Upgrade Renegade

A week or so ago I tried logging onto the app of one of my banks to do a transaction, only to find the app won’t work anymore unless I download a new version. I tend to be a slacker about such upgrades so it’s normal for me to wait til I’m forced. Sheer laziness really, more than ideology or anything like that.

I went to the app store to download the latest version onto my smartphone … only to be confronted with more of a stopper: In order to download the current version of the app, I would need to upgrade my phone’s operating system. Now that is something I’m really lazy about. Compounded by the fact that it’s a process so fraught with uncertainty.

So I skipped over that and tried the app to my other bank account. Same deal — upgrade required; and could not download the upgrade unless I upgraded my phone’s operating system.

That particular day, I was able to transact all my business by visiting the websites of my banks. But if I want to deposit checks (a thing I need to do on occasion), I will need the apps so I can have the convenience of being able to deposit the checks electronically.

So yesterday I decided to live dangerously, bite the bullet and try upgrading the phone’s operating system. I clicked on the upgrade option and waited. Nothing seemed to happen. Admittedly, I didn’t give it that much time. But the truth is, my phone might be too old to accept the upgrade! The phone was used when I bought it several years ago (I buy my phones used when possible, for both environmental and financial reasons), so it just might not be up to the new OS.

For the moment, therefore, I am an upgrade renegade, though I did not plan it this way. I find myself getting excited to see how far I can go without upgrading my phone to the new OS.

This afternoon, another twist of fate put my “upgrade renegade” status to the test. Actually it was a twist of clumsiness: I dropped my phone and it landed flat on its face. Since I was not able to buy a replacement otter box or screen protector the last time I got a broken screen fixed (the repair place didn’t have any in stock, and I’m leery of shopping online for such items because it’s hard to tell if what I’m ordering will fit my phone), my phone has been “going naked” for over a year now. I’ve dropped it a time or two but never dropped it on its face til today. As of today, the screen is now filled with cracks.

Now I’ve done it, I thought. I really need a new screen. I called my go-to repair shop, they are closed til Monday. Looked up a couple other repair shops nearby — not answering their phones; or phones out of service.

My screen is so cracked that if I didn’t do something immediately, shards of glass could potentially come loose, causing a hazard.

Caught between a screen and a hard place, I reached into my office-supply drawer for the clear packing tape. I had little hope it’d work; figured the tape would block the screen’s sensitivity. But nope! I am typing through a layer of tape right now!

And so, for the moment, I remain … an upgrade renegade! Although my immediate response was to connect with the repair shop, I wasn’t entirely disappointed to not be able to reach one right away, as it prodded me to try to improvise what I could in the moment.

By the way: My smartphone is my main work tool; I do most of my blog posts this way, and also pretty much all my social-media sharing, and virtual meetings and conferences, and non-in-person speaking gigs, and classes as well (both the classes I teach and the classes I take). And even with the latest accident, all of that functioning continues unimpeded.

Maybe I’ll be crying for mercy by Monday and call my favorite repair place as soon as they open. (The cracks do impede visibility a bit.) But who knows? It’ll be interesting to see. And regarding banking, a physical branch of my main bank is located just a short walk from my house, so not being able to deposit checks electronically is not that big a deal.

Update a few hours after I first made this post: Some people have offered the viewpoint that app updates and operating-system upgrades are needed because they address security holes and other bugs. I allow that this is probably true in some cases. But I have also heard a lot of tech experts talk about updates that are an unnecessary hassle. And I have tended to perceive updates and upgrades as an annoying attention-suck, and a form of forced obsolescence that’s more about corporate control than it is about the wellbeing of the user.

In cases where an older app version is only “not secure” because the company has chosen to no longer support it, rather than because of any inherent security bugs, that raises a big red flag for me. And, in general, I am in favor of all of us building enough redundancy into our creative and occupational mix so that even when “mission-critical” electronic devices break down, we can continue to go happily and steadily about our missions and have enough income streams to thrive.

And, when the relentless device update/upgrade parade leads to having to purchase a new device, it is a forced consumerism. And it is part of a system that exerts environmentally damaging undesirable impacts on people and ecosystems (because of the mining required for new materials, and the various hazards associated with disposal of obsolete devices and old materials).

P.S. The word “renegade” I am using tongue-in-cheek. I’m not glamorizing myself as some wild rebel, and I’m not trying to “stick it to” anyone. Rather, I’m wryly highlighting the societal judgment that tends to fall on anyone who dares to push back against the cherished norms of consumerist society. The cardinal one being “new is necessary” or “new is best.” When a destructive society keeps saying “Do what you’re told, consumers,” I do tend to look for work-arounds, and find some satisfaction in doing so. Not because I’m trying to stick it to anyone but because I want to stick up for people and the planet (and my own wallet).

Some people in an eco-minded group where I posted this story actually seemed contemptuous or even offended at my failure to go along with upgrades. It was kind of weird to see the backlash, and to notice how many people didn’t see how my choice was in any way relevant to pushing back against consumerism.

Update March 4: Almost a month later to the day, I still haven’t gotten my cracked screen fixed (though I do plan at some point to do so). And re the app non-update thing: Honestly, things have been fine — almost anticlimactically so! I’ve been logging onto banks and such via my browser, no problem.

Update May 18, 2022: Three months later, still with the same phone, taped screen and all. I have found workarounds for pretty much all my daily tasks that supposedly had to have the new version or operating system.

Update November 2022: Last month I finally bought a new phone. Never did get around to getting the cracked screen fixed on my old one all that time! What made me break down and finally replace it was a combination of keypad gone wonky, and just too many apps unusable in my old OS. I love having a new phone but I will always strive to maximally stretch the time between phone replacements. If we all maximized replacement intervals it’d surely make a ripple in the industry. BTW this is my first new smartphone; all my previous ones have been refurbs (and they have been great). This is the fourth phone I have owned since 2009, when I first started having a smartphone. Averaging about 4.66 years per phone isn’t bad considering that the first three were refurbs. It would be great to see even more longevity though.

Further Exploration:

• “The Story of Electronics” video by Annie Leonard. This is part of her extremely popular series that started with “The Story of Stuff.”) “Host Annie Leonard takes viewers from the mines and factories where our gadgets begin to the horrific backyard recycling shops in China where many end up.” How companies “design for the dump”; and how villages pay with the loss of their clean drinking water among other things. You can access these videos both on YouTube and on the StoryOfStuff.org website linked above.)

• There is a case for biting the bullet and submitting to software upgrades, especially if you’re like me and rely heavily on a smartphone, tablet, or other device for your work or other essential tasks. You can at least sort of do it on your own time if you plan carefully. David Gewirtz, writing on zdnet.com, expresses it well.