The Blame Game

With issues that affect a mass amount of people, such as environmental issues, human nature seems to need to blame a specific someone or something for the cause of the issue. Because it is hard to prove exactly who or what has caused them, environmental issues usually evolve into “the blame game.” This blame however does not simply pop into consumer’s minds. Rather the media many times create and provoke blame through the way they present information and how frequently they present it.

The issue of who to blame is vital when it comes to looking at product obsolescence and its contribution to e-waste. Does one blame the consumers and their desire and need for the newest, often unnecessary, technology? Is it the government’s responsibility to get involved? Or is it the fault of the companies who continually create new versions of their products and manufacture them so that they will only last so long?

When researching the issue of planned obsolescence, one could be easily skewed to believe that it is the fault of the companies and is part of their business strategy. A simple Google search of planned obsolescence brings up articles with headlines that contain words like “ethics” and “designed to fail,” implying that the blame for e-waste should be put on the electronic companies and their business tactics.

The issue briefing book titled E-WASTE:  The Exploding Global Electronic Waste Crisis is a perfect example of the media’s placing sole responsibility for e-waste on the government and electronic companies rather than on consumers. This book portrays citizens as weak, textually and visually, with images of citizens being “consumed” by a wave of e-waste and words like “dazzled,” to describe how consumers feel about new technology.

The main image that this book provokes is the message that “… e-waste is a looming tsunami, already spilling over into our landfills and incinerators, with no end in sight.” And perhaps the most shocking thing for a reader is that this issue briefing explains e-waste as the “fastest growing waste stream in the U.S.” The article uses this metaphor as a segue into explaining how it is the local government’s responsibility to cope with e-waste.

This book only furthers to point the finger at the government and its organizations when it says that e-waste will escalade by the FCC mandating a transition to digital television. But perhaps the most powerful message this article shares about the federal government and its lack of concern about e-waste is the article’s bolding of this point: “Federal laws make it legal for households and most small business to throw most e-waste into municipal landfills. States are passing laws to keep e-waste out of trash.” The article clearly states who citizens should blame for the problem.

The article closes by saying that the way we can solve e-waste lies in the hands of the producers and their responsibility to recycle and to ban global e-waste dumping. By closing with this, the journalist is placing the issue of e-waste in the hands of the government and the producers and paints consumers as helpless and incapable of fixing the issue.

Electronic manufacturers are further blamed in the video The Story of Stuff and the article “Story of Stuff” Crusade Takes on E-Waste and Planned Obsolescence does. The creator Annie Leonard has a clear opinion that companies are at fault and that they make electronics that are “designed for the dump.” She believes that the companies know how dangerous the products they make are but they are just not sharing that information with the consumers.

Her solution to the problem is for companies to “make products that aren’t toxic, that last longer, and that have replicable parts.” All of these solutions to e-waste rely on the companies fixing their products, not the government or the consumers themselves fixing or changing habits.

By placing all the blame on electronic manufacturers, a reader or viewer is likely to be outraged and want to take action, which is most likely the point. If they were ill informed on the topic of e-waste, then this information would most likely lead them to be outraged with big companies and their practices, leaving them blind to the other entities involved with e-waste.

Their are many other articles that talk a lot about companies being at fault for e-waste and fail to mention consumers’ role in the process. One article however, titled The Light Bulb Conspiracy: The Story of Planned Obsolescence, based off the documentary The Light Bulb Conspiracy, more accurately reports the issue by putting blame on both the electronic manufacturers and the consumers. It is much easier to place blame rather than to assume responsibility. So companies and consumers tend to be informed on both points of view.

The Light Bulb Conspiracy is very unique in that its primary intention seems to be to inform readers rather than to form an opinion for them. Almost all articles are written with an agenda, and this article is no different; however, its agenda is to inform consumers and companies of how big of an issue e-waste is and give recommendations about the kinds of things they can both do in order to make it less of a problem and in the end help the environment.

The article says that, “the electrical and electronics industry needs to change from a ‘selling’ to a ‘leasing’ model.” And that “we (consumers) must resist our urge to go in for the latest fad or design, and stay off the treadmill of rapid product upgrades.” It is important to note that companies make new products knowing that consumers will purchase them, and that consumers need to do their research in order to learn what products will last and, further, to lessen their contribution to e-waste.

The issue of e-waste and who is at fault is a hot topic for debate. However, the media must take responsibility to cover all sides to the story and discuss what every player in the system can do to take action. Blaming one entity without considering other possibilities does not bring about reform.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by eva rendle on November 30, 2011 at 9:11 am

    This is a really interesting post. I think it’s human nature to not want to take responsibility for our actions, but blaming companies for this problem is not going to fix anything. Companies won’t have any incentive to change their products if consumers don’t demand those changes. You did a really good job of analyzing different articles and showing multiple perspectives.


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