Upgrading the Shiny

Look, far be it from me to disabuse people of comfortable, harmless illusions.


It usually goes like this: “Oh my god, you are such a fanboy. I can’t believe you’re upgrading to the new [appleDevice]! You just got a new one last year, and it’s fine. What a waste.” Or similar. And the complainer does have some valid points. Conspicuous consumerism isn’t all that pretty, mindless fanboyism (which is rarer than most people think) is stupid, etc. etc. I don’t dispute any of that.

I do think, though, that people who take this line of complaint overlook something important. New devices (iOS or otherwise) present a relatively high entry barrier. Five hundred bucks may be a thoroughly reasonable cost for an iPad, but it ain’t chump change. But when I upgrade to a “new iPad” and sell my “old” iPad 2, I do two things. First, I defray my own costs for the new one. Second, and more importantly, I lower the entry barrier for someone else.

I’d have more sympathy for the complainers if “old” iPads (to take the current popular example) ended up in landfills. But they don’t. Apple hardware has always tended to retain value well, and the iPads are no different. I haven’t looked lately, but I’d be willing to bet the market for the original iPad is still good, and I know from experience there’s still trade even in the first-gen iPhone. These devices don’t vanish into the garbage-o-sphere. They step down to second-tier users who can’t afford the newest and shiniest. There’s a separate argument to be had about whether diffusion of consumer technology like this is a good thing, and as a technologist I’d say it is, but the old tech isn’t being wasted or discarded.

I can’t defend mindless consumerism, but let’s not overlook the good things that can come from the resulting secondary market.