Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Cell Phone Industrial Complex

Okay, so this rant is unrelated in any way to writing, save for the fact that the incident that provoked it occurred at the RWA National Conference.1

I must preface this story by explaining that as a member of the Baby Boom generation (albeit the very tag end of it), I am of the general opinion that a cell phone is PRIMARILY a phone and that its purpose in life is to provide a convenient way of contacting other people (and them contacting you) when you are not at home.

This means I have no particular interest in the myriad additional functions that cell phone manufacturers have seen fit to add to phones in the past several years. I do not need a music player on my phone (I have an iPod) nor a camera (I have one) nor access to the Internet (it might be handy, but my eyes are old and the screens are all pretty small!). I will confess that as much as I despise texting, I am finding that a somewhat useful subfunction of the cell phone, simply because it allows me to keep in touch with my IM friends. Even so, texting isn't something I do a lot, nor do I want to do it more, so having a phone that would make it easier isn't high on my list of desires.

All of which means I have a very simple, unassuming cell phone that I bought a little over a year ago. It's got a camera in it, but I never use it, but that's the only "fancy" extra function it has. Before I left for San Francisco, I put a full charge on the phone from the charger in my car, because I lost the wall charger somewhere between Memphis and San Diego earlier this year. A full charge usually lasts me four days, and I was set to be gone only three, so I figured I'd be fine.

I figured wrong. By Friday evening, the phone was running low on charge. In retrospect, that was perfectly predictable, since I was using it a lot more than I usually do. I turned it off that night when I went to bed to preserve what little charge was left, and hoped for the best.

On Saturday afternoon, I ate lunch at a little streetside cafe on Market Street, just around the corner from the hotel. I was on the phone with Beverley Kendall, regaling her with stories of my conference experience thus far, when the charge gave out. Well, damn. That left me with no way to get in touch with anyone for the rest of the conference, not to mention no way for my family to call me in the event of an emergency.

Then, I looked across the street and saw--like a vision--a Verizon store. ROCK ON! After I finished eating (Kofta with hummus and rice, yum!), I walked across the street and into the store. To my amazement, there was no line (I've never been in a Verizon store where I didn't wait for half an hour, minimum). Surely my stars were in perfect alignment!

I bopped up to one of the available reps and pulled out my phone. "I want to buy a charger for this phone, please."

The guy gave me this pitying look and said, "We don't sell a charger for that phone. It's too old."

WTF? I bought this phone a YEAR AGO! Okay, maybe fifteen months ago. The point stands. It's not like I got it at the blinkin' turn of the century.

But I am a polite sort of person who prefers not to make a scene, so I asked in my most pleasant tone of voice, "Well, can you tell me where I might be able to buy one?"

The dude made another face--this one patronizing--and said, "Oh no, no one sells a charger for that phone any more."

Long story short, I left without a charger but in possession of a big chip on my shoulder. Because what this guy was REALLY telling me is that the only solution to my problem is to buy a new phone. And I don't WANT a new phone. This one works perfectly and does exactly what I need/want. Verizon's (and, if his assertion is to be believed, other retailers') failure to carry a replacement charger for this phone
is nothing but a ploy to force people to buy a new phone (and, of course, take on a new contract) to resolve the problem. And IMO, that just stinks.

Look, we are a nation of consumers, and we treat pretty much all goods as disposable. I know that. But people, we have to stop. The planet can't take much more of this. (Hmmm, I feel I am channeling Scotty here: "She can't take much more of this, Cap'n.") This persistent attitude in our culture that the solution to any problem with a product is to simply throw it away and replace WILL NOT DO.

There is an irony here, though. Verizon is, first and foremost, in business to make money, and that means it is in its interest to sell stuff. What I wanted was a charger. NOT a new phone. And I am not going to buy a new phone simply because they don't sell what I wanted. Because I do have a charger in my car and it works perfectly well. No, I can't use it when I'm away from my car, but if my phone runs out of charge, it's an inconvenience, not the end of the world. I can LIVE without it (as I did most of my life before the durn things were invented). I didn't ENJOY it and it was a pain in the ass, but I survived.

So, in reality, the retailer's refusal to carry the charger for a year old phone COST them a sale. Is it a sale that would have made them as much money as selling me a new phone? No. But they're not going to get THAT sale anyway, at least not for quite some time.

Retailers need to catch the clue. There is money to be made in supporting their customers' desire to keep and extend the life of the product they already have. And it's good for the planet. Win/win.

Too bad the Cell Phone Industrial Complex will never buy it!
_________________
1Had a rocking great time! I met everyone on my "must see" list and a good many others who weren't. Darcy posted a few choice pics over on the Manuscript Mavens blog if you'd like a peek. I have quite a few insights and thoughts to share post-conference, but I'll do that over the next month or so rather than dumping it all on you at once.

3 comments:

skirbo said...

Go to thecellguru.com and you should be able to find a cheap charger. Of course, you probably don't need it now. But I empathize, my mom just went through the same thing.

At any rate, I'm the opposite. I have a 2.0 camera on my phone, and no camera in real life. I have a 4g card in my phone for the MP3 player, and no mp3 in real life. So I am happy to have these things on my phone and only carry one small item instead of three.

Sarah

Ericka Scott said...

I sooooo agree with you. A phone is a phone...

Claral said...

Keep up the good work.