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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Fast Gadgets

Scott and I are seldom early adopters of new technology.  We didn't get our first smart phones until 2013.  Those phones traveled with us to Kazakhstan and back and used four different SIM cards (with four different phone numbers) each.

When we returned from Kazakhstan in December 2015, we bought SIM cards for a prepaid AT&T plan for our phones.  AT&T worked reasonably well while we were in North Carolina, but didn't work very well most of the places we go in Maryland or DC.  I had been reading about Republic Wireless and its low rates, so we decided to take the plunge and try it (we're very happy with it, if anyone is curious!).  The one problem is that to use Republic Wireless, we had to purchase their phones.  We decided to go for it anyway.  We stood to save enough money on our monthly bills that the new phones would pay for themselves in relatively short order.  Besides, Scott's phone wasn't working so well anymore, so maybe it was really time for him to have a new phone.

My phone was still working well, so I thought I might try to sell it to Amazon.  I wasn't expecting to get much money for it, but maybe enough to buy a new book for my Kindle.  The model wasn't listed anywhere.  I tried looking elsewhere on the internet, and encountered a website that told me that they couldn't purchase it, but if I sent it to them, they would recycle it for me.

Bear in mind that this is a three-year-old smart phone that still works.  I remember it wasn't so long ago when smart phones were very expensive.  But the price of new ones has been dropping steadily, so there is little incentive to buy one that is three years old, even if it works well.

I've read a lot over the past couple of years about "fast fashion"--the clothes that may be cute but are shoddily made and often under terrible working conditions.  They often end up in landfills because they become ratty looking very quickly and people often don't want to buy them from domestic thrift shops.  Sometimes they end up in poorer countries, often to the detriment of local textile industries.  I think society is starting to have a problem with fast gadgets, too.  One the one hand, it's nice that they are becoming less expensive because it means greater accessibility.  On the other hand, the low price of new gadgets provides little incentive to keep old gadgets for longer.  Gadget-production has its share of awful working conditions, too.  The Washington Post recently ran excellent articles on the problems of mining cobalt and graphite, both of which are used in lithium-ion batteries.

I wonder how many "old" gadgets end up in landfills.  It seems that if we're going to upgrade our gadgets on such a regular basis, then recycling them should be more convenient.  We have taken old gadgets to Best Buy to recycle in the past, but I would vote for something even more convenient, like having gadget recycling bins near regular recycling bins in residential areas.

For my "old" phone, I did some looking online and found a charitable organization that takes unwanted phones.  If I understand correctly, this organization takes advantage of the emergency call capabilities that are on all cell phones, and distributes the old phones to people who are at high risk of needing to make emergency calls, but cannot afford their own phones/plans.  It turned out that the Whole Foods near me had a bin to collect old phones for this organization, so I managed to get it out of my apartment quickly and easily.  I hope it will be of use to someone and avoid the landfill for at least the next few years.

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