Smartphones Are Like Cars. So Why Don’t We Maintain Them?

You can also create an annual calendar reminder to do a phone checkup. That could involve simple steps like purging apps and photos you no longer need to free up digital storage space, which can speed the phone back up.

Another motivator may be doing the math. For about $70, you can replace your phone’s battery at a repair shop, which makes this a relatively cost-effective fix. Let’s say that in two years, you trade in your $800 phone for $300 in credit toward the new $800 model. That’s spending $500 on a phone every two years; over eight years, you will have spent $2,800 on phones. In contrast, if you hold on to an $800 phone and replace two batteries for $70 each, you will spend $940 in the same period. For many, especially families with multiple phones, that adds up to major savings.

You can also remind yourself to practice self-restraint when new phone ads play on TV or appear in your inbox, said Lee Vinsel, an author of “The Innovation Delusion,” a book about how our obsession with the new has killed the art of maintenance. That also includes resisting the urge to judge others who don’t have the newest gadgets.

“A cultural shift needs to happen,” Mr. Vinsel said. “We need to stop being seduced by the hype and just think about the larger picture, including the environment.”

It is worth noting, however, that some common phone problems can be impractical to fix. Case in point: When I broke my iPhone 12 screen, a replacement part from Apple cost about $300. If the cost of repair approaches the price tag of a new device, buying a replacement might make sense. (That said, I paid to repair it because I’m attached to the phone.)

But the situation for phone repairs is improving. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it would crack down on companies that prevented people from fixing their products. And a New York state law that was passed in June, which would require tech companies to open access to electronics repair and diagnostics tools, awaits a signature from Gov. Kathy Hochul.

As a result of all the regulatory movement, repair is very gradually becoming simpler. What needs to change next is our mind-set.


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