There are a few electronic devices that have become an integrated part of my daily life and would affect me emotionally and mentally if they were lost, stolen, or damaged. I use my cellphone, an HTC One, my desktop computer, a HP Envy, and my tablet, an iPad Mini first generation, on a daily basis for many productivity and social needs. These needs have developed because of my very frequent interaction with electronic devices. I am sure that if necessary I would be able to survive without them, but right now I am content with the amount of time I allocate to electronics.
There are other devices in my electronic collection that I use but do not have as much significance to me personally. I use two separate speaker systems, an Asus laptop, an iPod Nano third generation, a Canon Pixma printer, an Xbox 360, a Kindle Touch Glowlight, and a Sony digital camera. Apart from when I have to move these devices from school to home and vice versa, I appreciate every device that I own. There is no doubt in my mind that I would be able to function with just my cellphone and a portable computer but the other devices add a convenience factor to life that is hard to dispose of.
Most of the devices that I own have been purchased myself which makes them even more valuable to me. My parents have always instilled in me the idea that if I want something then I have to work for it. Even when I bought my first iPod in middle school I saved up money from working little league concession stands with my parents who were in charge of the concessions at all the baseball fields. This was the first electronic device that I had ever bought and I still take care of it as if I’d just purchased it.
I received my first cellphone in middle school solely because I had extracurricular activities and needed to call my mom to pick me up. No internet and no texting, just phone calls. When I wanted to upgrade to a smartphone in high school my mom said that if I spent more than one hundred dollars on a new phone then I would have to pick up the difference. I really wanted the best android phone that had just released so I decided I would pay for the other half. Regarding my other devices, I chose my desktop over a laptop the summer before going to college. I was going to major in architecture and thought a bigger screen and more power would be helpful with 3D modelling, and I bought this with the money I received from my high school graduation party. My parents picked up some of the cost but I paid the rest. The iPad mini was given to me through the Illinois Institute of Technology. All freshman receive the newest iPad model their first semester at the university. Because I know that these devices cost a hefty sum of money, I treat them like they need to last for a long time…and they do.
My family has raised me with the idea that computers do not need to be replaced very often. If you take care of them and make sure they stay updated with software and virus scan regularly then they should last at least five years in good condition. My dad is also a big believer in “you get what you paid for” so I tend to buy more expensive devices if I know it’s going to be used often. He also taught me that I need to take care of things that I pay for. This way I am not forced to change devices frequently due to them breaking. I update my phone every 22 months due to my contract with sprint. My family was grandfathered in with a very low rate plan with unlimited everything, and will not give that up to switch to a plan where I would get to upgrade every year, which I am content with. I’ve used the same iPod for workouts since middle school. I actually bought and tried out the newest version of the iPod Nano last spring and it just wasn’t the same as my old iPod with the click –wheel. Thus I returned the new one and will keep my 3rd generation until it no longer works, which I hope doesn’t happen anytime soon.
A few years ago every time I had extra money I would always try to sell my devices and buy the latest version. As I’ve grown older, saving money is more important to me than buying the latest and the greatest. I’ve tried to lock my shopaholic self away and be smart about what I purchase. Over the past couple years I think I’ve made tremendous progress.
My family and I usually get rid of our old devices in the garage sales we have twice a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. Someone usually buys it off of us, and if not we just wait to sell it in the next garage sale. The other thing my family has done is leave an old computer at the street and someone would come and pick it up. Lastly, if the device is still in working condition, and I think I’ll be able to make some money then I will list it on eBay and someone will eventually purchase it.
I have three of my previous cellphones in a desk cabinet just in case my phone breaks and I need a replacement and my contract has not expired yet. This way I do not need to pay full price for a new cellphone. This applies to every member of my family. All of our old cellphones are stored in this cabinet just in case. It’s probably not necessary but it’s better than them sitting in some e-waste sight. As far as I can remember I don’t think myself or my family has thrown away an electronic device.
Previous to attending the communications class in which we talked about e-waste, I had absolutely no thoughts about where old technology is disposed of, why people buy technology so often, and the solutions to limit e-waste. Jonathan Sterne wrote a chapter called “Out with the Trash: On the Future of New Media” in the book Residual Media. Within this chapter he states
“I meet an American sailor and I ask him why his country’s vessels are built to last a short time, and he replies to me with-out hesitation that the art of navigation makes such rapid progress daily that the most beautiful ship would soon become almost useless if its existence were prolonged beyond a few years.” (Sterne 21)
Many products seem like they are designed to be thrown out. Besides a few companies that consider design a priority, devices are made of cheap plastic that screams to the user to throw them away after a short usage period. I think that if people feel like their device is cheap then they will not take care of it and replace it more frequently causing even more e-waste.
I have recently learned that there is a massive market for disassembling e-waste and selling the parts for money. I am not talking about taking something into an electronics store or selling a part on eBay. There is an afterlife of electronics that many Americans do not know of. In chapter five of Jennifer Garbys’ Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics she talks about the horrible conditions of e-waste sites and the people that work in them.
“When all working components are extracted, the machines are then stripped for scrap. Copper wires are stripped from their housing, where hours of work may yield mountains of material but only a few dollars in return. Chips are methodically removed from circuit boards and drenched in acid baths to remove specks of gold. Waste pickers strip away at these machines that are not designed for disassembly, uncovering their toxic insides through equally toxic means of removal. They receive for their labor often just enough money to maintain a subsistence-level existence.” (Gabrys 135)
Where electronics go after they are thrown out is not something that most people think of. Little do we know that when someone gets rid of an electronic device it has a major effect on someone else’s life. There is a worker in a different country who has to take that old device and disassemble it in order to make a living. There is major lack of electronic recycling and electronic recycling education in the United States. I think that in order to solve our e-waste issues it all needs to start with the companies that manufacture these devices. Habits will then trickle down to the consumer and toxic e-waste may be reduced.
– Cory Winiecki, October 20, 2014
Jennifer Gabrys (2011) “Media in the Dump: salvage stories and spaces of remainder.” Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Jonathan Sterne (2007) “Chapter 2: Out with Trash: On the Future of New Media.” Residual Media Acland, C. (ed) pp. 16-31.
* Submission is based on an assignment from COM-02/580-05 Environmental Media. IIT (2014)