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Mobile on the blink: let’s treat our phones like we treat our bikes


I woke up today and the HTC Desire I have been using since December – in its fourth year of service – flickered and then the screen went black. This had happened before, so I tried the things that seemed to work before, removing the SD card and SIM card, jiggling the ribbon cable connecting the screen to my lovely keyboard. Nothing.

It’s Monday morning, I’m in a rush. I have all of the tools I need at my disposal to disassemble the phone and check the connections to the screen. But I hesitate.

I’m having that feeling that probably many of you have. The phone is old, it appears like a grave problem. I’m time poor. What do I do? Immediately I start thinking maybe it’s time for a new (secondhand) mobile. I even start dreaming of the make/model and how I’d like to use CyanogenMod for the first time.

But I pause. This is really a moment to reflect on the calculus of repair and replacement.

I like to apply a bicycle test to this question. If somebody ran over my wheel and I had to wait a couple of days for a replacement that cost 10% of the cost of a new bike, would I give up immediately on my bike? No. I get on the bus, or borrow a bike, and keep moving.

So this morning I’m jumping on the bus. I’ve pulled out the backup phone, an old smartphone with very limited memory that was driving me mad before. And I’m planning on opening up my HTC Desire when I have a couple of calm hours to spare. I’ve already identified that spare parts to fix the screen will cost 10% of the price of a new one and are available here in the UK.

Why is it that we are so intolerant and impatient when our mobiles or electronics fail? How can we help each other start treating our electronics like we treat our bikes? Does the bicycle test apply to many of our electronics problems?

3 responses

  1. john

    An excellent description of what most people do (but without the bicycle moment!) including me I am ashamed to say. Then we buy the latest and greatest, convincing ourselves that we are future proofing and that our devices will last longer if they are new/the best (despite no removable battery or way of easily accessing the internals for fixing, or the fact that the new device will chomp through more power than the last) and the cycle continues.

    A big problem is that consumer electronics are so cheap in comparison to our wages in the western world. If a smartphone or laptop, even a 2nd hand one, were say 6 or 12 months income as it is in many poorer countries, then no doubt we’d make our current one last.

    I will certainly be using the bicycle technique.

  2. janetgunter

    Yesterday morning I took 40 minutes to open and clean the phone – it was really scary inside – and I can report 24 hours later it is still functioning well, back to normal! #Restarted

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