Sunday, June 14, 2015

Phones are newer and smarter ... this user is older and dumber!

I got into the smartphone habit much later than most in my circle.  I simply had no need for it--my old flip-phone worked fine.  My daughter was surprised; she thought I loved such gadgets.  I do.  But, when I evaluated the costs and the benefits, it just didn't seem worth it.

I finally made the switch to a smartphone.  I have now had that phone for a few years.  A couple of more generations of that phone have come and gone, but I am fine with what I have.  

In the US, most of us don't shell out the entire cost of a new smartphone.  Instead, we enter into a contract with a telephone company, which then provides the phone at a low price.  That remarkably low upfront cost makes the upgrades "easier" for customers.

With my contract, I was "eligible" for an upgrade a while ago.  I don't bother with that.  Because, I worry.  Unnecessary it might be; but, I worry.  Worry is all I seem to do, when I don't engage in sophomoric jokes ;)

The experience with the television set was tough enough.  I continued to soldier on with my cathode-ray-tube TV until the cable company's digital transmission started messing up things.  I then became the recipient of the daughter's gift!

I routinely force students to think about where their old smartphones end up when they upgrade to the latest gadget.  I have assigned essays, like this one, which then provide the context for them to pause for a few minutes and think about the resource consumption.  I practice--at least try to--what I teach.  Thus, I have a difficult time getting rid of my old smartphone even when it serves all my purposes. Last December, when I was taking photographs of the high school classmates who had come to the niece's wedding, one friend laughingly said "ever since the first time I reconnected with Sriram, he has been using the same camera."  Yes, it has been the same camera too for a few years now.  Just because it is old I should dump it?  I don't operate that way.  

I would suggest that you, too, think about those issues before you do whatever you do, especially if you are an environmental nutcase like me.  (Yes, shocking to you, eh, given my right-wing politics!)
It takes a lot of energy to use a smartphone. You charge the phone daily, you browse and exchange messages, you create tweets and Instagram posts that are saved on some faraway energy-guzzling server. Yet the biggest way to lessen the environmental impact of your phone doesn't have anything to do with how you use it, according to a new review
I have no idea why they had to do a big review to figure things out.  I have been saying the same stuff for years; oh yeah, nobody cares for what I have to say! ;)
All of that activity pales in comparison to how much energy it takes to extract and refine the dozens of precious metals that go into a smartphone. In other words, abstaining from replacing your smartphone more frequently than need be—and recycling it when you're done with it—may be the best way to make a difference.
"The current business model of mobile contracts encourages consumers to upgrade frequently, regardless of whether their current phone is fit for purpose," University of Surrey physicist James Suckling, one of the review's authors, said in a statement. "This isn't a trend that can continue if we are to have the mobile lifestyle we want, while still ensuring a sustainable future."

So, there!

I way prefer my clear approach to planned obsolescence ;)


Ramesh said...

Thankfully this is your problem and not ours. There are no contracts to subsidise cellphones in India. And we recycle everything - phones are always bought in exchange for the old phones which then is resold at very low prices to those who cannot afford a new phone.

Ditto, every other consumer gadget. We hardly upgrade our refrigerator or washing machine or even computers. They run, are repaired and run until they give up the ghost.

Of course you know all this, but good to rub it in :)

Anne in Salem said...

So when my kids complain about my flip phone (at least 5 years old), I can tell them I am being environmentally friendly?

I am constantly amazed at the "need" some feel to upgrade. I have a friend who can barely afford to pay rent but has a brand new smart phone every year, bought a new car even before paying off the old one, and buys new tech gadgets constantly. She never considers making do with what she has; she always has to have newer and better. I involve my children - especially my daughters - in my repairs in order to teach them the value of repairs and that girls can repair cars and appliances as well as men, but I fear the disposable mentality of friends and others is stronger than my influence. Next up - replace the ice maker in the 11 year old fridge.

Sriram Khé said...

Exactly, Ramesh. Without me editorializing, students understand that most environmental problems are not coming from the "poor" countries but from the rich countries--even the poor in the rich countries consume way more resources than most of the rest of the world.

There are way too many people like the one you describe, Anne. When college students, who complain about the debt, walk around with fancy smartphones, I worry about the misplaced priority. It is a lost cause anymore to even attempt to talk about this throwaway mentality :(

As the friend noted, at least here in Eugene, we have organizations like, who try to salvage every possible piece from the thrown aways ...

BTW, my fridge is 17 years old.

gils said...

aaarrgh...i typed such a big comment, decided to make a post of it rather :) my mom has a nokia basic model that she charges twice a fortnight. my google phone has a lifespan of 5 hours on usage which she never fails to remind :)

Shachi said...

What Ramesh said is true (about recycling in India), but all my cousins are always carrying around the latest smartphones and gadgets. Their #1 ask from US is a phone, no matter how many times I tell them that phones are available at the same price here when bought without a contract.

The husband and I have been eligible for an upgrade for a while now, but there's no need so we have not upgraded. With college goers around me, I feel its the parents who feed the children. Especially the rich Asian folks. Makes me cringe when I see them driving BMW's in high school and having all the latest gadgets at their disposal.

Deanne Painter said...

I just learned a terrifying fact from the FEMA introductory course on hazardous materials that "industry manufacturers alone in one year discharged into the environment (air, land, and water) about seven billion pounds of toxic substances". This is terrifying and now I'm reconsidering getting a new phone and how much I contribute to pollution with my own disposal of technological products... One of the hazards of learning I guess.

Sriram Khé said...

Ah, we are like-minded people gathering here ;)

Gils, maybe the answer is in ditching your phone and using your mother's phone ... hehehe ...

To paraphrase from the Great Gatsby, the rich are different from you and me ... driving BMWs and having the latest gadgets puts them in an economic level that is way higher than where I am (but still lower way than where Ramesh is ... hehehe)

Learning is way too dangerous for one's life. As I have often blogged here, teaching is, therefore, a very subversive activity. In the context of this post, yes, it makes us think twice about the gadgets that we buy.