Upgrade culture is the idea that as a society we constantly need to upgrade our technology in order to stay up to date with the newest gadgets that continuously come out. According to Nick Barham in reference to upgrade culture, “The products that we surround ourselves with are designed or destined for obsolescence, not longevity.” This is true when considering the rate at which technology is upgrading, compared to the amount of new features included with the upgrades. According to Rosa Menkman she says, “The consumer only has to dial #1-800 to stay on top of the technological curve, the waves of both euphoria and disappointment.” It has become so easy to upgrade and get sucked into upgrade culture, because when other people have new technology and you don’t, you fall behind. Companies like AT&T even have phone plans that include upgrades to the newest iPhones, encouraging consumer upgrades.
Apple is known to be a big contributor to upgrade culture, because this company is constantly producing new models of iPhones for consumers. According to Nick Barham, “Even Apple got impatient with itself, releasing the 8 and X on the same day. No time for a 9, too busy upgrading.” It has become normal to hear about new iPhones coming out, and it is also normal for people to feel the need to buy the new iPhone, to stay up to date with changing technology. This year the iPhone 12 came out, only one year after the previous model, the iPhone 11.
One downside to the constant upgrading of iPhone models, is that people with older models would see that their current, non-upgraded phones were beginning to slow down when new models came out. This was confirmed in 2017 when Apple admit that “it did slow down some iPhones, but said it only did so to “prolong the life” of the devices.” Apple also suffered a major lawsuit of 27 million dollars for not making this fact clear to consumers. Also, according to Shara Tibken with regard to iPhone batteries, “When a battery gets older, it doesn’t hold a charge as well and can unexpectedly shut down if it’s put under too much stress.” Therefore, there were literal consequences when consumers did not participate in upgrade culture. Their phones and devices would become outdated, slower, and have a smaller maximum battery percentage as a result of the updated technology. In an experiment we conducted on our own we found that the maximum capacity of the battery decreases as the phone gets older (see pictures below). The iPhone 7 had 82% left, the iPhone XR had 86% left, and the iPhone 11 had 91% left. This proponent enhances the significance of upgrade culture and encourages consumers to ditch their old technology for the new technology, no matter how long they have had their “old technology” for. However long consumers have had current technology is not as relevant when it begins malfunctioning in the wake of new models. According to a survey of college students, 98% have experienced their iPhone slowing down when a new iPhone comes out. However additionally, when asked if college students would get the newest iPhone every year if they could, the majority said yes, specifically 56%. Therefore people recognize that with each model their current phones become less valuable, yet they are still sucked in to participating in the upgrade culture. Without consumers, upgrade culture cannot exist. People have to be willing to get the new technology, and improve what they currently have by upgrading to newer models.
Although, it is completely understandable for college students to feel the need to participate in upgrade culture especially currently, for a multitude of reasons. One being that in order to be relevant and productive in society it is extremely important to have the newest, fastest technology. Also, due to the limitations of the current global pandemic, technology is a necessity for education and other daily tasks nowadays. According to Deloitte Digital, “Before now, times were changing at a rapid pace due to technological innovation. Now, this is catalyzed even further by the human need for new services, solutions, and ways of doing business when in-person contact is limited.” Without technology it is almost impossible to get an education nowadays. Zoom classes are how most students are learning, and also through electronic asynchronous work. Therefore during a global pandemic where face to face communication is limited, it is almost inevitable to participate in upgrade culture as it allows for fast, virtual communication for students and others to stay connected even while apart.