My iPhone, purchased in 2008, started falling apart over the last year–piece by piece–first the corners of the casing chipped off, then the power button stopped working, next the home button didn’t operate, and then there were red zigzag lines across the display screen, and finally the speakers fell out, as well as various other parts which gradually broke off like the side phone ringer/buzzer. I felt like Joan Rivers. Ugh, did I say I?
My experiences in getting my iPhone fixed in the UK taught me a lot about mom-and-pop repair businesses and mobile phone components that injure the environment and hurt people. Back to my dying mobile phone.
Without any warranty coverage in the states I didn’t know where to go other than to google ‘repairing iPhone’ and the Apple store. On YouTube, there are videos showing you how to repair your phone with names like directfix.com, some of which have dodgy sounding advice and contain warnings and none of which appealed to me. The Apple store told me to clean it better. The guy said it was in bad shape and scolded me for poor hygiene. No surprise he recommended I get a new iPhone. I explained that I was returning to the UK where I teach and couldn’t afford a phone without a contract (meaning a cheaper phone). He looked at me like I was crazy for asking him to repair a part in-house. It’s funny how the iphone 6 is now being advertised as “easy to repair” (http://www.cnet.com/news/apple-iphone-6-teardown-design-changes-make-device-easier-to-repair/) as if Apple cares about the environment, labor rights, disposability issues, and consumer waste. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they open up Apple Repair Shops in the future charging an arm and a leg—that is after all of the workers who make these iphones rebel against the terrible working conditions and pay!
I didn’t know how long I would be in the UK. So I decided against a contract. But pay-n-go was a rip-off. It seemed ironic that mobile phones made for a mobile world were really like wireless leashes with their contracts. I felt stuck. I decided to see how long I could keep this phone alive.
Upon returning to UK, changing SIM cards and getting a new phone service, I discovered my best friends—mobile phone repair shops which have given my dying phone nine lives. They are so much better than the UK’s many crappy mobile services like o2 which trap you in long-term contracts (if you break them early, for example, they actually force you to repay the entire balance). Even landline giant BT forces you into criminal-like penalty charges if you break their contract.
In comparison, these repair shops are like mom- and-pop store magicians. And they do everything and they are everywhere. In my small college town of Lancaster, there are at least three mobile phone repair shops in the town center–all run by immigrant entrepreneurs, and all of which I’ve gone to, paying cheaply for what is otherwise an impossible service to receive in the states. These ingenious services are called, Fone Zone, Fone World and Sym Tec and are franchises all over England. They repair phones, unlock them, replace parts in the shop itself, are speedy (within hours) and you can go back again and again until they fix the problem, without being charged as you would be somewhere else.
These shops are small wonders in the pseudo-grey economy offering mobile users an important service. Like other mom-and-pop repair shops these should become obsolete (e.g., shoe repair, tailors, etc.) Yet these electronic repair shops appear to be booming as they serve all social classes and types of people. They also give unsolicited advice on the phones themselves with demos from the second-hand phones in their shops (that are for sale).
Another reason for their frequent use by customers is because smart phone parts (you know that’s superb marketing to get you to believe the phone, not yourself, is the intelligent operator) are made all over the world and are often difficult to replace. Many key parts last for only a couple years; they are essentially disposable products made on the cheap. All in all, I have saved lots of money by keeping my iPhone3G (2nd generation).
Then I started doing research. These shops are often in a tight space, literally and figuratively—one was a favorite hole- in- the- wall Indian restaurant which went out of business. That’s the physical part. Governmental departments concerned about hiding information on mobile phones mean these shops get raided and gangs often break in since they are more vulnerable than the huge corporate phone warehouses. I also discovered the Friends of the Earth have a campaign publicizing the extraction of tin in very poor countries such as Bangka Island in Indonesia for smart phones.
The authors of Mining for Smartphones: The True Cost of Tin http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/tin_mining.pdf investigated the supply chain in Indonesia to the UK and found that Samsung and Apple are linked to these tin mines. These tin mines are responsible for destroying forests and farmland, injuries and fatal accidents when pits collapse, as well as ruining marine life. The island of Bangka, (another word for tin), is damaged socially and environmentally. Tin is everything for e-products, including the glue that holds the circuit boards together. This campaign advocates for reusing phones and its precious metals. See Friends of the Earth recycling phones.
This connects to the other supply side issues such as e-waste, toxicity of manufacturing mobile phones, birds getting killed by cell phone towers, reycling programs, and exploitation and labour rights in mobile phone factories. Did you know that this year 74 children were found to be working in Apple’s factories in China? They had been recruited using forged identity papers http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jan/25/apple-child-labour-supply . Most recently a 15 year old died in one of Apple’s outsourced factories, with workers ‘only’ having to work 60 hours a week (20 hours over the American 40 h/week), unbelievable.
On the demand side, the major focus has been on cancer-producing mobile phones and driving while texting or talking, or, the most popular—their pricing structures. This mobile phone consumption takes up a lot of space and time in so many ways.
We use mobile phones for so many purposes, establishing co-presence in relationships, soft (flexible) scheduling of meetings, initiating intimate interactions or control over these, spying and monitoring children (and sadly, stalking partners), recording the mundane aspects of daily life—distracting us from the humdrum life we inhabit, and even as props to look cool and desirable when no one is physically talking to us.
All of this research into the repair of my cracked and dying iPhone has given me pause and made me question to what extent I really need a mobile phone at all and how much it is worth.
See also: Mobile Phone Drama Part II