Monday, October 8, 2018

The Pointlessness And Paradoxes Of Responsible Consumerism: Apple Edition

I woke up this morning and one of the first things I saw was this headline "Apple’s New Proprietary Software Locks Will Kill Independent Repair on New MacBook Pros."  

This is bad. It's bad for sustainability. It violates the "right to repair." It put small repair shops out of business. It's bad for schools, who fix computers at large scale, and people in rural areas who are not well-served by Apple's own technicians. 

I had one of those vaguely admirable but ultimately ignorable impulses toward responsible consumerism, and I started thinking about breaking my Mac habit. I had long been toying with the idea of learning to use Linux, as a small way bucking the consumer tyranny of the big tech companies. And I thought this could be the moment, the thing that set all that in motion. I felt the momentary warm glow you get when you see some disturbing news item and form some half-baked plan to Do Something.

To learn Linux, I thought, I might buy a used or cheap laptop to learn on. The only computer I have now is my work computer, and for all kinds of reasons I didn't want to use that one. Already my plan was going the way so many responsible consumerism plans go, where you start off wanting to save the planet and you end up buying something. But whatever.

To think about what kind of laptop would make the most sense for this project, I went to This great site not only has guides for how to fix things, they also rate products with respect to how repairable they are.

I quickly found ratings for phones and tablets, but they didn't have one for laptops. What they did have, though, was a link to Greenpeace's guide to greener electronics.

At the guide, I learned that no consumer electronics company gets an "A" for environmental impact. The only company that gets a "B" or above is Fairphone. As we've discussed before ("I Went Down The Ethical Cell Phone Rabbit Hole,") Fairphone is just phones and they're not even available in North America.

After Fairphone, the best company for environmental impact was ... Apple, with a "B-."

It's a testament to the power of consumer culture how powerfully it hit me that I might be able to satisfy my impulse to responsible consumerism by actually buying something I wanted. I could get a used Mac, and use it to learn Linux. I could even tell myself that this plan was most rational, because if I did ultimately shift over to using Linux all the time, having a Mac would allow me to access the documents I've created in software like Pages, which is Mac only. 

I went to the Apple website to check out what refurbished laptops they had. The have no refurbished MacBook Airs available -- probably because these are affordable and reliable and everyone wants one. What they do have is MacBooks, the fancy high end super thin no-ports machine. I had wanted a MacBook when they came out. Hmmm...

I don't know what to say about the ridiculous of starting with an I'll-show-you-Apple Mac-avoidance plan and ending with MacBook shopping, except that it doesn't feel like a one-off to me. It feels sort of like an experience I have all the time.

I guess the moral of the story is that when you live in a society where people are paid millions to convince you that shopping is the answer to your problems, you tend to think that shopping is the answer to your problems.