Do I Need the Latest Geeky Gadget When I Work in UX/UI?

Can I be a credible UX/UI professional without rushing out to buy the latest phone – essentially biting the hand that feeds me?

A couple of days ago, Apple lifted the curtains to its latest menagerie. Each shiny new gadget more refined, powerful, capable – infinitely more desirable – than the previous generation.

The flat bulge in your pocket suddenly feels like a deadweight. 🥺 “When can I preorder?” you ask yourself.

Working in UX/UI, I feel like the industry is a treadmill that’s moving too fast to keep up – and it’s speeding up: Shiny new gadgets, tools and ideas are constantly emerging, the rate of change seems to be exponential.

I’m almost ashamed to admit: my current smartphone is an iPhone 6s that I bought way back in 2015. That’s four years ago; in terms of cutting-edge technology, the model is practically a dinosaur. Back when I worked for an app maker, pulling a old-gen smartphone from your pocket got you smirks and looks of pity. It was practically sacrilege.

But my iPhone 6s still does the job:

  • The screen and housing are fully intact and almost stratch-free
  • All the ports and buttons work
  • The battery lasts long enough for me to get by (although I usually have Low Power Mode on)1
  • It (128 GB) still has enough space

And my iPhone 6s still has some killer features that the premium iPhones don’t:

  • There’s the 1/4" audio jack
  • I can actually hold and use it in one hand

So could can I be a credible UX/UI professional without rushing out to buy the latest phone – essentially biting the hand that feeds me?

New Things Cost Money

My unlocked iPhone 6s costed me 849 $USD at the time, which averages out to around $18 per month to-date (not including Apple Care).

A new iPhone 11 Pro would run me almost $38 per month (including $100 trade-in value for my 6s).

So I ask myself: Do I really need to spend the extra money? What percentage of new phone purchases are out of “necessity” (e.g. old phone broke) rather than “desire”? Would Apple ever share that information with the public?

New Things Cost Society and the Environment

The “blood diamonds”, i.e. cobalt, for my device have already been mined. Through my consumption, I’ve already helped fund child labor and human misery. The damage is done.

As I’ve noted when iPhone X came out, fully offsetting the CO2 released from manufacturing a new iPhone by planting trees takes years – if not a decade.

So I ask myself: Why continue to fuel the system of which I am a part? Why consume more if I don’t need more? Can’t I simply repair a broken device or trade for an aftermarket device? Can I be held responsible for creating a demand for goods that, to produce, cause human misery and environmental damage – even if I didn’t consider it at the time?

New Things Don’t Stay New Long

As Daniel Kahneman said in Thinking, Fast and Slow:

“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.”

Kahneman calls that focusing illusion: when you overweigh the importance of some detail to which you are giving attention while trying to evaluate the whole.

The drumroll leading up to the Apple Event, the event itself and the whole media buzz all get you thinking: “How happy am I with my current smartphone?” At the moment you’re thinking about it, it appears so important that you might open the pre-order form…

But the newness wears off quickly, and soon enough the flat bulge in your pocket starts to feel a little heavier.

Staying Credible

So how can I work in IT and not have the latest iPhone? Here’s my reasoning:

I still gotta run the treadmill of innovation: I still need to know what’s new, and up-and-coming. Understanding technology is just as much a part of UX work as is understanding user needs and business/organizational goals.

I need to know what the users use: I use analytics data to find out what devices users actually use. Usually only a relatively small percentage of visits are on the most performant devices with the fastest connectivity at any given time.

I still need access to the latest devices when working on projects where that’s important.


Footnotes

1 A after I bought my iPhone 6s, my device kept shutting down unexpectedly. It turns out, it was covered by a replacement program, and Apple promptly sent me a permanent replacement. How do you reconcile that when you’re worried about environmental/societal costs?


Published: Sep 12, 2019

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