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One minute you’re admiring the sky, the next you are an “old man yell[ing] at cloud”, to quote The Simpsons. And so it came to pass for me when Apple announced at its product launch that the new iPhone 15 would use a USB-C charger instead of its proprietary lightning cable.
Of course, Apple being Apple, it positioned the switch as a gift the tech group had bestowed on its fan base, instead of what it actually was: complying with an EU directive the company had fiercely resisted.
Last year, the European parliament announced that by autumn 2024, the USB-C would “become the common charging port for all mobile phones, tablets and cameras”. Next time you’re at an Apple store, instead of paying for your iPad, why not reframe the transaction as your decision to bequeath the company some money, and see how that grabs the “geniuses”.
My reaction to hearing the charger news was exasperation at Apple’s sleight of hand but also at the prospect of yet more stuff. Like many, I already have a box full of expired tech bits and bobs: cables, chargers and some random paraphernalia that might just come in handy one day. In the FT’s recent office reorganisation, I unearthed yet more expired tech.
The sensible thing would have been to take the lot to electronic recyclers. But I was haunted by a tweet: “Last month I did the unthinkable and finally threw out that box of unloved cables that I’ve dragged with me through adulthood. Today I realised that I needed one of them and have no idea how to find a replacement. CONSIDER THIS A WARNING TO YOU ALL.” So I might just hold on a little longer, and stash it away. I’ll get rid of it when I move again, or retire, or die. Maybe.
It’s not that I dislike tech. I love what it can do. I just hate having to think about it. There’s already enough to keep up with — work, family, friends, G20 updates, Bradley and Alex on The Morning Show. Once, after a laptop died, I dragged a first date to a shop to help me buy a new one because he seemed to know what he was talking about and I couldn’t face wading through the various consumer reviews and specifications to decide for myself.
Gadgetry ennui benefits the environment. My family keeps trying to persuade me of the merits of expensive Apple AirPods over my wired earbuds. I could counter that mine are more eco-friendly (no lithium battery or electricity use for charging). In truth, my attachment is because they stay in my ears when exercising and I can’t face talking about the alternatives.
Unlike Apple acolytes who watch the product launches like a child queueing to see Santa Claus, I fall between the “late majority” and the “laggards” as set out in the diffusion of innovation theory over 50 years ago — certainly no innovator or early adopter. Though today, even lagging behind can sound like hard work. A New York Times article profiled a group of Brooklyn school kids calling themselves the Luddite Club, eschewing smartphones. “When I got my flip phone,” said one, “I started using my brain. It made me observe myself as a person. I’ve been trying to write a book, too. It’s like 12 pages now.”
The short-term pain of Apple ditching its lightning charger will be worthwhile in the end, I know. Ultimately, it will reduce electronic waste. As Material Focus, a non-profit working to recycle electrical goods, says, e-waste is the UK’s “fastest growing waste stream, with 155,000 tonnes of electricals thrown away every year and 527mn items hoarded in homes”.
It will also simplify the search to borrow (or let’s face it, steal) the right charger in offices and at conferences. As such, the EU regulator’s action is to be applauded. Perhaps they could go further and empty our drawers of useless electronic stuff. Whatever it is.