The positive environmental impacts from broad smartphone adoption
July 2, 2019 10:04 AM   Subscribe

When 40 percent of the world’s population is projected to own a smartphone by 2021 (Statista), the sheer amount of e-waste produced (Earth 911) can be staggering, but on the bright side, smart phones have combined around 50 different devices and uses (Gecko and Fly), which means dematerialized consumption, and increased efficiencies from technological advances in general in the same period as the rise of the iPhone (Wired).
posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just be careful how and where you store your digital media, particularly the media you've licensed with DRM: Microsoft’s ebook rapture underscores the hidden dangers of DRM (Wired). Having hundreds of books on your phone or tablet are pointless if you can't access them.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:06 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


Just be careful how and where you store your digital media, particularly the media you've licensed with DRM:

I'm not advocating for people to circumvent the law to fight back against stuff like this. I'm just saying that I know that some people around the world do.

On a completely unrelated note, here are two emoji: 🏴‍☠️☠️
posted by Fizz at 10:15 AM on July 2 [11 favorites]


Comparing myself at 16 years old in 1987 to my son at 16 years old in 2019, the differences in personal consumption (and consumer aspiration) are astonishing. Almost everything I purchased from multiple sources as a 16 year old can be done by a teen in 2019 by using a mid-range smartphone.

I'd argue that a $300 smartphone has also replaced the desire to purchase a $3000 beater car at that age, although it's hard to say because we live on the edge of a densely populated downtown with great transit (as do my son's peers). I suppose kids that live in the suburbs and the exurbs, where there is nothing close by, still yearn for a car at age sixteen.
posted by JamesBay at 10:16 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]


I suppose kids that live in the suburbs and the exurbs, where there is nothing close by, still yearn for a car at age sixteen.

From my limited experience of three kids at or near the appropriate age: Nope. We actually had to more or less force the 16-year-old to take driving lessons, largely because he knows damn well that as of getting his Stage 2 license this week, he is a cabbie for his slightly younger siblings. And they've just sort of shrugged at the prospect themselves. They're already "hanging out" with their friends through all of their waking hours thanks largely to their phones.
posted by Etrigan at 10:22 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


They're already "hanging out" with their friends through all of their waking hours thanks largely to their phones.

Same here. I'm not entirely happy about the amount of time spent on screen, but then I remind myself my son works reasonably hard in school, participates in a couple of clubs, has a part-time job, does actually go out with friends and do things in the "real world"... and his smartphone has essentially replaced the rotary phone when I was a teenager.

I am also trying to figure out how to persuade him to get a drivers license.

The thing I am most grateful for, however, is that he doesn't feel that he needs one, and that he can get anywhere he needs to go by bus. It's a lot lot safer, which means a lot lot less worrying.
posted by JamesBay at 10:28 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


There is also the growing right to repair movement and the huge tech company /resistance to them.
posted by The Whelk at 10:39 AM on July 2 [12 favorites]


Article begins and ends by acknowledging real problems without dismissing them, while the thrust of it focuses on very real environmental good.

Thank you for sharing this. I could use a lot more of the same.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:49 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine just moved from Salt Lake City to Omaha Nebraska. They had their cell phones on the same vendor, $300 a month, and in Omaha they found that they could rarely get a signal, much less any high speed data connection.

They canceled their account with the cell phone company and got a wired home phone. They also have high-speed internet access at home but it's on a puter and not phones. They purchased a GPS unit for maps in the car, my friend walks 2 blocks to work.

And no more worries about their children being on the phone all night playing games or whatever. They've become tighter, as a family, more time spent together.

He told me last night that it's the best thing he and his wife have done in a long time. He told me it pays off in a big way, all positive.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:56 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]


As mentioned upthread, I'm not crazy about my son being online all the time, but we found the solution was to teach self-monitoring and other forms of personal responsibility that he will need in adult life anyway. We had stricter household rules until the end of middle school, but it's futile and possibly counterproductive to enforce screen time rules in high school.

Interestingly enough, since the days have gotten longer, our younger (10) son spends most of his time outside, coming in a 9pm, so his Switch and tablet have remained mostly unused since the end of April. It helps that there are also kids to play with in the neighbourhood.
posted by JamesBay at 12:14 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Note to self: figure out a way to use ewaste to kill ticks.
posted by BeeDo at 12:44 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Put ewaste in railgun, aim railgun at ticks. May need solid backstop.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:51 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


By one estimate, a data-hungry user’s smartphone can consume as much electricity in a year as their fridge does.
Hmmm. That seems pretty far fetched and worth thinking about rather than simply repeating. A typical cell phone with a 2 AH, 3.7V battery uses 7.4 watt hours per full discharge. If you discharge it fully once a day, that's 2.7 kWH/yr. Let's say you're charger is really inefficient and bump that up to 5.

A randomly selected "energy star rated" 18 cubic foot top-freezer fridge from the Sears website uses 400 kWH/yr, or 800 times as much. Maybe your can find a better fridge and a worse phone. . . but, we're talking about factors of many hundreds difference at a minimum.

Or are they counting the power used for routers and cell phone towers and network switches? Perhaps that's not unreasonable, but where do you stop? All the networked and networking gear in my home adds a factor of 3 or so to the phone value, maybe 5 if you include monitors. The stuff outside of my home is non-trivial, but also shared by many people. Does the server delivering content count? The power used to produce the content? The energy consumed when manufacturing the phone? (Manufacturing fridges isn't exactly cheap either.) It's hard to make the numbers work.

Which isn't to say the main point of the article isn't interesting and worth thinking about.
posted by eotvos at 2:03 PM on July 2 [9 favorites]


Board Games
Pretty much every games is dead, except for card gambling games.


Say what now?
posted by jacquilynne at 3:15 PM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Um... I'm pretty sure board games have had a big resurgence? (Maybe I'm just significantly more aware of board game culture because of board game websites. It sure is nice being exposed to reviews and recommendations for board games of a higher fun quotient and lower day or friendship-ruining potential than monopoly or risk.)
posted by Cozybee at 11:10 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


That Geko link specifically seems to be a bad case of personal extrapolation “This is how I use MY phone.. therefore this is how EVERYONE uses their phone.” .. which.. No?
posted by Faintdreams at 2:26 AM on July 3 [2 favorites]


Still waiting for that compact-camera-replacing smartphone model with a 30x optical zoom, personally. *pats trusty Sony Cyber-shot affectionately*
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:04 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


I'm on a trip to Beijing as a complete outsider, and in the 7 years since I was last here, smartphones have hit, and boy howdy how. I'm familiar with their ubiquity and use in Europe, but China is a whole other ballpark. That's how you pay for everything, how you *do* everything. Many people have obvious occupations that involve sitting around, and they are all on screens. At the jogging track, 9 out of 10 joggers were holding a smartphone in their right hand. It seems like they have taken over here far more than in Europe. (And in the university canteen, I pay through a face recognition, registration was done using only a regular smartphone).
posted by stonepharisee at 7:58 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


Faintdreams: That Geko link specifically seems to be a bad case of personal extrapolation “This is how I use MY phone.. therefore this is how EVERYONE uses their phone.” .. which.. No?

I picked it because it was a much longer list than others I found, that topped out at around 15 examples, though Gecko also does some near double-counting (ebook reader + books, landline internet + checking email + surfing the web).


ManyLeggedCreature: Still waiting for that compact-camera-replacing smartphone model with a 30x optical zoom, personally. *pats trusty Sony Cyber-shot affectionately*

What, you're too good for a binocular lens smooshed against your phone? ;) But really, I'm enjoying my cheap zoom lens add-on for making quirky, medium-quality images of landscapes. I have a better lens, but it's pretty heavy (it even came with a mini-tripod to stabilize the lens!), so I don't pull it out as often. True, it's not a great quality image, but I'm enjoying them (in part because it scratches my itch for "toy cameras" and their point-and-home aesthetic :)


Two more links on this general topic of smart phones replacing other devices: These Apps Will Keep You From Getting Lost in the Outdoors (Wired)

And from back in 2010 (!) -- Word Lens REPLACES text viewable in your iPhone camera with its translation, in real time, with formatting intact. Babelfish for visual translations, and Quest Visual joined Google.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:07 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


It feels like the "50 things it replaced" list needs a bit of a nuance. It seems doubtful there is any single person for which a smartphone has replaced every one of those 50 items -- despite the fact that the smartphone does do an incredible number of things, it's still (for now) at a point where it does a lot of those things at a level that is pretty good, but not as good as specialized level.

So if there are things on that list that you care about a lot or are picky about, it's not a good enough replacement, and I would think that for most people there is at least one function on that list that they care about enough to "pay up" to the specialized function. But for everything else, the smartphone does a good enough job.

So for example, speaking for me personally, it hasn't replaced:
- eBook reader, books, newspapers: I'm a heavy reader and public library user, both Kindles and paper books are a lot easier on the eye
- credit cards and paper money: I don't exclusively patronize cashless or Apple Pay-only vendors
- laptops and landline Internet: work aside, even on a personal level I'm picky enough about media consumption to not type on a small screen for everything and er no I am not going to put all of my Internet usage via mobile
- calendars and wristwatches: I still find value in being able to tell the time without checking my phone and at work a paper calendar with a sense of dates is surprisingly useful
- measuring tape: this is a one-purpose analog device but I measure enough things that it's valuable and I find smartphone "measuring tape" frustrating to use
- communication skills: WTF?

On the other hand, I have found that a smartphone has indeed usurped the function of these physical things (from that list) that I have owned/still own at one point in my life: camera, portable music player, calculator, voice recorder, scanner, alarm clock, landline phone, timer, phone book. I don't do complicated enough calculations or take fancy enough photos or care enough about music to want to buy any of those specialized devices, so a smartphone is good enough for me there.

So I guess on the whole it's fair to say it has replaced those items in the aggregate (to a lesser or greater degree), but I still think it would be pretty rare to find a person for whom it has replaced every single one of those items on that list.
posted by andrewesque at 6:54 AM on July 5


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