I know Bill Hader is telling you that you do. Your fingers are all cut up from the cracked screen, your girlfriend has been sending you crisis messages for a week that your device is intentionally withholding from you, you’ve peed on it, whatever. The message is clear: Life with a cell phone more than six months old is hell, and you might as well end it all.
It’s not just T-Mobile, obviously; AT&T and Verizon have jumped in on the game, too. And it’s not just the United States; Virgin Mobile in Australia, for example, is also pushing customers to upgrade more frequently. The trend to get us to buy more phones faster is only likely to continue.
But calling on us to upgrade twice a year isn’t generous; it’s downright irresponsible -- and people taking them up on the offer are (no offense) suckers. To begin with, it’s not financially beneficial to you. WhistleOut observes that AT&T’s scheme has you paying for your phone twice; T-Mobile’s plan is also detrimental to your wallet. If you absolutely must have the latest and greatest, you can do it much more economically yourself than through their plans.
Then there’s the e-waste. According to Leyla Acaroglu in the New York Times, “Americans replace their cellphones every 22 months, junking some 150 million old phones in 2010 alone,” equating to 85,000 tons of waste. Increase the rate of turnover by a factor of four, as the carriers are urging us to, and we’re looking at six hundred million cell phones thrown away, every year, in America alone.
Acaroglu goes on to describe what happens to many of these phones: sent to places like Ghana, China and India, where children mine the e-waste for copper, gold, and silver, exposing themselves to hearty doses of toxic cadmium and smoke from burnt casings.
Switching your cell phone more frequently is no good for your wallet, it’s no good for the planet, and it’s no good for the children. But there’s an even bigger issue, one that Samsung and Apple and HTC definitely do not want you to be focused on: having the latest cell phone won’t make you a better person.
It won’t make you happier. It won’t make your friends truer. It won’t make you more employable or more likeable or more loveable. More often than not, it won’t actually make you more productive. Your worth as a person is not defined by the device in your hand.
So I propose an alternate plan: “Keep It For Four.” It’s a soon-to-be-global campaign starting right now in this column, to encourage people to hang onto their devices longer. It needs people to run it, of course, people to create a website and get the word out. And it needs people to commit to it: Do you really need to upgrade your phone this year? Or could you suffer through another six or twelve months with the dinosaur that is last year’s model?
This is an open-source campaign; I give it to you. If you don’t want it, it won’t happen. But if you do, it will make a huge collective impact. What’s it gonna be?