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The Story of Your Gadget
A short in-class exercise to help students reflect and think critically about how many choices they have when it comes to their everyday consumption patterns.

By: Gill Seyfang (University of East Anglia)

Session type: Single session, Undergraduate/Graduate level, Small/Medium/Large size


  • Sustainability impacts

  • Consumption as habitual

  • Critique of rational choice

  • Personal consumption

  • Reflexivity exercise


Introduction to the teaching example:

This exercise is used to evaluate how we engage with the technology we use daily and how it either empowers or binds us. Students also learn what we know about these technologies and how much control we have while we interact with them. The activity starts with a conversation about how much agency in consumption we have and how much is determined by outside forces that we can't always control. 


An in-class reflection exercise called "The Story of Your Gadget" is followed by a discussion about our consumption habits. First, students write about a device they regularly use, such as their phone (or tablet or laptop) on a one-page worksheet. They are prompted to consider how they obtained it, who made it, where it was made, when they plan to upgrade, and their motivation to upgrade. Students are asked what other needs their phones fulfill, besides being solely used for phone calls. This may include maps, address books, study schedules, cameras, social networking, friendships, and more. 


Next, they are encouraged to present their findings and have group discussions. Following a brief period of time in which they compare their classmates' responses, we present the main conclusions to the entire class. These frequently show that common experiences and outside restrictions on our "freedom of choice" as consumers exist, and that sustainability considerations are infrequently taken into account while making purchasing decisions.

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