Last Year’s Model

The Freakonomics blog just linked to “Last Year’s Model“, a site which encourages you to keep your current tech instead of throwing it away each year and getting new tech.

My first reaction was: “There are people who buy new stuff when the old stuff is still working fine? Why?” While I have an annoying habit of damaging, blowing up, or submerging my phones, or having them stolen, I can’t think of a time I ever bought a new one when the old one worked fine.

Surely it’s a sign of how utterly materialist our society has become that voluntarily choosing to use last year’s model (gasp!) is considered an unusual and noteworthy virtue?

11 thoughts on “Last Year’s Model

  1. That’s nothing. Sometimes I wear my clothes more than once before throwing them out.

  2. Someone I know received a marketing call for a new mobile phone, so she replied that her existing one was fine thank-you. When the sales person persisted, she explained that her existing one had been a gift from her husband, so it would be extremely rude to him to replace it when it was still reasonably new and working perfectly well. One would rather hope that after she spelt it out so plainly, that would then be the end of the matter. But no, the sales person still persisted. Translation: “I don’t give a stuff about your relationship with your husband; I just want the commission on the sale.”

    Even though I myself have quite an old phone and am still perfectly happy with it, I wouldn’t want to criticise people for upgrading a phone that happens still to be working. There does, however, have to be some actual use case for the later model, rather than merely upgrading for the sake of it.

  3. Yeah, I feel similarly bemused from time to time. Here’s another thing that bugged me lately: Tesco published good numbers for the past year (as a positive note in these recession-filled times). Their statement said they “had managed to increase both the number of customers coming into its stores and the average amount they were spending.” (according to the BBC)

    I couldn’t help but think “hang on, the same people are now buying more stuff? I acknowledge that might be good for Tesco, but I can’t see how it’s a good thing that people are buying more things, which I assume are things they didn’t need before last year (when they weren’t buying them)”

    (of course, there are other reasons for people spending more money, like buying things at Tesco that they used to buy elsewhere, inflation, etc… it just seemed so counterintuitive to me to report “people spend more money in our store” rather than “people can find more of the things they need in our store” or “people are happier with their purchases/experience at our store”, which in my opinion would be more worthy a goal. But then, I am young, naive and optimistic, so I probably shouldn’t try to run a business…)

    See: BBC News

  4. Gijs: They aren’t necessarily buying more stuff, they are just buying more stuff at Tesco. As the recession bites, people move downmarket.

  5. I don’t understand how you can have problems understanding this, and I think the idea of being proud of holding onto old technology is no less ridiculous than being proud of buying new technology all the time.

    Technology is improving at an exponential rate, and there’s nothing to suggest that it will stop doing so. Prices overall are also dropping. In 18 months time, computers will be twice as good as they are now. This works eerily well if you work backwards in time from current technology as well. The model fits and is not going away.

    It’s not that old technology is bad (or broken), it’s that new technology is better and does more for less money. The longer the upgrade period, the more will have changed or improved. Decade-old computers are still functional, but you won’t find many people using them out of choice.

    There are obvious incentives to upgrade, while the only large incentives to stay with what you have are cost of upgrading and familiarity. Evidently not many people find these to be massive obstacles.

    The only people who truly shouldn’t be upgrading “for the sake of it” are people whose requirements never change, but these people essentially don’t exist in numbers large enough to matter, because you can’t possibly be unaffected by progress that happens at civilisation level.

  6. I don’t see the problem with upgrading to the new model every year, as long as you hand down the old tech or sell it.

  7. Ben: You say new technology “does more for less money”. If you have old technology that still works, then the new stuff doesn’t “do more for less money”, it “does more for some extra money” – because you have to buy it.

    Suggesting that the progress of civilization significantly affects what I need out of a mobile telephone seems a bit of a stretch to me.

  8. It also depends on how satisfied one is with the (slightly) old tech. When I switched over to Verizon here in the States, I bought a nice-looking Samsung phone. Except that my Mac doesn’t (maybe didn’t at this point, I haven’t checked) know how to sync up address books, download images, etc. I’m sure there are places on the web I can go to at this point and download the appropriate patches, but there’s also the fact that I get my “loyal customer reward” or whatever they call it in a few months which is good for a certain amount off a new phone.

    Now, nothing in the current crop really catches my attention either, but if I saw a nice-looking phone that was easy to sync I’d probably buy it just so I could use it the way I used to use my T-Mobile phone.

    (Note for non-US readers: When the old cellular technology became limiting, most of the world started using GSM, and a few carriers in the US did as well: T-Mobile and Cingular (now AT&T) for example. But other carriers invested in their own technologies and networks: Sprint/Nextel uses PCS and Verizon uses CDMA. The techs and frequencies are incompatible, so unless you want to pay a great deal more for your phone you’re locked in to the tech if not the carrier. T-Mobile can reprovision an AT&T phone, but if you’re coming to/from Verizon you’re basically required to make a new purchase. Yes, we hate it. Along with many other aspects of the mobile phone market that are (luckily for you) unique to us.)

  9. > While I have an annoying habit of damaging, blowing up, or
    > submerging my phones, or having them stolen, I can’t think
    > of a time I ever bought a new one when the old one worked fine.

    Oh, we did that once, back in the nineties. Dad wanted a phone with some speed dial buttons, because he had a couple of fairly long numbers that he had to dial on a regular basis. This was before mandatory area code dialing, so most numbers were only seven digits (yeah, we were spoiled), but any number outside our area code had three “extra” digits there. For some calls, there was a fourteen-digit calling card number. So we put the new phone with the nifty extra buttons in the study (which was also the family room), and we put the old, still-working phone in a box for a while. Eventually it ended up in my sister’s room, though, when she convinced somebody to run a phone jack up there.

    Gijs, for a lot of people these days groceries are a secondary good. You only buy them if you’re cooking your own food at home, instead of eating out. So yeah, people buy more groceries when the economy is down, because they’re eating out less. (Personally, I don’t understand why people *want* to eat out all the time. Is your cooking really that horrible, that it’s literally worse than restaurant food? I think I would die. But a lot of people live there.)

  10. It could possibly be because the software they want to use won’t work with their old equipment? (Phones these days are nearly as software dependent as computers.)

    Just a few weeks ago you were advocating that people should upgrade their OS to use Firefox 3, and if their machine was too old to cope with the latest OS they should just scrap everything and start again with Linux. Now you’re horrified by the materialism of people upgrading hardware when the old model still works. Yeah, Free software is slightly better in this regard than commercial, but honestly posts like that one make me doubt whether it’s enough better to combat gross consumerism.

  11. I wasn’t advocating that people upgrade their OS to use Firefox 3, I was advocating that they upgrade their OS to stop their machine being turned into a bot. I’m not against replacing things when they are too old to continue to use safely! If your machine runs only Windows 98 and can’t cope with Vista, then either installing Linux (for free) or upgrading to a new machine (for money) are both viable options, and I wouldn’t criticise either (at least, any more than the gentle pity I generally show to people who choose to put up with Windows ;-).

    The thing that struck me about this website is how using last year’s model is an amazing virtue for which people should be commended.

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