The day after my seventh birthday, I was on the bus to school showing off my new Sony CD player. I had moved on from my Sony Walkman cassette tape player to a new handheld CD player. I loved my new music player and never thought that anything better would come along. That was until the next new “big thing” came out, and I decided I wanted that. My Walkman and CD player were immediately forgotten in the bottom of a drawer.
I was always excited about new technologies but was hesitant to part with my older ones that I had become attached to. Each device holds memories that develop with its use, but the desire for new technologies overrides the fondness we have for the outdated ones. After a few years with my Walkman, I moved on from my CD player, and then to the new, chick iPod Nano. After only a few years, it was time for an upgrade. To make a ong story short, I went through four different versions of iPods within the next few years. Then, in 2013 I got my first iPhone and immediately even my newest iPod became obsolete. I could do everything on the new iPhone and had no further need for my other technologies.
Today, I am unsure if I could locate each of these music technologies that I used to use and love. All of my generations of music are now lying around my home somewhere in the bottom of a box. Each of these discarded items once seemed so appealing in its newness and ability to do more and more. In their book, Greening the Media, Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller discuss the “technological sublime” as a “quasi-sacred power,”[i] which draws consumers in with an attractive appearance and the promise of a better life.[ii] Modern technologies offer something newer and better, which wears off as soon as the next device comes out, yet society is addicted to the feeling of buying something new and life-changing. In The Digital Sublime, Vincent Mosco argues that people constantly give in to myth and hype surrounding new technologies because each new device comes a new promise of better communication, better connection and the ability to do more. We buy into it every time, no matter what the product.
The beginning of my consuming and upgrading music players was with the Walkman, a cassette tape player that was once a revolutionary product made by the Sony Corporation.
After being established with a different name in 1947 in Tokyo as a start up company, Sony Corporation was introduced to America in 1960 and began producing innovative new products. Sony was on the rise, creating products such as CD players, radios and a color television. In July of 1979, Sony made a stamp in music history by introducing the Walkman[iii]. Since the creation of this personal cassette player, Sony as well as other companies have introduced a myriad of music players to society, making this once revolutionary product seem ancient. Maxwell and Miller offer an explanation about why we are so quick to throw away devices once something new comes out:
…New technologies redefine the social and cultural relationships that earlier media helped shape… Old media cannot carry certain new content… they are displaced by new media delivering higher-potency versions of old content through new channels.[iv]
Today with abundance of new, high-tech products, older devices that were once popular are outdated and unused. The decline in popularity of the Walkman foreshadowed the overall decline in popularity and profitability of the Sony Corporation.
Despite Sony’s indisputably groundbreaking products in earlier years, the company is now struggling. In 2012, Sony experienced a loss of $540 billion in revenue from the past year. Their market value in 2012 was one ninth of Samsung electronics, and one thirteenth of Apple’s. In fact, they have not made a profit since 2008 because they had not had a hit product in years.[v] Sony tried to compete with the creation of Apple’s iPod, but has not made a competitive portable music product since the Walkman in 1979.[vi]
In an attempt to decrease spending and increase profit, Sony steered away from their electronics branch and tried to focus its efforts and money in their other ventures such as video games, movies and software. In February of 2014, Sony sold Vaio, Sony’s PC business, to Japan Industrial, which is a Japanese private-equity firm that buys units of larger Japanese companies. Sony’s spokes person said that the Vaio brand has a stronger presence in the business world in Japan.[viii] Investors and owners are making an effort to get Sony back on the competitive market and revive the once extremely profitable company.
Sony is just one example of a company struggling in the ever changing and modernizing media environment. Like me, the rest of the world will drop an older device for the newest gadget. My purchases reflect how devices and technology companies can go from being extremely relevant with hit products to becoming obsolete in a matter of years. This begs the question, what ultimately happens to these discarded items? They are either left abandoned or are disposed of. The outdated electronics branch of Sony is a contributor to the techno-trash that everyone has acquired over the years.
However, when someone purchases the newest device, they do not think about what will happen to their old one, but are instead caught up in excitement and hope for something that will change their lives. Greening the Media illuminates, “…that the tendency to regard each emergent medium as awe inspiring and world changing relies on recurring myths of technological power in the absence of acknowledging environmental and labor realities.”[ix] Society views the creation of new technologies in a distorted way. While they may allow us to do more, everyone is blind to the fact that technologies are material objects that harm the environment during their creation, use, and disposal. I now realize that I am no different in my thought process, and before writing this I never even considered what I should do with my old devices, such as my Walkman, CD player and old iPods.
Electronic waste has become a huge environmental issue. A study done in 2005 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that there were 1.9 million to 2.2 million tons of electronic waste discarded that year, with only 379,000 tons recycled, and the remaining 1.9 million tons put in landfills.[x] The electronic industry has a huge impact on the environment, and electronic companies are moving to make recycling programs to appease the consumer demand for better disposal of products.
In 2007, Sony partnered up with Waste Management and made an effort to boost electronic recycling by covering the recycling fees of their products. Sony and Waste Management hope that other companies will follow in Sony’s footsteps in promoting the importance of recycling. They hope that covering the cost of the recycling will give people more incentive to bring their old electronics to drop off locations.[xi] Between 2007 and 2011, Sony reported that their program had recycled over 50 million pounds of Sony products in the United States.[xii]
The Safety and Health department at Sony Electronics said, “We support the recycling of our products in the same respect we have when we create them, and our ultimate goal is to take back one pound of eWaste for every pound of product we make.”[xiii] Sony made a commitment to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to promote environmentally sound management of electronic waste through recycling products.
In 2011, Sony announced that they made it even easier to recycle old or unwanted products on their website, www.sony.com/ecotrade. It is designed to help consumers find the best way to trade-in or recycle Sony products for credit towards new products. The website has a drop-off locator, which shows customers the nearest recycling center where they can bring their unwanted electronics. The website is easy to use, and asks for your Zip Code and the type of product you wish you drop off. To test the locator, I entered the Tulane University Zip Code, 70118 and selected “portable audio player” so that I could see where to recycle my Sony Walkman and CD player.
The site came up with multiple locations, the closest of which is in Houston, Texas about 313 miles away:
If a location is far away, the website claims that Sony will ship your item free to the drop-off location for products that they manufactured.[xiv] However, this makes recycling old devices less environmentally friendly because the shipping process produces gas and the box to ship the products in create waste as well. I called Sony’s customer service at: 1-(877)-865-7669 to ask about the recycling program and found that they would not cover the shipping cost of my Sony product to the drop-off in Houston. I inquired about where the items go after reaching the drop-off location, and was told that they go to another warehouse in Texas. However, my customer service representative was unable to get in contact with anyone involved in that warehouse to ask further questions.
It is unclear where Sony products are actually recycled. It is possible that they are recycled in that warehouse in Texas. However, it is known that in some cases, recycling is sent out of the country to be dealt with. According to Barbara Kyle, the national coordinator for the Electronics TakeBack Coalition about 50 to 80 percent of electronic waste that is brought to recyclers goes to China and other developing countries. She does say, however, that manufacturers themselves are more likely to have responsible practices[xv], so Sony’s recycling may be better than this outsourcing.
It is comforting to know that as consumers, we have options about what to do with our “techno-trash.” Companies have responded to demands about being environmentally friendly with programs for recycling their products. It is important that we recognize these options and utilize them, but stay objective and realize that these recycling processes may be different than we image. As long as technologies are surrounded by myths, we will continue upgrading and buying new devices. We must learn how to keep the environment safe as our society keeps modernizing, creating new products and adding the outdated castoffs to the ever-growing heap of techno-trash.
[i] Maxwell, R., & Miller, T. (2012). Greening the media. New York: Oxford University Press. (p. 4)
[ii] IBID (p. 22)
[iii] Sony Corporation Global Headquarters. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2015, from http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/CorporateInfo/History/history.html
[iv] Maxwell, R., & Miller, T. (2012). Greening the media. New York: Oxford University Press. (p. 43)
[v] Tabuchi, Hiroko. (2012) “How Sony lost its place in the Sun; Drought of hit products and a lack of focus weigh on the electronics giant.” The International Herald Tribune. LexisNexis Academic. Web.
[vi] Zaun, Todd. “Sony Says Year’s Sales and Profit Will Miss Targets.” The New York Times. (2005). LexisNexis Academic. Web.
[vii] “Eclipsed by Apple.” (2014, July 12). Retrieved March 10, 2015, from http://www.economist.com/news/business/21606845-electronics-companies-japan-are-starting-turn-themselves-around-they-are-shadow
[viii] Edwards, Cliff and Yasu, Mariko. “Sony Said in Talk to Sell Japan PC Unit to Investor Group.” Bloomberg Business. (February 2014). http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-02-04/sony-said-holding-talks-to-sell-japan-pc-unit-to-investor-group
[ix] Maxwell, R., & Miller, T. (2012). Greening the media. New York: Oxford University Press. (p. 43)
[x] Richgels, Jeff. “Sony to Cover Recycling Fees.” The Capital Times. (2007). LexisNexis Academic. Web.
[xii] “Sony Rolls Out New Trade-In & Recycling Web Site.” India Retail News. (2011). LexisNexis Academic. Web.
[xv] Munoz, Sarah. “Electronics Recycling Starting to Heat Up; Manufacturers, Retailers Beginning to Provide Ways to Dispose of Old Gadgets.” The Wall Street Journal. (2008). LexisNexis Academic. Web.
Belson, Ken. “Sony Says Profit Tumbled 25% From a Year Ago.” The New York Times. (October 24, 3003). LexisNexis Academic. Web.
Eclipsed by Apple. (2014, July 12). Retrieved March 10, 2015, from http://www.economist.com/news/business/21606845-electronics-companies-japan-are-starting-turn-themselves-around-they-are-shadow
Edwards, Cliff and Yasu, Mariko. “Sony Said in Talk to Sell Japan PC Unit to Investor Group.” Bloomberg Business. (February 2014). Retrieved March 10, 2015 from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-02-04/sony-said-holding-talks-to-sell-japan-pc-unit-to-investor-group
Maxwell, R., & Miller, T. (2012). Greening the media. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mosco, V. (2004). The digital sublime myth, power, and cyberspace. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Sony Corporation Global Headquarters. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2015, from http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/CorporateInfo/History/history.html
Tabuchi, Hiroko. (2012) “How Sony lost its place in the Sun; Drought of hit products and a lack of focus weigh on the electronics giant.” The International Herald Tribune. LexisNexis Academic. Web.
Zaun, Todd. “Sony Says Year’s Sales and Profit Will Miss Targets.” The New York Times. (January 21, 2005 Friday). LexisNexis Academic. Web.