On your marks, get set, buy! As the Black friday, consumers are in the starting blocks, traders are crossing their fingers and we are preparing, as every year, to go into ecstasies in front of this phenomenon which has come from America. But is there really reason to be enthusiastic about this festival of excessive consumption, revealing the complacent blindness enjoyed by high-tech?
Hailing from the United States, where the day after Thanksgiving traditionally kicks off Christmas shopping, Black Friday is now a major trading time around the world. In France, in 2019, nearly one in two consumers took advantage of the operations put in place for the occasion. This considerable figure, combined with a well-honed staging, generates year after year the same type of sensational reports and astonished comments, cleverly suggested by the real masters of ceremonies of the event, the manufacturers and distributors of technological products.
With the presentation of the new iPhone, Black Friday is the other major marketing highlight of the year for the high-tech sector. A few weeks before Christmas, the time is indeed ideal to push its latest innovations and grant discounts that are all the more attractive as they are also rather rare in this area. Capturing all the attention, technological products are the undisputed stars of Black Friday and its corollaries Crazy Week and Cyber Monday, of which they represent a quarter of sales.
Between the collective fascination they have with the phenomenon and their own promotional discourse, technology players thus monopolize the conversation around Black Friday, leaving virtually no room for questioning. However, this consumerist celebration would nevertheless constitute the ideal opportunity to open the debate on the heavy societal and environmental impacts of our digital bulimia. And there would be no shortage of subjects. What about minerals originating from conflict zones, like coltan from Central Africa, which we find in our smartphones? What about working conditions of workers sector, highlighted by the suicides at Foxconn? What about the trap of planned obsolescence and the non-repairability of devices? What, finally, about the uncontrolled growth of electronic waste (WEEE), which represents nearly 50 million tonnes worldwide?
Of course, the sector has no interest in allowing a critical discourse to develop that could call into question its model based on volumes (more than 7 billion iPhones produced in ten years) and a frantic race for innovation.. But it is striking that public opinion, usually so vigilant when it comes to food, cosmetics, cars or energy, is so anesthetized. With technology, the consumer seems to adopt the attitude of the three wise monkeys – “see no evil, hear no evil, do not speak evil” – and are bravely satisfied with only slightly more sophisticated marketing. than that of the automotive industry 50 years ago. The frequency of the processor has replaced the number of revolutions per minute, but we are similarly content with a vaguely understandable technical argument in exchange for a promise of performance, escape and a symbol of social success.
These beautiful, simple, hermetic objects, literally as well as figuratively, and capable of so many feats escape our comprehension. Glass? Metal ? Plastic? They are even made from materials that we are no longer able to identify. They have such authority over us, and have assumed such importance, that we dare not question them. And as in the glorious days of the car for all, their drawbacks are far too distant and (apparently) minimal to resist the satisfaction of “living with the times” and the reassuring certainty of not missing anything.
Finally, how also not to suspect a part of lassitude in this voluntary blindness? Cheating, doubt and risk are everywhere. Everything is suspect, everything is gangrenous … let us for once be allowed to dream of a future that is clean, smooth and efficient like a smartphone! Of course, the consumer is not invited to demystify the device but, above all, he clearly does not want to. But, if we do not open up a critical space, no alternative, more sober and virtuous model, will be able to emerge for digital technology.. Whatever the field, change never comes without pressure from crowds of consumers or voters. As long as individuals do not want to face the dramatic societal and environmental impact of the overconsumption of technological products, the situation will continue. And this is arguably the darkest aspect of Black Friday.
Vianney Vaute, co-founder of Back Market