Friday, January 17, 2014

The Conservation vs Cost Dilemma.

Back in September, as we were preparing for our annual trip to the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania, we were faced with a strange dilemma. Neither of us has SMS service on our cell phones, but we wanted to be able to send text messages to each other while at the fair. I was able to add it to my phone relatively cheaply, approximately $5 for the month. For Andrea's phone, however, it was going to cost closer to $10, if I recall correctly. That itself wasn't a big deal, as it was going to be worth the expense to have the functionality while at the fair. The odd part was what Andrea found out when she shopped around.

The local discount store sells pre-paid phones. At the time they had a deal that provided a new phone and more text messages that she would need for the trip, all for $6. Our preference would have been to add the service to her existing phone. It seems wasteful to buy a new phone just to save a few dollars on the SMS service. However, we didn't especially like the idea of rewarding our provider for attempting to over-charge, in my opinion, for a service which we could get elsewhere for less. In the end we decided to go with the new phone, which was used only for that month, and is now sitting in a drawer.

I feel that the situation illustrates a real problem we have in our society. For most of my life most consumer electronics have been priced low enough that replacing them was often more practical than having them repaired. Now, however, we are starting to see situations in which buying a new device is cheaper than adding a service to an existing device, even if the new device is only going to be used temporarily. There could, conceivably, be a situation in which it is cheaper to buy a new pre-paid phone each month, and then throw it away and buy a new one, than adding minutes to an existing phone.

Electronic devices should not be disposable, yet it appears we're continuing to move in that direction. With so many people prioritizing price over all else, I hesitate to even think about the amount of waste created by situations such as the one we found ourselves in. I suspect that most people would gladly buy a new phone in order to save money, with little or no regard for the amount of waste resulting from that decision.

On the flip-side, many people are only able to be motivated to conserve if it results in a noticeable financial savings. When there are financial incentives for not conserving, however, most would not even consider it. Even in a break-even scenario, most people would likely choose to own a new device over conserving resources by keeping their old device. This doesn't bode well for the future of conservation, if people view it as something that costs them money, rather than as a way to save it.

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