Will We Need Fewer Gadgets in the Future?

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LAS VEGAS – Wednesday’s press preview conferences at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) unveiled a huge trend: convergence.

Jane Lynch kicks off the LG press conference

Jane Lynch kicks off the LG press conference while integrated televisions surf the Web. Photo: Jennifer Berry, Earth911

Essentially, the concept means that gadgets can do more outside of their traditional range of functionality.

The newly revealed, “smart” TVs from LG gave a perfect example of this by showcasing a platform that brings more advanced levels of streaming online content and Web browsing. Panasonic’s new integrated TVs host chatting on Skype, visiting Facebook and even tracking your fitness to the traditional television experience.

The ability for applications to cross platforms and functions across the spectrum will further this trend as well. Apps can also bring together information from multiple devices at once.

Cell phones are advancing rapidly in this area, with the ability to control the temperature in your home, start up your oven and receive text message from your refrigerator that you are running low on certain items (seriously!).

According to CEA research, 26 percent of consumers said that “Apps remove the need to buy separate CE devices.”

With e-waste continuing to be the most rapidly growing waste stream in the U.S., this convergence trend may  remove the need to own as many devices, and concurrently, reduce the amount of e-waste produced in the future.

But CEA Senior Research Analyst Ben Arnold sees a different twist on the convergence trend. “I would say the smartphone is the ultimate example of convergence, taking the place of GPS devices, computers to an extent, cameras, video, etc.,” he wrote in an e-mail to Earth911.

“What is interesting, however, is that for devices like cameras (video and standard still digital cameras) we really don’t see a bite out of sales because of this. Instead, we see consumers using the smartphone as an on-the-spot, quick option for taking pictures or video. I think this is because when you go on vacation, take pictures of your kids, or what have you, you want a good quality camera to preserve those memories.”

While convergence may or may not reduce the amount gadgets you need, the idea of buying smarter for your particular lifestyles sounds like a promising concept to reduce the need for the energy and natural resources required to produce them.

This is certainly not to say that purchasing gadgets is on the decline. Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of the PC Client Group for Intel said, “Today, we are selling 1 million PCs everyday – and it’s not luxury, it’s necessity.” However, future tech purchases may redefine necessity, as our ability to do more with one item continues.

According to Arnold, “The nature of technology and innovation means we are constantly seeing new products enter the home that are additive rather than replacements […] I definitely don’t think we’ll need fewer devices, I actually think we are finding places where we can use new ones.”

In the meantime, more than 400 million electronic devices will become outdated this year, according a report by e-waste expert Elizabeth Grossman. This makes our need to make sure we properly recycle our gadgets is more imperative than ever.

Visiting CES this week? Come check out Earth911′s booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall, Lower Level, Booth #25903 and download the Official Earth911 CES Kit.

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