I buy quite a lot of stuff second hand. Particularly electronics, and CDs, DVDs, and (non-electronic, of course) books.
For a lot of stuff, I really don’t mind that it is not new and, in some cases, I prefer it.
I bought my eBike second hand, and because it already had some dings on it, I didn’t mind at all when I put a ding on it myself. I bought it precisely so I could take it on public transport, and that inevitably means it getting a bit bumped around. Of course, I want to look after stuff, but a few marks before I receive something can often be a good thing.
I can’t imagine buying a car “new”. And even if I did want to spend That Kind Of Money on something which I want to work but ultimately don’t care about that much. I definitely don’t want a car which is going to spy on me, constantly snitching back to its manufacturer. My (at least second hand) Honda Jazz doesn’t do that, but, as time passes, and more and more cars do this, the second hand market is going to have more and more cars which do this. I can hold off, for sure, but perhaps not forever.
I don’t (typically) want or need “new” in the sense of “the most modern”. My computing needs, for example, are pretty basic. A computer from five or so years ago still has a decent enough processor, 16GB of RAM, and good-sized SSD, and so on - it is absolutely fine for my needs. Loads of companies get rid of perfectly good kit after three or so years, so eBay has massive amounts of ex-corporate kit for really rather good prices. The money I spend gets me a far, far better second hand computer than I’d get if I spent the money on something new.
I also buy a lot of “broken” stuff, or stuff that just needs a bit more love than the current owner is willing or able to give it. Computers without working operating systems, for example. Often (but not always; I got burned with a Surface Go a while back) they are very easily to fix, and I end up with a great machine for the money. My eBike was sold as “broken”, so I got it at a massive discount on the new price, only to find that it just needed the tyres pumping up and a bit of lube.
Part of me feels a sense of “good” about buying second hand stuff. I like putting someone’s rejected electronics to good use. I don’t like the environmental impact of treating electronics as disposable items, especially not when they have just so much working life left in them.
But part of me also feels “bad” or perhaps “guilty” about buying second hand:
- I can, in most cases, afford to buy new the things I buy second hand.
- I like the lowered price, but I don’t need it. If I buy something second hand, am I taking away the opportunity from someone who could really benefit from it and who can only pay the second hand price?
- But then most of what I buy is not particularly scarce or limited. If I buy an Intel NUC for £65, am I really, in practice, depriving someone less well off from doing so? There are hundreds of them available. If I buy that 1980s sci-fi DVD on a whim because it is £0.50, is there going to be someone less well off actually missing the opportunity to watch it, or would it have gone back in the box, to be lugged around multiple other car boot sales before end up in landfill?
- Buying marked-down goods at a supermarket makes me feel more guilty, in this regard. I don’t want to see good food go to waste but, at the same time, should I be buying it, or should I be leaving it for others for whom the marked-down price might be the difference between buying something or not?
- Am I encouraging companies to treat electronics as disposable, because they know that people like me will buy it second hand? If there was no second hand market, would companies keep their kit for longer?
- Clearly, I, on my own, am not responsible for this, even if it were a thing, so it is more of a “contribution to a collective” type of thing.
- And I suspect that many companies do not base their write-down or kit replacement time scales on the ability to recoup some of their costs as second hand sales (they may not even get any of the money, if they’ve had an intermediary take the kit away and cleanse it before selling it on).
- Perhaps I am doing the opposite, and a thriving second hand market actually reduces production of new goods. But, again, I don’t really know.
- When it comes to books and CDs and DVDs, I’m unsure.
- If I buy a book second hand, the author makes no additional money. Sure, they made some money (typically, a tiny slice) from the original sale, but they don’t get anything from a second hand sale.
- I’m not entirely sure that this is a problem, or that, if it were, that there is a way of addressing this which is not even worse, especially as someone who is not enamoured with copyright law as it is, but, it does sometimes give me pause.
- But I like books, written by humans not AI, and if I want more books, well, authors need to make enough money. And me buying second hand when I could buy new means they are not making money from me from that sale.
- Older machines are probably not as power efficient as newer machines. And while I can afford the energy bill, and we buy “green” branded energy, perhaps trying to consume less energy should play more of a role in my decision making. But is it enough to make me buy a brand new computer (with all the energy that goes into making it, distributing it, advertising it, and so on) rather than a second hand one.