Ode to Obsolescence
I can remember it like it was yesterday, the day I got my very first Apple product. At the height of my music video obsession I received a 64 GB iPod video for my birthday. It was glorious. I immediately uploaded all of my favorite videos, songs, and pirated episodes of South Park and every bus ride to school became a slice of heaven. I got a shiny metallic pink case for it and marveled at the high quality display. I kept it as something sacred, something only used for my precious music. Even when I got my first smart phone I held onto it because of its amazing capacity. I could store my entire library onto it and that simply wasn’t possible with my crappy slider touch screen phone on my parents’ family plan.
Then one fateful day in my senior year of college that all changed. I was working at a retail store and by that time iPhones were the new thing and I was one of the few stragglers holding on to my beloved iPod. I stupidly thought that this fact meant I could leave my device unattended. After one break time when I forgot to bring a lock for my locker, my precious was gone. I never found who stole it, there were a lot of seasonal people at the time so it was impossible to weed out the culprit.
After a period of mourning and a large sigh of relief that all my music was still backed up I decided to purchase an iPhone 4s on Ebay. As an experienced online auctioneer I knew what sellers were legit and what ones to avoid (i.e. pretty much any electronic that ships from Hong Kong will burn your house down) and got a good deal on what was then the newest model. I was still in the blissful years of having student loan money in my bank account so the $400 felt like nothing to me.
When it arrived, as promised, in its original box with cords and headphones the bliss of my iPod debut was back. I marveled at how touch sensitive the ‘huge’ screen was. I loved how elegant the design was, how much thinner it was than my old phone and how cool it was that I could download apps and games.
Then came the iPhone 5. My girlfriend, previously an Android loyal, got it and I started to look at my once fancy 4s with disdain. Her phone was thinner still and had a bigger screen. Now that I was fully in ‘the real world’ loan money was nonexistent and there was no way I could afford a new phone on my prepaid plan where you have to buy your device outright.
Fast forward 2 more years and 3 more iPhone versions later and I’m still hanging on to my 4s. I deleted a lot of my beloved music in order to upgrade my operating system. So having access to my music the main reason I wanted smart phone in the first place is out the window. When I use my phone in public I’m reminded of seeing the kids with the prepaid school lunch cards at the cafeteria. “They all can see it!” I think. I avoid showing people videos or photos on it now out of shame. “No,” I explain, ” I don’t have ‘an upgrade coming up.'” …because I’m not on a plan. I’m not on a plan because I can’t afford it. I just can’t afford it, OK?!!
So why is it I see everyone upgrading like it’s no big deal? The New York Times reported that most Americans get a new phone every two years. For most New Yorkers I’d say it’s less than that. I see people young and old, carrying Prada and Pretty Girl handbags alike with giant iPhone 6 Plus phones in the newest glittering gold hue. I just can’t conceive spending over $100 monthly just to use a new device let alone the cost of buying it. Whether or not you purchase on a payment plan or get some kind of discount, it’s still a big chunk of change.
I’m planning a trip to London early next year and I’ve started to talk myself into getting a new phone by then. “I need it for the plane ride to watch movies on!” I rationalize as I bookmark promising leads on Ebay and cell-phone resellers. But when I actually get logical about it…I could easily use the $700 I would spend on a phone towards another trip entirely. And isn’t that a better idea? But every day I download a new app I can’t live without and find new reasons to clog up my dwindling memory as my 4s coughs and wheezes and struggles to keep up with every new upgrade.
I wish I could take more smug satisfaction in symbolically railing against consumerism and planned obsolescence by holding onto my old phone (and old laptop, my MacBook Pro qualifies for the geriatric ward at age 7) but I know that if I had the extra money or the luxury of being ignorant as to how debt works, I would upgrade in a second.
I’m still not sure if I can hold out much longer. Maybe after tax season I will irresponsibly purchase a new phone in order to satiate my ape-like desire to be part of the group. Or I might do it if only to reacquaint myself with the fullness of my iTunes library I have been cultivating since the days of dial-up. Until then, I will remove my aging OtterBox and let fate decide the lifespan of my 4s. In sad desperation I’ll stare at people’s shoes on my commute to avoid seeing any of the crisp HD display I continue to covet. I bet Steve Jobs didn’t see this coming when he donned his first black turtleneck and strode across a backlit stage. Or maybe that’s exactly what he wanted. He made technology into a luxury good, a status symbol. As if we needed another one.