Why You Should Not Buy an iPhone 6s
There is a new iPhone out, for no better reason than it is September and Apple puts out a new iPhone every September regardless of whether they came up with anything cool or new since last September. But people, you should not buy the new iPhone 6s just because there is a new iPhone 6s.
Oh, I’m sure your life would be immeasurably enriched by the 12 megapixel camera. And I’m sure you’ll just die without 3D touch, the revolutionary new way of touching your iPhone. But the brief sugar high these marginally improved specs might bring to your everyday life comes with a considerable global downside. The environmental and consumer costs of replacing 1.8 billion smartphones every year are staggering.
Phone manufacturers and telecom companies have created this bullshit expectation that a normal person needs to discard and upgrade their smartphone every year, even if the phone is not cracked and is still in good working condition. The consequences of this pointless, fraudulent, manufactured consumer need are wrecking the environment, ruining your credit and making the world a more genuinely horrible place.
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Whether you’re an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone person, please do not upgrade your phone every year just for the fuck of it. Here is why I ask.
Environmental Impact of Too Many Smartphones
I’m sure many of you do the responsible grownup thing and hand in your old phone to be recycled whenever you buy a new one. But have any of you tracked what actually happens to recycled phones after you hand them in? Jay Greene at CNET did. He found that most recycled phones get refurbished and then sent off for use in developing nations. But they still end up as toxic landfill in the long run.
“At the end of most mobile phones’ lives in China, their components often wind up in a dumping site, a place such as Guiyu,” Jay writes. “Villagers heat them over coal fires to recover lead. The ash from the burning of coal gets dumped into the city’s streams and canals, turning them black and poisoning the wells and groundwater. It’s one reason why Guiyu reportedly has the highest level of cancer-causing dioxins in the world, elevated rates of miscarriages, and children with extremely high levels of lead poisoning.”
Smartphone manufacturers, by and large, still have not figured out how to dispose of all these horrible toxic chemicals in our phones. Yes, they are getting better at including fewer toxic chemicals in newer models. But they still haven’t stood up and said how they’ll neutralize all that old benzene, mercury and n-hexane, the sale of which they profited from so handsomely in previous years.
And all of you doing the responsible grownup thing and recycling your old phones? The EPA estimates that only 10% of you are doing this. That’s plenty of benzene, mercury and n-hexane creeping onto our California land and into our drinking water.
Human Impact of Too Many Smartphones
All of these smartphones require tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold and we get these minerals from central African nations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The trade of these conflict minerals funds massive genocide, rape and social instability in the Congo at the hands armed militia groups that control the mineral trade in central Africa.
But smartphone manufacturers are delighted to do business with these militia groups, because times are good and US consumers need themselves a new smartphone every 12 months.
Apple proudly claims that 80% of their minerals are conflict-free minerals, though the methods of determining these percentages are notoriously unreliable. Still, I’m not sure that “only 20% genocide-backed minerals” is really the optimal target figure that a business ought to shoot for these days.
Consumer Cost of Smartphone Upgrades
Has anyone’s phone bill ever gone down after upgrading to a new phone?
That’s not an accident, you guys. Phone upgrades are a reliable scam for the wireless service carriers, enabled by your lack of desire to read every bit of that 18-page monthly cell phone bill. Remember that time they sold you a new $600 iPhone but you paid supposedly only $200ish dollars with a 2-year commitment to a certain carrier? They still charged you that other $400, they just did it on the sly.
“When you pay $200 for a device like a new iPhone 5, the wireless provider isn’t altruistically swallowing that $400-plus loss,” Tony Bradley wrote at Forbes back when the iPhone 5 came out. “The remainder of the cost of that device is built in to the monthly plan you’re paying for.”
This still holds true with the iPhone 6s. Your monthly rates will increase with each device upgrade, in ways that your carrier will never adequately describe to you. Because underachieving telecom executives gotta get overpaid somehow.
Sure, you can stand in line like a circus poodle to get your new iPhone 6s. You can even have a TaskRabbit be the circus poodle for you. Perhaps you can afford it… at this snapshot in time, when VC monopoly money is flying around like airborne mercury poison in Guiyu.
Maybe one day some Silicon Valley genius will invent this year’s to-die-for smartphone that magically changes into next year’s to-die-for smartphone when next year rolls around. That would be a true “miracle device”. Until then, we ought to hold this industry more accountable for the human and environmental tolls of excessive consumption and disposal of smartphones.
The iPhone 6s is available for pre-order tomorrow at Apple.com for $199-$849.