I have quite the collection of paperweights and doorstops. They didn't start out that way of course. They all began life as usable electronics like cell phones and networking gear. All were the victims of upgrades to newer gear such as Wireless-B to Wireless-G. My cell phone upgrades every two years per the plan, leaving a graveyard of old phones. Some devices were on their way to the trash and I couldn't help but save them from becoming toxic waste. Don't kid yourself. Even the most innocuous electronic devices have heavy metals, plastics, and other materials that will continue to pollute for centuries to come.
What annoys me is not the proliferation of electronic gear but the fact that they can't easily be reused or upgraded. Why? Because they are designed to be tossed away, use closed architectures or, and this really galls me, are purposefully locked.
For example, I decided to upgrade my cell phone this year. My old one worked fine but was lousy for texting. So I took the old one to a Verizon store and asked if they could convert it to a Tracfone. Tracfone is a pay-as-you-go cellular service provider which is great for the kids. The no-contract, phone card type system keeps teenagers from running up massive phone bills. I was told, quite emphatically, “No!” What's so ironic about this is that Verizon owns Tracfone. I was offering to spend more money with them but they didn't want it. So the phone sits in my desk draw waiting for its day of liberation.
I could attempt to jailbreak it. Jailbreaking consists of hacking the hardware and firmware to remove whatever is tying the device to the service provider. Why should I have to do that though? Besides the fact that I might brick the device, it's also likely that Tracfone/Verizon still won't let me use it.
There are alternatives. I could donate the phones to various groups that re-purpose them for soldiers in Iraq or victims of domestic violence. Worthy use but I wanted to get more out these myself. And I'm pretty sure they don't want an old DSL Modem.
The sheer waste is incredible. Millions of these devices get tossed in landfills or, hopefully, sent to a recycler. All could be given a new lease on life if only they could be opened up, added to, and tinkered with. I'm not suggesting that vendors open up the phones when the are active. That would be nice but unnecessary. It's great that Cisco opened up their Linksys Routers. Lots of hackers enjoy extending their WRT54 devices, adding new features and sometime using them for entirely different purposes. I'm not that ambitious. I only want my devices to have a longer lifespan.
One of the great things about computers is that they can be used nearly forever. I know a lot of folks that still use DOS era computers for useful purposes. Some are hobbyists and others use them for a single purpose like voice mail. I still use a nine year old 40GB disk. I stuck it in a USB drive case and use it for email backup. Why can't we do that with all of these devices? Okay, it's big company greed but it's stupid greed. They could sell me a cheap retrofit kit and make a couple of bucks that they wouldn't have.
Reuse is the ultimate recycle. Let my devices go!