Time to reflect on junk products

April 25, 2016

After reading “Have you tried Junkfood.app” by Dustin Senos, I had similar thoughts on the subject that I wanted to share. Are we connecting or disconnecting the world with the new technology? Is it just a transformation of the way we communicate and what sort of transformation is it? Is it for better or for worse? Finally, why is it happening this way such that we end up with so many junk products.

Let’s look at the bigger picture and think about origins of junk food and junk tech. While junk-products bring some value in return, they compromise on quality. In the case of junk food the price is our long term health and environmental sustainability. However with junk tech, the price is often our time, privacy, security and control. Lately, we see creators shamelessly build addictive products that hook people like a fish in the sea. However, do we really want products that have such low quality? Or are we forced to accept them with no better option in sight? Why do companies continue to make such harmful products?

We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them. — Albert Einstein

These questions and problems don’t stem from the way humans prefer to communicate but in the modern economic system. This system promotes the production of harmful and addictive foods as well as low quality, attention seeking, manipulative digital products. If there is anything to blame, it’s the endless pursuit for more profit while often disregarding human benefit. This also has ethical and legal implications. Think about how many laws were broken in pursuit of the bottom line and to circumvent laws by bribes. Many corporations such as McDonalds and Walmart are a great example of this and are often sued. Unfortunately, most junk products can’t abruptly be replaced, as many people depend on them. Is it really the future we want to live in?

The Best Is yet to Come

If we change the broken system, we should be able to improve product quality and discourage the creation of junk. By removing the profit incentive, we’ll create a new system that values quality above everything else.

Is blaming the monetary system a real solution? The Venus Project presents an alternative vision of a sustainable new civilization unlike any social system experiment ever done. On top of removing monetary barriers, the project aims to solve unemployment, violent crime, and poverty. It also discusses automation of labor, over-population and a decline in stability of the Earth’s ecosystems. For this to happen it implies a straightforward redesign of our culture and social structure. Of course the project might not be the perfect solution but it’s definitely better than what we have now and its ideas are worth considering. You can learn more about it in the book “The Best That Money Can’t Buy”, by Jacque Fresco.

Earth is abundant with plentiful resources. Our practice of rationing resources through monetary control is no longer relevant and is counter-productive to our survival. — Jacque Fresco

I’m not saying that we can’t create high-value and sustainable products in the current system, but it’s certainly harder to do so. I think we as engineers, designers and makers should understand and consider a more ethical approach when it comes to building products. We can start with extending our human rights to our digital rights all while protecting our future. Perhaps with time we can regulate some of the current products while building better alternatives. At this point, I believe that we’ve tried to build far too many junk products and should stop and reflect before we make another one.

I invite you to think, discuss and share solutions to build a better future.