Disposable Consumerism wins (this time)

For almost three years, I got by on an extremely basic cell phone.  It was a refurb, had no camera, no MP3 player, no pull-out keyboard, no PTT.  It just made and received calls and text messages.  And, that’s all I needed, since I used my digital camera to take pics and my iPod for tunes and had no idea what PTT was.

(Side Note 1–My phone fell out of my pocket one day at work when I was under a desk doing some cabling.  I realized it was gone a couple hours later and figured that had happened, so I sent an email to my coworkers who were cabling with me.  Luckily, one of my coworkers had found it.  When she gave it back to me, she said, “I was actually going to just toss it.  I didn’t think anyone would miss that.”  I still don’t know if she was serious or joking!)

Well, a few weeks ago, it became apparent that the phone was on its last leg–random error messages, not holding a charge, not getting a signal, dropping calls.  I called AT&T and was told that my phone wasn’t made or supported anymore, so I had to buy a new one. They said I could probably find someone locally who could fix it, but it would cost more than buying a new one.  As a grad student, my choices tend to lean toward the cheapest option, so fixing wasn’t one of them.

Disposable Consumerism, 1.  Sustainability 0.

While shopping for phones on-line, I was looking for another basic model.  Strange thing was, I couldn’t find one.  Every single one that was compatible with my plan came with a camera and/or other bells and whistles.

(Side Note 2–the local AT&T stores have a very poor selection of phones!  I went to three different stores and each had only 2 models that went with my plan.  But, at the AT&T website, there were literally hundreds from which I could choose. WTF is up with that?  Is this a sign of the future…no more shopping in stores, everything will be done on-line?  Disposable Consumerism, 2.  Sustainability 0. )

Anyway, I bought the most basic one I could find.  I got it and I played with it for a few days.  I downloaded ring tones.  I took pictures of my dog and of my cats and our reef tank.  I took a video of my husband playing with his fireworks.  I sent multimedia messages and the same text message to multiple people (not an easy feat on my old phone).

(Side Note 3–While texting, my phone will automatically try to figure out what word I’m typing.  If I put in “tom” it will automatically fill in the “orrow” and save me some button pushing, which is cool.  But, it automatically detects non-words or words that are shortened for texting, like “prolly” for probably and “till” for untill.  I find that a little unnerving.  Texting is so pervasive today and has a definate influence on the development of spoken and written language.  So, in 100 years, is it possible that is the word “probably” is going to be a thing of the past like “thee” and “thy” due to the fact that people wanted to save themselves from pressing a few buttons?)

Well, it’s been over 3 weeks now.  And, you know what features I use? Making and receiving calls and texts.  I haven’t touched the camera or anything else since I first got it.

I was contemplating this all yesterday when my husband handed me his phone.  On it was a random error message and the display was really screwy.  Then, he told me that it was dropping calls, not holding a charge….SIGH.  Here we go again.

Disposable Consumerism, 3.  Sustainability 0.

But, while this experience is slightly discouraging, being be here at IU and part of the HCI community where the focus on sustainaibility is growing gives me hope.  Just go to the ACM library and search for sustainability…tons of hits, most of them recent.  The ACM magazine, Interactions, has a feature on the topic every issue (which is headed by an awesome IU professor).  All of my classes so far have touched on sustainability in some way.

So, Disposable Consumerism may have won this battle.  But, I’m optimistic that Sustainability will win the war.

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