In preparation for this article, I checked out some of the topics I have written about before when it comes to environmentalism. It is a good thing that I did: About nine months ago I wrote an article decrying the fact that I had had to buy a new mobile handset after only two years of using the previous one. Imagine my surprise as I sat there clutching the current mobile handset whose battery seems to be on the fritz. I was and still am seriously considering buying a new handset because work and life these days demands a certain level of performance from our gadgets.
But here I am, nine months in. Thinking of a new phone. This is beyond the pale.
I am glad to report that after complaining volubly to everyone in the house who would listen, some help came my way. I might be able to extend the life of this handset if I change a few things such as cables and outlets and usage and charging habits. Sadly, there is little I can do about the battery itself as it is built into the phone and probably not meant to be changed or fiddled with at all. This fixed battery situation is in fact what gave rise to the absolute fit that resulted in an article nine months ago. Did I mention it has only been nine months?
Earth Day is celebrated on of April 22 every year. This year it falls on a Thursday, and I was hoping to write something bouncy and optimistic about plastics and recycling and getting along and reducing our consumption of single-use objects. But my phone, you see. It is on the fritz. After only nine months. I am barely holding on to my temper in between the charging cycles. As I try to “meditate” by brooding out of windows and staring at greenery it occurred to me that there will be plenty of time to be optimistic in the next few months.
This article? This one is about forced consumerism, technology and planned obsolescence.
My mobile handsets live a relatively comfortable life. I do my best to clothe and feed them appropriately and they get screen covers as well since I made the leap to smartphones. I have a stable full of retired veterans that I treat kindly. Some people might call it having a “problem letting go of things’ when it is a simple case of waste-not want-not. I also happen to have a Nokia 3310 in storage, a valued and valuable gift. Vintage, you know? That kind of thing. So perhaps it is understandable that I can be slow to adopt new technologies including new gadgets and platforms and I get downright frazzled when I feel forced to do so.
Part of treading lightly on this one Earth we share is trying to buy things to last as long as possible at a reasonable price. Now that we can’t have household telephones anymore — technically you could, but who are we kidding — this has become an individual challenge. I don’t believe in giving tech companies too much money for all kinds of reasons including ethics, access issues and market “unreasonableness.” This has meant that what I do buy is sort of in the lower end of the middle performing phones. Good workhorses: not so expensive that losing one will make me sad, also too cheap to be worth stealing.
I didn’t bank on the manufacturers and the entire trade stealing from me in other ways. Such as stealing time: of course, nine months is a ridiculous amount of time for a handset to last before its battery becomes unreliable. Sure, I might have used a cross-brand or generic charger once or twice but this is surely no reason for the battery to stage a go-slow on me. This is not value for money, not even for the little bit that was paid.
As for general durability, well. There was a time when you could drop your phone face down in a Dar-es-Salaam rainy season puddle, take it home and dry it out for about three days and it would boot up and keep going for another three years or more. This was value for money. These days every phone I buy needs and gets a full suit of armour at my expense. By the looks of it I might even be moving into a straight up pocket-book situation. Maybe even a zippered carrier. This is also not value for money.
And so on and so forth.
In this situation, is it really in the interest of us all as consumers and as a species living on a planet with finite resources to allow ourselves to be bullied into these financial corners and concessions by the capitalist tech sector? No. I don’t think so. This isn’t even a problem that only environmentally-minded consumers are saddled with. We are all in it, more and more so as our handsets grow in functionality and therefore importance in our lives.
Anyways, happy Earth Day and Earth week to you. I hope you do your best and if this year that means making conscious choices about your mobile handset consumption, all the better.
Even if you can afford it, a new phone every year doesn’t cut the mustard unless you have very good reasons. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, certainly not the advertisers.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]