Wireless headphones

I own a Pixel phone, and Google just emailed me an advertisement for the new version of their Pixel Buds¹. I will not be buying them because I’m virulently anti-wireless headphones.

Compared to their humble wired counterparts, wireless headphones are expensive, easy to lose, unreliable, and environmentally destructive. I understand that I have a biased sample, but the majority of headphone-wearing I see happens while people are working. Do folks really have that many problems with tangled wires while typing at a desk all day?

Probably not.

One reason people are moving to wireless is because they’re being pushed to do so. The features that make them inconvenient for users (like expense and ease of loss) are beneficial to a company selling headphones. So it’s no surprise that Apple, Google, et al., have been removing mini jacks from their devices.

The environmental cost of Airpods is well-documented², and the above rant is now an old one. But it’s worth revisiting in the context of degrowth. Apple and Google aren’t pushing these expensive, toxic devices because it’s fun for them — they do it because capitalism demands that, each year, they sell more crap than they did in the previous one.

I’d guess that a lot of scientists and engineers are turned off by the idea of negative growth at first blush: we like new things, new things represent progress, and progress is growth. However, there are more interesting — and important — scientific and engineering challenges to solve than how to make better wireless headphones.

To take one example, figuring out how to grow and distribute enough food to feed the world’s current population, while achieving negative carbon emissions and reversing topsoil losses³, is solvable but not yet solved.

¹ I will not be linking the product, sorry.

² Airpods Are a Tragedy
³ The Nation’s Corn Belt Has Lost a Third of Its Topsoil