Does anyone really need the much-hyped Apple smartwatch or iPhone 6?

Does anyone really need an Apple watch?

Does anyone really need an Apple watch? - Credit: supplied

Next time you’re about to reach for your smartphone, ponder this unsettling fact: more people around the world have access to mobile phones than toilets.

For those who risk their safety by venturing into fields to answer the call of nature (two Indian girls were raped and murdered doing just this earlier this year) to the millions of children who die from dysentery and diarrhoea because of lack of sanitation, it’s a very real danger.

For the rest of us it’s an indictment: as a species we value the text, tweet and constant availability of an electronic gadget over one of the most basic necessities for human health and dignity - the loo.

According to the UN, six billion people now have access to mobile phones but only 4.5 billion have access to working toilets. Of the 2.5 billion without a loo, 1.1 billion practise open defecation.

I’d been reading about this around the same time I saw a TV report about Apple’s new smartwatch (it also has a ‘new’, much-hyped iPhone). I watched, incredulous, as the device was unveiled to thunderous applause, a moment so surreal I had to pinch myself to check I wasn’t dreaming of some post-Orwellian dystopia where mass hysteria makes humanity worship useless gadgets while blinding us to the things that really matter. But no, I was awake and it was all too real.

I couldn’t help feeling despondent that some of the planet’s brightest minds are engaged in coming up with money-making consumer fluff that no-one actually needs. Imagine what these same minds might achieve if they turned their attention to something important.

All this chimes with a new book by University of East Anglia academic Dr Teresa Belton arguing our desire for evermore material possessions is symptomatic of a deeper emotional hunger putting the wider world at risk. Happier People Healthier Planet: How putting wellbeing first would help sustain life on Earth, shows how excessive consumption is contributing to loss of natural resources. Those with the least are already paying the price, Dr Belton writes, while consumers in the developed world are no more content. The book includes inspiration for living more modestly and finding creativity in the natural world. “If we address our deeper emotional needs, we will feel less compelled to acquire more, better, newer goods,” says Dr Belton. “This will be a positive step toward protecting the world for us all.”

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