Commentary: The iPhone 15’s message about mindless consumerism

People stand outside an Apple Store in Shanghai as the new iPhone 15 officially goes on sale across China on Sep 22, 2023. (Photo: Reuters/Aly Song)

By Mark Ko

When the latest iPhone 15 series was released, tech writer and Apple fan Mark Ko eagerly stood by to pre-order the phone. Then he changed his mind.

When the latest iPhone 15 series was released, many people eagerly submitted their pre-orders, hoping to receive it within a week. As a tech writer and enthusiast, I too succumbed to this temptation.

I vividly remember setting my alarm during my evening run to ensure I didn’t miss the 8pm pre-order launch of the iPhone 15 Pro on Sep 15. I frantically refreshed the page for the next 30 minutes, but the site crashed. Frustrated, I set my phone aside and went to take a shower. This was my first attempt at pre-ordering an iPhone.

An hour later, I decided to give it another try. This time, I managed to access the site, but I found myself less motivated to click the Buy button. First, the thought of seeing more than S$1,700 disappear from my bank account was painful. Second, my iPhone 12 Pro Max was still functioning perfectly fine.

In a world where “upgrade culture” reigns supreme and the latest gadgets are perceived as status symbols, one can’t help but wonder if we should give more thought to mindless consumerism.

I recall being 14 years old and badgering my mother for a Nokia 3210. I needed it, I told her. My social life depended on it – how else would I connect with friends. I promised to study hard and not rack up a hefty mobile bill if she got the phone for me.

When she eventually did so, I was elated. But I don’t recall keeping my promises to her – sorry, mum. The joy of having a new gadget also waned pretty quickly, a pattern familiar to many.

Money is Freedom?

We live in an age where some consider having the newest phone or any other cutting-edge gadget a necessity. But do we truly need these constant updates, or are we simply caught up in a whirlwind of consumption driven by the allure of novelty and social validation?

It’s often said that money is freedom. However, one might argue that our freedom, in this context, has become tied to consumerism itself. The incessant desire for the latest gadgets and the relentless chase of the “next big thing” have shackled us to a cycle of material dependency. In the chase for these, are we trading our freedom for fleeting moments of satisfaction?

In the days after the new iPhone launch, I saw joy on the faces of many colleagues who had successfully secured an order for the new iPhone. However, one week later, their excitement had dissipated. The new phone had become just another item on their work desks, another device used for communication and taking photos, in addition to taking orders from their bosses.

Weeks later, reports of iPhones overheating became additional stressors for my colleagues, turning them into slaves of their devices, eagerly awaiting new updates in the hope of making their phones better and surviving until the next iPhone is released.

This is where Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s insight comes into play, and I paraphrase: The unhappy person is never present to themself because he lives in the either the past or the future.

Our perpetual pursuit of newer, shinier gadgets keeps us perpetually focused on what’s next, preventing us from being present in the moment or appreciating what we have.

Filling a Missing Piece

Mindless consumerism also fuels the destructive cycle of production, consumption and waste. Landfills burgeon with discarded items, and our obsession with the “new” inevitably results in older models being discarded.

During the latest iPhone launch, what I witnessed was the cycle of desire and acquisition. These aren’t limited to gadgets – think of the long queues for when there’s a new opening of a Don Don Donki outlet, or the mad rush for Taylor Swift concert tickets – even for exorbitant scalped tickets on Carousell.

In the world of consumerism, it appears that contentment is fleeting, and the urge to acquire more never truly subsides.

This brings us back to the question of whether one truly needs the latest of everything, be it technology, clothing, or anything else, to find happiness. Or perhaps, there is something else missing in our lives, and these possessions are merely gap-fillers.

I have not yet decided whether I want to purchase an iPhone 15 Pro. It is currently in my cart, along with the money in my bank account. I will continue to debate with myself until I find a compelling reason to make the switch.

Mark Ko is a communications professional and a tech writer for

Source: CNA (12 November 2023)