – they don’t realize the valuable skills they aren’t developing as a result, not to mention the $600 per year internet charge that makes it this stuff work. Spending $100 here and $100 there is like a bucket of water with a small leak in the bottom; the contents slowly drip, drip, drip out until the bucket is eventually empty, and the water – or money – is all gone…
What’s the point in having 645 friends on Facebook, many of whom “like” your posts if in real life you have no tangible, “take-a-bullet-for-ya” kind of friends? What’s the point in getting a phone to “fit in” and stay “connected” (LOL!) with all the other people who have phones so that they can also “fit in” and stay connected to people they barely know? What if we all got rid of our cellphones and tried talking to each other instead? Having lunch? Taking our kids to the park? Playing board games together? What if we all took the time to realize that most of our technology is a “want”, and that it’s our need to love, connect and contribute that is the “need”…? What if…?
And just to be clear, I’m not saying DON’T have a phone, iPad, or computer – I’m saying recognize their place and purpose, and don’t let them dictate how you live your life – because regardless of what we think, 98% of the time these things are “wants”, and not “needs”… just ask this woman…
My rant is over; but I’m glad I said it; I hate that fact that just like Tristan, other kids feel bad about themselves, or left out of the crowd, just because they don’t have a phone to share selfies on… you know what I mean?