Friday, May 10, 2013

Disruptive Innovations

The other day I got a HUGE shock.

My daughter uses gel pens at school and her consumption of these pens is really high. Until recently I wasn’t paying much attention to her frequent sharing of info – “Mom, I’ll be stopping at the stationer’s to pick up pens.” It just didn’t “strike” me, until a few days ago when she asked for a set of pens and wanted “me” to pick them up.

Incredulous that she had a whole bunch of pens without refills, I asked her why she bought new ones instead of just buying refills? She didn’t know why and truthfully said, “I think because it is faster…” (as in faster to just go pick up a pack of 10 pens than figure out which refill should be purchased for which pen…)

I told her that we would do this the old fashioned way. I sent the driver to the neighbourhood stationer armed with myriad pens to get refills. He returned later and said, “There are no refills for the pens. Shop keeper says we don’t keep refills because refills cost Rs 6 and a new pen Rs 10, so people just buy a new pen instead of buying a refill.”

Honestly, I am still in shock.

When I see ten unused gel pens I only see plastic; plastic that we are unable to dispose off effectively from any city in our country. If our cities are a ticking time bomb of garbage, I would say, such plastic waste is definitely adding to the tick off!

A few weeks ago I read an article on a website about ‘Disruptive Innovations’. What struck me was how the rapid advancements in technology had actually led to endless and mass-produced products that are bound to go defunct in a short span of time. For example, the manner in which hard disks and pen drives have replaced CDs as modes of storage of data - from files to songs to movies, all types of files are now stored on these compact devices that have larger memories, are not prone to the elements (at least not as delicate as CDs are) and are also easy to carry around.

But what have we done with all those CDs that we had amassed over the last 1.5 decades as the next revolution in storing data? They’re still about, languishing in the innards of drawers or tables until their data is transferred to a hard disk and the CDs discarded.

Where do these CDs land up?

Heaven knows! Considering how our cities are completely inept at disposing even simple bio-degradable kitchen waste, I shudder at the possibility of millions of these devices finding their way into landfills and lying under mounds of other non-biodegradable e-waste!

And that is my only problem with innovation.

I know many people who think nothing of going to a store and buying the latest (read: technologically advanced) mobile phone, while quickly and quite unceremoniously discarding their relatively old (not ancient by any parameters) handsets, giving scant thought to where it would go when they dump it in the nearest dustbin.

I also know people who change laptops, digital watches and the like faster than they change their hairstyles.

I don’t have a problem with innovations – I have a problem with the attitude of consumerism they foster. Big companies spend unmentionable budgets on creating needs that seldom exist in reality – they only exist in the buyer’s mind, who grabs his wallet and waits in a queue outside the Apple store to pick the latest device that has a ridiculously minimal number of alterations in comparison to its predecessor, but is packaged quite as a ‘revolutionary’ product that our consumer cannot afford to miss out on!

This holds true for everything we use – including use-and-throw plates and spoons (I still cannot understand how people use them!) in parties “so we don’t have to do too many dishes”, to plastic buckets and dust bins to pens (THAT one is still a shocker!) and many more.

There can be no curb on technology. Heck, there shouldn’t be. But I do believe that we can adopt a consciousness that won’t allow us to misuse the resources available to us that will encourage us to consume less and thereby decrease our purchase.

Can we consciously stop clamouring for and buying things just because we have the money?

Can we adopt an attitude of satisfaction with the iPhone 5 and not run to buy the iPhone 6, which I believe is right round the corner, only because of its snob value and not much more?

Can we begin caring about the waste we produce within our homes and make genuine efforts to reduce it, and reduce the burden on our planet?

Can we stop using colourful plastic plates and cups and saucers and what not just because it comes cheap (because the reality is that sooner than later, these coloured melmoware loses its sheen and has, therefore, a shorter life span than your Indian and gharelu stainless steel)?

Can we encourage our children to look for means of recycling, including the gel pens, instead of merely buying a new set of 10 each time?

It’s not an easy task but if we want to not end up just like the movie Wall-E it is high time we said ‘no’ to innovations that have the potential for destruction simply because we don’t know how to dispose them!

Walk the Talk: I’ve known people who think nothing of buying a plastic bucket for their bathrooms because the older ones look, well…old. I don’t buy that argument because I have been using buckets that are as old as my marriage – and that’s OLD believe you me! (18 years this June!!!) And there is nothing wrong with them! All you need is the intention – to reduce, reuse and recycle!!!
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