When read from the point of view of the corporate suit, this would be interpreted as an ideal design – one that guarantees ongoing replacement sales and is more likely to get a big thumbs-up from the moneylenders:
- Easily lost
- Early obsolescence
Inevitably, the design does not take into account the fact that each and every mobile phone requires no less than 75 kilograms of stuff to be dug out of the ground in order to make it (which is, I admit, peanuts to the six tonnes required for each personal computer, but that’s a separate issue). Nor does the design allow for recycling of this hard-won material. The previous generation mobile phone may, it’s true, be sold or given to a friend or relative; but the next step it usually takes is to a landfill site, joining all its mates leaching their toxic parts into groundwater.
Some years ago I promised myself that I wouldn’t get sucked into buying a mobile phone until they started making ones that could be worn, preferably on the wrist (I think that such things are on the market today, but they are expensive and bulky). I knew that what I didn’t want was to build up a list of social contacts held in a device that would probably some day disappear (at the worst possible moment, like when the car breaks down on holiday in the Black Forest).
But one day, in a moment of foolish weakness, I succumbed to the lure. The first mobile phone I had worked well enough, but for two things: after a couple of years, the battery started to fail, and – surprise, surprise – the model was by then obsolete. Oh, I could get a new battery, but it would cost as much as a new phone. The second thing that was wrong with it was that they changed the txt standard, introducing ‘SMS-2’. My old phone couldn’t cope with this: when someone sent me a long txt I would get several messages saying something immensely helpful like ‘An unknown person sent you a message in unreadable format’.
And so I was forced to ‘upgrade’. The new phone is even more whizz-bangier than the old one. I spent a while in a futile search for an Open University course in how to use it, and ended up just bumbling along. The tea-making and skydiving attachments languish unused in a box someplace.
Then, of course, there’s the ‘free mobile phone’ scam. Why do I claim it’s a scam? TANSTAAFL, that’s why: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. The phone isn’t ‘free’: you have to sign up for a 12 or 18-month contract to get it: the price of the phone is, of course, built into the subscription fee. And the scumbags who phone with these ‘free’ offers get sneakier and sneakier. The last time one called me, I very nearly fell for it: the ‘all you have to do is agree to another x months of exhorbitant charges’ was said almost as an afterthought as he cunningly preened my ego and congratulated me on my good fortune in ‘winning’ the replacement for my existing phone. Fortunately I came to my senses and told him – politely – where he could stick his ‘free’ phone.
Since I acquired one of these anti-social appendages my private time has been forfeit. When I deliberately left it at home, I’d return to find that there were messages on my answerphone. Ah, the answerphone: more cunning design. These ‘useful aids’ ensure that the Telcos get paid three times for each attempt at communication. Firstly by the person leaving the message, then by the poor sucker who has to pay to listen to a message (which is usually some variant of ‘give me a ring when you can’) and then AGAIN when the call is returned. Sod’s Law says that this will be picked up by – you guessed it – the other person’s answerphone. The Telcos must be laughing all the way to the bank.
After finally getting fed up with spending my time talking to machines, I decided to switch off my own answerphone. Could I do that directly from my ‘feature-rich’ mobile phone? Was there a ‘press 1 to enable/disable your answerphone’ automated service? Of course not. I had to phone Orange and wait in a queue to talk to an operator to get it turned off. I’m a little surprised I wasn’t required to fill in a request in triplicate and then do a perfect double-backflip into a shark-infested swimming pool in the Outer Hebrides first.
I’m at last on a ‘pay-as-you go’ scheme, having paid for my ‘free’ phone many times over in contract fees. With the answerphone turned off, I rarely use it. I use its built-in alarm function to wake me up in the morning. I could have saved myself a fortune over the years, if only I’d bought a portable alarm clock for a tenner instead.