‘Smashed pretty good’: On desire, distraction and our disposable society Melanie Baker October 13, 2016 Columns, Featured, M-Theory I smashed my iPad screen recently. Not just mildly cracked, “smashed pretty good,” as the technician confirmed. Some people can live with cracked screens on their devices. Even if I hadn’t been in imminent danger of this one skewering my fingers with glass shards, I am not one of those people. First world problems, I know. I did some due diligence and contacted a few places, Apple included, about my options, pricing, etc. They were all very helpful, which actually ended up being pretty depressing. In a nutshell, it would all have been a lot easier, cheaper, and less wasteful if my iPad was even a single generation older. Innovation, it seems, is costly. With previous iPad models, the glass can be removed and replaced fairly easily. I know people who’d done it themselves. But with generation 4, the glass and screen are bonded, so it’s not that simple. Yay, Retina? It made me wonder how fundamental design process conversations go. Who is responsible for figuring out what can be repaired and how? How much consideration is given to that and the environmental impact of damage or obsolescence? Because I can assure you that cracked tablet or smartphone screens are not a rare occurrence. With my smashed iPad, some places wouldn’t even try the repair. A couple places said they could do it – for a quoted price close to the price of a new device. And Apple was pretty much completely nonchalant about it, which was initially comforting. Except that it turns out that’s because they don’t repair them at all. They just replace the device with a new one that comes out of a plain box and charge you “flat retail.” Which is a bit less than a new device bought in-box in the store, and less than a number of other repair quotes. The places that said they’d do the repair didn’t specify how (or if they just replaced, too), and for most I’d have to ship the device to them. In retrospect, I wish I’d asked more. Walking out of an Apple store with some shiny new toy is supposed to make us feel great. And I was pretty jazzed when I originally got my iPad. (My previous, several-years-old tablet was failing in assorted frustrating ways.) But chucking the smashed iPad didn’t feel great. It was less than a year old, a Christmas shopping splurge for Mom and myself last year. The Genius Bar guy said they recycle everything, though his exact words – “Melt it all down or something” – didn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence. The new iPad was very quickly a clone of the old one, thanks to the fresh backup. And I’ve been happy to be back to my ebooks and looking at dogs on Instagram. But the whole experience remains somewhat uncomfortably in the back of my mind. When I see articles like this, aside from the crappy customer experience, I also wonder about how many more phones are heading to the slagheap as a result. I wonder what the people who upgrade with every new generation do with their old devices. (I’ve had two previous iPhones, both of which, fortunately, went on to new lives.) Or going back to the beginning, as it were, when I read stuff like this. A lot of what our shiny new toys are made from comes from far-flung parts of the world, where there are no unions, or EPA, or health and safety committees. And sure, we have e-waste drop-off sites to “safely” get rid of our obsolete equipment, but where does it all end up, really? I doubt any of this is a complete surprise. It wasn’t to me. But it’s so much easier to go about our merry way when things seem… seamless to our expectations. We can practically send people to Mars, so of course a company as sophisticated as Apple can disassemble and reuse the bits their devices are made of safely and efficiently… right? Can they? How much do they actually care, when often as not companies pay little more than lip service until we demand it, loudly and consistently? And let’s face it; attention spans for that kind of protest are hard to find in our tech-tethered era. Modern devices and the frequent updates and upgrades are designed for desire. I can’t recall a single marketing campaign really focused on how sustainable products and their constituent elements, parts, and supply chains are. It’s not just Apple, either, of course. They’re just one of the biggest, shiniest targets. Thanks to recent, dramatic events leading to this recall, I wonder where all of these are going to end up? I read a while back that we’re actually slowing down on the smartphone front. Innovation has stalled somewhat, which has led us to calm down about having the latest and greatest all the time. So that’s good. But big business exists to make big money, and that’s found in people buying more stuff, not in figuring out how not to waste. Consumer demand can drive change, so that means us refusing moremoremore and demanding accountability and sustainability. But we are so much more indoctrinated in desire and… hey, kitty! distraction. When we break things, we just want them to work again. I admit that I feel like I failed this time. I’m also kind of glad I’m not due for any upgrades any time soon, and that everything else is working well. Because we don’t “think different.” Not just yet. Photo: Collecting scrap phones by Fairphone is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or firstname.lastname@example.org.