Music and fashion thrive on sampling the styles of the past with some kind of cyclical regularity - 60s one year, 70s the next. Style in the world of technology appears to be immune to this dynamic, although that hasn't dampened my fantasy of busting out a shoebox-sized "mobile" phone the next time I'm at the pub.
In the U.S. there are currently about 531 million numbers registered to home phones, cellphones and pagers. But because technology changes so quickly, people replace their cellphones on average every 18 months. This means there are an estimated 150 million unused cellphones in the U.S., perhaps 15 million in Canada - working technology collecting dust in drawers and basements.
The good news is you don't have to watch your old phones rot. Put your conscience at ease with these new options for cellphone recycling.
A project promoted by Pitch-in Canada solicits old clunkers for a company called PhoneBack ( www.pitch-in.ca/Ntl%20Cell%20Phone%20Program/1-3.html) that refits them for sale back to the manufacturer. A donation is then provided to a charity of the donor's choice.
Another option is the Phones-for-Food project ( www.phonesforfood.com ). Donors can drop off old phones (and inkjet cartridges) at any of the 1,400 Rogers locations across Canada. Purolator then picks them up for free and delivers them to a Phones-for-Food depot to be refurbished and sold back to the manufacturer. All the proceeds go to the Canadian Association of Food Banks.
Charitable Recycling ( www.charitablerecycling.com ) goes one step further. This Newmarket-based organization takes old cellphones and refurbishes them for use by local community groups. By law, all cellphones must retain access to a 911 service whether they're on a plan or not, so old phones can be used by shelters as emergency links to the police, or by groups like the Salvation Army's Human School Bus, which escorts kids through rough parts of the city.
Charitable Recycling, along with organizations like CollectiveGood ( www.collectivegood.com ), also outfits old cellphones to be used in Latin America, India and Eastern Europe, toward closing the so-called "digital divide." Recently, there's been a call for communications technology for aid workers and residents in areas damaged by the December 26 tsunami.
It might seem strange that such technology could be useful to people who often lack basics like clean drinking water, but cellphones are a relatively cheap way for villages to communicate with each other. The infrastructure that supports the phones (cell towers) is relatively easy to install, so money needn't be wasted dragging wire and telephone poles across the country.
Cellphones are at the heart of one of the projects run by the much-lauded Grameen Bank. Grameen provides "micro-loans" to women in poor villages to start small businesses. The program has been a remarkable success, at work in almost 50,000 villages, working with 3.7 million borrowers.
Many of them buy refurbished cellphones through the GrameenPhone ( www.grameen-info.org ) program. They can rent the phone out to others or use it as a tool in other businesses, allowing them to communicate with potential buyers or material suppliers, giving women much-needed autonomy over the manufacturing process and the ruling patriarchy.
Grameen Bank was recently highlighted as part of Bruce Mau's happy family in the AGO's Massive Change exhibition. Mau's rabidly optimistic - some say too rosy - show manages to eke out a semblance of social responsibility from our consummate culture of design.
So the next time you junk your old cellphone in favour of the newer, sleeker, shinier model, remind yourself that your old phone can find a new use in someone else's hands.