Getting rid of our phones every time better software and features launch isn’t ecologically intelligent, but I have a Verizon upgrade to get a free iPhone
The need to make our cellphones last longer is finally getting some attention. Now Google is taking on the challenge of making a phone to withstand the annual onslaught of new state-of-the-art hardware and software. With Google’s super-customizable modular phone concept, Project Ara, we may soon be able to take advantage of smartphone technology’s weekly breakthroughs without ditching our like-new phones when 6G is released and 5G becomes old hat.
Of course, there are good reasons not to own a smartphone at all. They contain rare-earth elements, plenty of toxic mercury and chlorine, and conflict minerals mined by wage slaves and sold by warlords and corrupt states to fund violence and maintain repression. And the constant upgrading of electronics pollutes the climate thanks to global, emissions-intensive supply chains. On the downstream side, our throwaway culture has created a huge e-waste problem, since electronics recycling isn’t yet widespread
Getting rid of our phones every time better features launch isn’t sustainable (even if new, clean methods for extracting the precious metals from old phones with ‘shrooms scale up). Yet right now, Verizon will give me a brand-new iPhone 4. For free. I’ve never had a smartphone, and that’s a pretty tempting offer. Yet, I would far prefer to buy one used or refurbished for environmental and social reasons. Too bad those options cost money.
Turns out I’m not the only one facing these destructive incentives. Verizon offers every customer a deeply discounted or free phone every two years, as do most service providers.
Instead of a slab of glass and metal that you have no ability to upgrade, save for buying a new device, it’s an attempt to launch a phone where all of the main components are interchangeable via modules that click in and out, attaching via electro-permanent magnets.
If Google can create hardware and support systems to keep pace with continual software advances, Project Ara may liberate us from the endless succession of planned obsolescence that rules today’s gadget world — and slow the ecologically vicious resultant cycle of resource throughput. What’s more, we’ll be able to pimp out our phones with whatever contraptions and accessories we think are essential or sexy. The device will be a platform to personalize.