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Is it really time to upgrade your mobile phone?
August 7, 2006 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Dead Ringers: the Science Museum asks us the question "should we upgrade our mobile phone?" "No" and "no" say the Times and the Observer, but we still do: on average every 18 months. What's the problem? Well it isn't just the lead, arsenic, beryllium and brominated fire-retardant cases (pollutants all) disappearing into our land fills (which are not covered by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive [WEEE] in Europe). Coltan also goes into our phones. It occurs mainly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and as such our demand for upgrades has been contributing to a war (despite mobile phone companies' claims to the contrary, coltan is not regulated like timber). If we must upgrade, we can at least recycle or hack our old phones.
posted by nthdegx (49 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have two old cell phones that I had slated to donate to a battered women's support group (cell phones have to allow 911 calls, even if they do not have a service contract). The last links were so cool that to my horror, I actually considered keeping one for experimentation. I think I will just buy a broken phone to play with. Excellent post.
posted by figment of my conation at 12:25 PM on August 7, 2006


Whoah. Blood phones. "Conflict phones", as it were. When can we start getting overpriced coltan from Canada?
posted by gurple at 12:26 PM on August 7, 2006


Upgrading is occasionally needed. I recently got a new phone because my old cell phone was SO old that it did not work half the time, got very little reception, etc. It was literally outdated... I forget the reason, but it was something about how all the towers no longer worked the same. I do know people that change phones more often than they upgrade their computer components though.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2006


There's no blood on my hands. (At least, none of the phone variety. I am wearing socks knitted by baby seals.)
posted by pracowity at 12:44 PM on August 7, 2006


Another problem is the phone companies make it as difficult as they can to reuse old phones. Newer phones add "cool" features that the phone companies make money from — charging you for taking pictures, sending messages, browsing the web, etc. There's no profit in recycling; it's someone else's problem.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:46 PM on August 7, 2006


I just wish someone made big phones. I know that small is hip, and for those people who don't carry a bag that could contain the gross output of a small nation, a pocket size phone is probably fabu. But for me, I want my 1995 size phones back. It was about the size of the little flippy things that old Star Trek characters had. That was perfect. I want a big phone. And a jet pack. And a flying car.
posted by dejah420 at 12:55 PM on August 7, 2006


Holy shit. ----->

Must be 50% off all tags day. Did this post really need 20 tags?

Moving on.

Upgrading cell phones is an ingrained part of the activity... witness Verizon's "New Every 2" plan... of which I've taken advantage of at least twice.

New cell phones are discounted so much as to be almost free... and actually free in some cases.

I see it as no different than upgrading anything else. How many computers/cars/tvs/toasters/microwaves/photocopiers/printers/beardtrimmers are upgraded that are still technically functional?

Just because something still works, does not mean it still "works" for its intended purpose. Of course it matters if your intended purpose for a cell phone is "only in emergencies" or "virtual office extension".
posted by Ynoxas at 1:01 PM on August 7, 2006


"Did this post really need 20 tags?"

Yo. Didn't know too many tags could be a bad thing. They all struck me as relevant/useful. I'm happy to hear why it's a bad thing, though, and then I'll consider using fewer in the future.
posted by nthdegx at 1:18 PM on August 7, 2006


I'm still using my near pre-historic Sony CMD Z7 which I still reckon is a better shape than a lot of modern phones. Sadly after 5 odd year of use its really starting to show its age - peripherals get harder to buy - when my last charger broke it took me a week to find a replacement - now even ebay doesn't have them - and its starting to become somewhat eccentric in its operation. Even the screen gets hard to read with 5 years of dust trapped in the case. It may not be long for this world...

Sadly its not in the interests of mobile phone companies to make a quality lasting product - their turnover requires people to replace their phones regularly. Its rather reminds me of this.
posted by prentiz at 1:36 PM on August 7, 2006


Do I get the moral high ground here for never having owned a cell phone?
posted by ddf at 1:36 PM on August 7, 2006


I found a convenient reason to upgrade: I destroyed my old phone by taking it surfing. That salt water is great for completely wrecking electronic equipment, let me tell you.
posted by mullingitover at 1:45 PM on August 7, 2006


i just give my old phones to people who have shittier, older ones. i guess i'm indirectly contributing to the problem if we assume they throw their phones away.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 1:54 PM on August 7, 2006


Do I get the moral high ground here for never having owned a cell phone?

Ironically, you'd have fewer dropped calls.
posted by hal9k at 2:01 PM on August 7, 2006


When my last phone croaked--wouldn't take a charge, even, and boy, was I done trying to deal with Motorola--I didn't know what the hell to do with the useless lump. Then a friend mentioned that he needed a prop cell phone for the play he was performing in. Perfect! And now lumpphone lives a new life on the stage.

What a great story! Don't ever tell it again, Skot.
posted by Skot at 2:03 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Another problem is the phone companies make it as difficult as they can to reuse old phones.

In what way?
posted by Olli at 2:15 PM on August 7, 2006


Yup, more tags is good, as long as they're relevant, which they are. There is no tag quotum, we can use as many as we like a day.

Interesting post, thanks.
posted by fvw at 2:26 PM on August 7, 2006


Who is Coltan?
posted by snofoam at 2:31 PM on August 7, 2006


Meanwhile, Cingular customers will soon be penalized for not upgrading. NPR story here.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:38 PM on August 7, 2006


Actually, what I've read is that Coltan production actually helped elevate a lot of people up from poverty. That was some years ago. Coltan isn't used in phones, tantilum (and tantilum oxide) is, which comes from Coltan.
posted by delmoi at 2:44 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


I've only gotten a new phone when my old ones died. Fucking Motorolla phones are absolute garbage. My Nokia on the other hand lasted two years before finally losing the ability to charge. The Moto just degraded and degraded, minor problem after minor problem (and someone else with the same model had other problems). Just garbage garbage garbage.
posted by delmoi at 2:46 PM on August 7, 2006


what dejah said about the size of phones. Some of us have big hands, not-so-keen-anymore eyesight, don't mind a bit of heft, and miss those big ol' bricks with the adult-sized buttons.

I told my boss I don't want a Blackberry unless I get a pencil to use for the buttons and a magnifying glass to read the display.
posted by pax digita at 2:54 PM on August 7, 2006


Oh yeah, and..."You kids get off my lawn!"
posted by pax digita at 2:55 PM on August 7, 2006


I am Coltan, destroyer of Worlds! Hail and welcome your new Overlord!
posted by nyxxxx at 3:03 PM on August 7, 2006


Zoltan.
posted by blacklite at 3:08 PM on August 7, 2006


Which brings me to the "do we really, really need cell phones?". I know there are lots of good reasons for having them but the total cost of ownership is much higher than most people want to admit. Just say no, folks.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:16 PM on August 7, 2006


Do we really, really need [TV, video games, baseball, pizza, hang gliding, Paris Hilton, Norway, civilization...]?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:20 PM on August 7, 2006


Do I get the moral high ground here for never having owned a cell phone?
posted by ddf at 4:36 PM EST on August 7 [+] [!]


I've only met one person whose ever owned a cell phone. Most of them are ghost-leased.
posted by juiceCake at 3:29 PM on August 7, 2006


I have a prepaid cell phone. I know exactly what the TCO is. It's acceptable. I pay it, up front, every month or so. It's really not that bad.

Wondering if we really need cell phones seems about as useful as asking if we really need this whole internet thing. (Or, what IRFH said.)
posted by blacklite at 3:29 PM on August 7, 2006


How odd. Because I get paid to turn in my old 'phone when I upgrade, I'd always assumed the 'phone company refurbished and resold the old model or recycled its components. Seems very odd that they pay me money for the old one, give me a new one for free, and then just chuck out the old one.
posted by jack_mo at 3:41 PM on August 7, 2006


juiceCake writes "I've only met one person whose ever owned a cell phone. Most of them are ghost-leased."

Is this a Canadian thing? In the US, at least, you buy a phone.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:42 PM on August 7, 2006


Coltan, as Wikipedia will confirm, is an ore of niobium and tantalum. Tantalum's main use is in tantalum capacitors. Such capacitors are used in all kinds of electronics; any problem is not specific to cell phones.

That said, I'm happy with my over-2-year-old phone, and I'm not eager to send it to a landfill while it's working and meeting my technological needs.
posted by musicinmybrain at 4:22 PM on August 7, 2006


I've only met one person whose ever owned a cell phone. Most of them are ghost-leased

What is "ghost leased"? I have a phone from bell canada, that was free with a 2 year contract, and still own it even though the contract is up & I'm doing pay as you go. I can get another super spiffy upgraded phone for free if I take out another contract, which is probably why so many people keep upgrading with wild abandon. I'm using mine until it dies, I don't need no stinking upgraded doodads if that leads to landfill badness.
posted by zarah at 4:26 PM on August 7, 2006


Reminder: The reason they want you to upgrade your phones are so *they don't have to reel them in if'n'when they need to upgrade the network*.
posted by baylink at 4:47 PM on August 7, 2006


Fucking Motorolla phones are absolute garbage.

Couldn't agree more. Mine has conked out on me more times than I care to count.

Whether I need a cell phone or not 8212; depends, I guess, on what you mean by "need." I commute long distances and find that I need one to communicate to my other half about where I am on the road. In olden times I would have been content with using a pay phone but the pay phone is rapidly vanishing from the American landscape. Whether I need it for anything else, I suppose, is debatable. I haven't got much fondness for phones, cell or land, in the first place.
posted by blucevalo at 4:50 PM on August 7, 2006


Damn that .
posted by blucevalo at 4:51 PM on August 7, 2006


No one gives a damn about all the wars that the industrialized world finances through the purchasing of diamonds; why would they give a damn about coltan?
posted by clevershark at 5:02 PM on August 7, 2006


doctor_negative writes "Which brings me to the 'do we really, really need cell phones?'."

Do we really need MeFi? Computers? More than one room for every two persons in a dwelling?
posted by clevershark at 5:04 PM on August 7, 2006


prentiz writes 'I'm still using my near pre-historic Sony CMD Z7 which I still reckon is a better shape than a lot of modern phones...'

My favourite phone ever was the Z5. Much better than the huge plasticy Z7 :P
posted by blag at 5:57 PM on August 7, 2006


What is "ghost leased"?

Well, you answer your own question:
I have a phone from bell canada, that was free with a 2 year contract, and still own it even though the contract is up & I'm doing pay as you go.

Try owning that phone without the contract. Just buy it outright, without a contract. I should have said lease to own though. I see that now and apologize for the confusion.

I can get another super spiffy upgraded phone for free if I take out another contract, which is probably why so many people keep upgrading with wild abandon.

You sure can. But try getting an upgraded phone for free without the contract. You might notice that it's considerably more than free.

I'm using mine until it dies, I don't need no stinking upgraded doodads if that leads to landfill badness.

That's great. We're all individuals with different needs and preferences.
posted by juiceCake at 7:01 PM on August 7, 2006


Yo. Didn't know too many tags could be a bad thing.

If that's the case, why not create a keyword for every unique word in the text of every post?

Considering the content of Metafilter the last 3 years, do you really think "war" is a proper keyword for this material? Do you feel that will assist in the location of this post later?

I'm not yelling or even wagging my finger... I'm just confused how "technology" can be considered an adequate keyword for this, but not "upgrade". *shrug*

Back in my day, we were allowed 1 search term per data element AND WE LIKED IT. Damn kids and their relational databases and unbounded searches.

Also, all cellphone plans I've been a part of since the mid-90's you own the phone. You may do what you wish with the phone, including throw it away. Of course that would be silly since you then wouldn't be able to use the service you are now contracted for. But the phone itself is most assuredly yours from the moment you take possession.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:30 PM on August 7, 2006


single female driving long distances alone at night... did i need a cellphone? yes.

in transition during one point in my life - couch surfing, residence hotels, no set address; trying to find a place to rent, trying to find employment... did i need a cellphone? hell yes.

i got rid of my landline 7 years ago. my mobile is my real home - no matter where i go, there i am. i use it as an alarm clock, camera, calendar, and email access; to check the bus schedule; to find friends in huge crowds; to text messages to friends in huge NOISY crowds; as a personal phonebook; a voice mail center; and not least - a safety line when i'm in an isolated and potentially threatening situation. i am never really alone, when i have my cellphone. and the best part? i don't have to answer it, if i don't want to. i sure as hell need it more than any of youse needs a fuckin' playstation. or portable dvd player...

what about cordless phones? most landlines are connected to cordless phones these days and i'll just betcha they use summa that coltan crap.

anyway, i don't mean to come off as defensive, but demonizing cellphones ain't gonna solve the problem. i'm not gonna give up my mobile. but i am committed to recycling/reusing, and being aware of how the products i use affect the world. so thanx nthdegx, at least for that -- it's very interesting info and does make me less itchy to upgrade. my cool little samsung takes a lot of abuse and just keeps hanging in there, maybe it'll last another year.
posted by lapolla at 8:44 PM on August 7, 2006


Juicecake I thought you might mean the contracts sitch, but wasn't sure. Of course I can own my phone outright, by purchasing it up front, or by running the course of the contract. Of course it costs money to buy an upgraded phone without a contract, who said it didn't? Yes we all have our preferences, and nowhere did I criticize, snipe, snark, or otherwise act like a mefite towards you for whatever yours is.

lapolla, I too would feel less safe without my cell, living where I do, and always coming home after dark & generally by myself. Also, my mother would never stand for me being without one now that I go to uni out of town :D
posted by zarah at 9:47 PM on August 7, 2006


"Coltan, as Wikipedia will confirm, is an ore of niobium and tantalum. Tantalum's main use is in tantalum capacitors. Such capacitors are used in all kinds of electronics; any problem is not specific to cell phones."

Aye, but due to the incredible rate at which we upgrade (1,712 phones upgraded per hour in the UK alone, 1800 thrown away per day in Beijing) phones are a major offender in this respect.
posted by nthdegx at 12:08 AM on August 8, 2006


Meanwhile, Cingular customers will soon be penalized for not upgrading.

Which is perfectly fair. Cingular is still offering CDMA and analog service, but you'll have to pay more for it, given that the large majority of Cingular users are using GSM.

Personally, I'm suprised that they're even giving you the option.
posted by eriko at 5:22 AM on August 8, 2006


Aye, but due to the incredible rate at which we upgrade (1,712 phones upgraded per hour in the UK alone, 1800 thrown away per day in Beijing) phones are a major offender in this respect.

Vastly more capacitors in a computer or TV set, in terms of numbers, capcitance and amount of tantalum and other "exotic" materials.

Cell phones are small, low voltage devices, running off a very clean power supply (a battery.) There's little need for high value caps, or high voltage ratings -- you can easily build an entire phone with 10V and lower rated caps. For size reasons, they're all SMD devices as well.

End result? You could easily fit *all* of the discrete caps on a modern cellphone onto the back of a postage stamp, with room to spare for the resistors and diodes. One 10μF, 100V Tantalum cap, the size of an apple seed, has more tantalum than an entire modern cellphone. Hell, if you get rid of the human interface spa ce (the LCD, speaker, buttons, etc.,) and the battery, you can almost fit a cellphone entirely on the back of a postage stamp, never mind the components.
posted by eriko at 5:29 AM on August 8, 2006


People generally keep their TVs until they stop working, though, to be fair.
posted by nthdegx at 7:27 AM on August 8, 2006


Coltan is the ore from which we get tantalum, used in tantalum capacitors, which are in every single piece of electronic equipment you own. There are far fewer tantalum capacitors in a cell phone than there are in the computer nthdegx used to create this post.
posted by rocket88 at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2006


I'm with lapolla on this, a mobile makes far more sense than a landline in terms of utility to me, and probably in terms of cost too. Does anyone know how the environmental impacts of mobiles & cell networks compare with the impacts of landlines and wire networks? I'd guess that mobiles have the advantage but would be interested in some statistics if available. The problem of course is whether there is replication, ie mobile services where you already have an established landline network, but in areas without wire networks, the mobiles must be a serious benefit.

I've only met one person whose ever owned a cell phone.

Pay as you Go deals in the UK usually see the purchaser pay for the phone up front then add credit as required so they effectively own the phone. When I've used this I could switch as I liked.
posted by biffa at 5:34 AM on August 9, 2006


Yes we all have our preferences, and nowhere did I criticize, snipe, snark, or otherwise act like a mefite towards you for whatever yours is.

You sure didn't. Nor did I imply you did.
posted by juiceCake at 1:38 PM on August 14, 2006


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