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Will the "techlash" mean people actually buy less tech?

Molly Wood Nov 23, 2018
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Visitors check HTC mobile phones on the second day of the event at the Fira Gran Via Complex on day 2 of the Mobile World Congress on February 23, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.
David Ramos/Getty Images

This week, we’ve partnered with CNET to talk about big trends in consumer technology. To hear Twitter users and the press tell it, the biggest trend in tech is everyone being mad at tech. So we wondered if that might show up in the holiday shopping season. Are people worried about tech being bad for their mental health or their privacy? Will the “techlash” seriously affect spending on consumer technology? Molly talks about it with Lindsey Turrentine, editor-in-chief of “CNET Reviews.” The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Lindsey Turrentine: We asked our audience whether they were going to spend more or less money this year on technology. And 25 percent of them say that they’re going to spend a larger proportion of their total budget on tech compared to last year. I think the way to think about this is that the “techlash” — or the idea of people trying to put some boundaries around their tech usage — extends to services, but not so much the hardware itself. Because when we think about what we want to do with our free time, we’re really not going to be able to do it without using technology in some way. And most of us want the best hardware to help us do that.

Molly Wood: There have been some moves in the tech industry toward more mindful use of technology, though — that if you are going to bring a lot of it into your house, maybe you should be more aware of how you’re using it. Is that something you think people are looking for?

Turrentine: I do think that people are looking for that. I think that people are aware that they can start to use their products to help them pursue things that are healthy, maybe like meditation or exercise or eating correctly, rather than simply sitting there and doing what I sometimes call “internet fibrillating,” just bouncing from Facebook to Twitter and back to Instagram and back to Twitter. Interestingly, sometimes hardware can help with that. So I think people are faced with this decision: Is a Fitbit going to help me be healthier, or is it going to further pull me into this world? And, right now, at least CNET’s users are turning to technology to help them break away a little bit. And there is some irony there for sure.

Wood: It sort of feels like what we’re saying quite clearly is: Look, we don’t want you to take over our lives or ruin it, but we still want to have this.

Turrentine: Absolutely. And really what technology often provides for us is convenience. And so I think the industry right now is trying to provide a way to be conveniently healthy. It’s sort of like in the old days with passive restraints on cars. I don’t know if you remember when for a little while there were cars with self-buckling seatbelts. And the idea was the car is going to help you be healthier, or make a healthy choice, by taking care of it for you. I think we’re in the self-buckling-seat-belt moment with technology. And tech is trying to sort out how much of that passive assistance it can give you and how much of it you have to choose to do on your own.

Marketplace Tech has partnered with CNET to cover buying trends in tech, as the 2018 holiday shopping season starts. Topics on tap: smart home technology, the case for TVs and a surprising surge in desktop computers.

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