Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dante's iPherno

The New York Times Magazine has another article of interest this week. This one asks where do cell phones go to die and what happens to them in the afterlife. In a whimsical takeoff on Dante's Inferno Jon Mooallem explains where phones go from recycling to resale to the place it holds in our hearts. It also reveals how the little buggers may do more than annoy us when they don't work, but when they die.

In a study published last year, 34 recent-model cellphones were put through a standard E.P.A. test, simulating conditions inside a landfill. All of them leached hazardous amounts of lead — on average, more than 17 times the federal threshold for what constitutes hazardous waste. Under a stricter state of California test, they also leached four other metals above hazardous levels.

Yet we still crave these new things. I spent much time visiting websites trying to decide whether a k550i was in my future. And I'm trying to understand my insufferable craving for a flash based Macbook (Macworld starts tomorrow) there is a bit of deep insight that reveals itself

“Somewhere during the last 100 years, we learned to find refuge outside the species, in the silent embrace of manufactured objects,” Jonathan Chapman, a young product designer and theorist at the University of Brighton, writes in his book “Emotionally Durable Design.” But designers and consumers have snared themselves in an unsustainable trap, Chapman told me, since our affection for many high-tech objects is tied exclusively to their newness.

In our pursuit of newness we lose sense of the past, having worked on email for almost 10 years now, it amazes me that it is till plain old text that wins in communications. Nothing has supplanted the 168 character text message for it's elegance and immediacy. Sometimes it's the essence that transcends the newness. Yet we still hope that newness will solve our problems, Is there a link between that craving and our society's increasing singletudeness, that next year's model will solve all one's problems. Director Scott Hicks on the Charlie Rose on his movie Shine said that the movie was not about cure, which is an American obsession but on acceptance. That acceptance spring loads with a tension that exists for the desire for progress.

Mooallem forgets one place where cellphones lurk and that's in the limbo of many sock drawers where they neither are used, discarded, just merely forgotten.


At 1:22 PM , Blogger arduous said...

Great article! This is why I will never buy a new phone again. I bought a phone from Sprint, signed a shiny new contract, and nine months later the phone was dead, dead, dead. I would have had to pay $200 to get a new crappy phone, so instead I bought a used phone off of Ebay for $40. It wasn't perfect. It had some scratches, and the back plate clearly came from a different phone as it's a different color than the rest of the phone. But it works like a dream. I started having problems with my new phone after one or two months. I've had my used phone for nine months and so far I haven't had a single problem.

The other thing you can do with your phones in the drawer? Donate them to a woman's shelter. They can resuscitate most phones to the point where they're able to dial 911.


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