Consumerism Be Damned: A Cars and Cellphones Metaphorical Musing

When your cellphone contract expires, the generally expected thing to do is to stride immediately into your local telecoms agency and sign yourself up for a fresh deal on whatever phone grabs your fancy.
The contract for my cellphone expired last march and, well, I really didn’t know what to do. I had been nailed into a 24 month term and the phone had actually been perfectly satisfactory, battery issues aside, and no doubt its replacement would do just the same job, but the idea of being locked into another two year relationship with anything then on the market really didn’t appeal to me.
There was just so much choice, and I really didn’t like any of it. Thank goodness, I thought to myself, we’re talking about a phone and not a car.

I had spent the last two years with a Samsung Galaxy Note.  This was among the first generation of grossly swollen cellphones and was seen as a bit of a marketing risk at the time; would people take to being seen in public with what looked like a good-sized plasma TV pressed to their ear? Well, the gamble paid off and the Note has survived into a fourth incarnation. That’s four generations in less than three years. Mine has been through its fair share of batteries (it’s now just eaten its fourth) and is the charging socket is also, handily, all screwed up.
The Note had already been on the market for a while when I signed up in March 2012, long enough after launch for the first round of price-cuts to take effect. When phones are concerned I want a decent degree of future-proofing, but I’m not so desperate to be on the cutting edge that I’m happy to pay through the nose to achieve it. So, why did I abandon Samsung in favour of HTC this time around? Well, there’s a distinct parallel here between what I want from my phone and what I want from my car.
The Galaxy S and Note series from Samsung has been brimmed full of innovation from the off. There are myriad facilities on the Note that I knew where there but I never used, and there are probably more beside that I don’t even know about. The follow-up models went even further, technologically, with proximity sensing screens that you don’t even have to touch. Madness.
The Samsung is a neat enough piece of kit, but in your hand it feels like, well, a ‘phone. Just another phone. Another transitional, two-years-then-the-dustbin consumer durable. Compared to less expensive models in the Samsung range the Galaxy S and Note are slimmer, neater and generally nicer in feel, but they’re still don’t feel like something that future generations will enjoy being handed down through the years. After two years, and once you’ve moved on to the next one, you’ll forget you ever had it.
In the end I chose the HTC One M8. Not because I love it, but because I dislike it the least. It’s bang up to date, so shouldn’t be technologically backwards too soon, but I was never expecting to particularly enjoy using it. Now I’ve had it for a few days, though, I am quickly beginning to appreciate its feel and its look. It seems like it’s hewn from a solid piece of actual metal, which, in effect, it is. The one piece casting feels truly substantial, permanent. I enjoy jostling it around in my pocket, along with my keys and loose change. I’m even looking forward to it picking up chips and scratches on its metalwork, like a favourite pewter tankard does.
In two years time I might even consider, this time, assuming the thing is still reliable and technology hasn’t marched forward so far that the M8 becomes a wax-cylinder in a 33rpm world, I will probably change my contract to SIM only and hang onto the phone for as long as physically possible. Like I do with my cars. If I like my car, what’s the point of changing it?
With the HTC I’m firmly anchored into a 24 month contract, which I can live with, ‘cos it’s only a phone. But I’ve just conducted a quick poll and there are very few cars out there that I’d want to have sitting on my driveway for two years, with no escape unless I buy my way out. And after that time has elapsed, are there truly any that I would want to keep for beyond my contract period and enjoy for years to come?
Years ago, cars like I’m describing actually were out there, but priorities have changed and such a beast is probably neither marketable nor physically possible today, unless we’re talking ultra-cars so mind-bendingly, surreally expensive and exclusive that they might as well not exist.
Can it be done? Can somebody design a regular, every-day car which is nice enough, timeless enough and capable enough to last not just beyond the lease period, but for potentially the rest of your life? It would need to last very well physically, but would need be created in such a way that its looks transcend fashions and trends. The way I see it, the closest anybody has ever got to achieving this is with the Land Rover Defender. I would buy, new, a car built to that ethos. It would become my “Car”, and it would probably be augmented by a couple of far less capable machines on a short term fling basis, perhaps something sporty and stupid, or something dull but practical but which doesn’t matter if it explodes and has to be buried. As long as my “Car” is everything I want in an everyday vehicle, of sufficient lasting design interest, enough fun and tolerably reliable, I might well keep it for ever.
What about you? Do you, like me, desperately want to reject this tedious consumerist cycle that sees us perpetually leaping from one heavily financed rock to the next? Do you yearn for permanence and tactility above fashion and novelty? Or do you have absolutely no idea what I’m on about and wonder why the hell this article was ever posted?
As a Car Guy who feverishly anticipates every exciting new automotive development, do you worry about being an enormous hypocrite because you wouldn’t dream of buying any of them?
You can expect my follow-up article in two years time, when we’ll see if I’ve fallen out with the HTC entirely and I’m eager to jump at something, anything else as soon as my contract ticks its last second.
(Images 2015 Chris Haining / Hooniverse)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

  1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
    PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

    <img src=""&gt;
    The Citi Golf would be my choice as a lifer. That and a Nexus device. I can continue to upgrade where needed, but for the most part she'll get me by.
    I'm a tech, car and bicycle lover. I buy the best I can afford and use it until it's no longer useful, though. So my id has me upgrading everything daily, but so far my superego is winning the fight.
    I have always owned a mountain bike. I have always owned one because they are more versatile than any other type of bike. Since I was old enough to own an adult bike, i had a capable and Local Bike Shop purchased mountain bike. For my 16th birthday i was given a beautiful Giant Iguana SE. I kept that bike until 2010 when, despite years of upgrading, I decided it would be better served as a commuter and I would buy a new mountain bike one with all modern goodness. I actually wound up giving my old bike to my brother in law, he uses it daily to get to and from work.
    I used the mountain bike for everything, actual mountain biking, errands, and had a set of slicks so that i could pull a trailer with my kids in it. I eventually came to the reality that it was stupid to not let the bike be the bike that it was supposed to be and I bought two more bikes. A road bike, with every conceivable option including electronic shifting, and a used 1993 all-terrain bike that I put the slicks on and use regularly for my around town 'throwaway' bike. Meanwhile I read blogs daily about the advances bikes are making and I 'Yea' and 'Nay' them based on what I would buy if I were in the market for one. But I am not. And if the Giant Iguana's lifespan was any indication, I won't be for another 15 years.
    So how does this relate to cars?
    I own a Pontiac Vibe. I like it, it commutes well, it hauls well and I use it for everything. My wife and I bought it to replace her totaled Saturn Vue (You see we're gradually working our way up the alphabet.) I will drive it until the wheels fall off because there is no reason to replace it. At all. My wife and I cannot have a 4th child, so I will not run out of seats, and it's been a maintenance dream so it's not hurting me financially. So i sit here and judge cars with my id, while my superego manages my actual life.
    Ain't fantasy fun.

  2. mdharrell Avatar

    <img src="; width="450">
    For any number of reasons, many illustrated above, I have no idea what you're talking about.

    1. Devin Avatar

      Look at the fancy pants with a car phone.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        It's a CB radio. Twenty-three channels of sheer decadence.

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          Ever experienced a trucker only hearing and not seeing you? Paint some black stripes on the freeway and go "bzzz" over the CB = real life trolling.

          1. ptschett Avatar

            Extra points for using "Flight of the Bumblebee".
            [youtube 6QV1RGMLUKE youtube]
            (…I used to know how to play a woodwind [I played tenor sax in my high school's band]. My fingers feel tired just watching the flautists & the clarinet/oboe/bassoon-ists in this video…)

  3. eggsalad Avatar

    Honestly, I'm not really sure what you're asking. I drive a 2005 Scion, to which I added a radio from a 2010 Scion to add (limited) iPhone capability. The problem with technology in modern cars is that much of it becomes obsolete in a few years, whereas the life of an automobile is (or should be!) much longer than that.
    What seems to be forthcoming are screens in the car that more or less simply mirror your phone. Hopefully that will be a way for cars to keep up with technology.

  4. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    For what it's worth, I seldom buy anything with the expectation that I will be replacing it in short order – including technology devices.
    My cell phone is a flip phone, and both televisions in my house are CRT.
    I'm not sure I relate to this post.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      You have a flip phone too? Apparently we're trendsetters:

  5. mike england Avatar
    mike england

    Ford made the perfect car about 20-22 years ago. An f-150 with a 302 and EFI. No need to go car-shopping every two years. Engines last at least 150,000 – 200,000 miles – transmissions about the same. Why would anyone want to go car-shopping once each two years? When I bought my 1st one, I had to put some money into it due to some deferred maintenance items. Then, I got a 2nd one, for several very good reasons. I plan to drive them both til my wife sells them after I'm dead and gone. Maybe I'll get a 3rd. I can't part with anything, so if I got another car each 2 years I'd have 16 cars. I've exercised a lot of self-control, I believe, and only have 5 – no one needs more than that, right? well, maybe ONe more. . . but that's enough.

  6. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    phones are stupid. i bought my HTC in 2012 when phones were actually improving at a rapid clip. now it's all gimmickry and spec-sheet chest-thumping – phones on the market today look more or less like mine and have more or less the same feature set, they're just a bit faster. since t-mobile no longer incorporates the price of the phone into its monthly plans, there is no incentive for me to upgrade. the tablet market is a good reflection of this – sales growth has slowed now that nobody who wants one doesn't have one. and given that an ipad 1 or 2 is still surprisingly usable, why upgrade?
    i think cars reached the not-changing-much threshold around a decade ago, maybe a bit more. i think most with a car newer than the late '90s or so couldn't seriously complain about the feature set (with the exception of safety technology, which has improved a lot over that time). the biggest advances are either improvements to existing features – better mileage, better performance, etc – or features that can be transplanted into older cars – bluetooth, navigation, etc. by and large, the remainder is gimmickry. (one could argue that this has been true since well before the '90s, but IMO fuel injection and the improvements in build quality are too important.)
    but it's all about what you're looking to get out of it. PBJ mentions bikes above. i ride a 35-year-old ten-speed. just like my texting needs haven't changed since 2012, the human body hasn't changed much since '79. for me, it's perfect. but if i were looking to go fast and (heaven forbid!) get exercise, i'd buy PBJ's road bike. there are people out there who get something out of having the fastest car, or the snazziest phone, or the lightest bike. for the rest of us, technologies tend to reach a point past which the majority of development is frippery, or at least living without it is largely not a hindrance. (i'd sure like an indexed drivetrain, though.)
    i think while you're working your way up the technology ladder to that point, it's totally cool to be a mindless, hungry consumer. and i'm certainly not entitled to tell anyone when he's climbed high enough – if something makes you smile and you can afford it, why not? but for me personally, it's usually pretty easy to recognize when i'm ready to step off.

    1. Slow_Joe_Crow Avatar

      While I wouldn't push you to try electronic shifting on a bike, you should definitely try indexed shifting which has been around since the 80s. For various reasons my bike fleet is far more modern than either my car or motorcycle and indexed shifting and compact cranks are two things I consider positive innovations.
      I'm with you on cars, I still drive a mid-90s vehicle with navigation and Bluetooth courtesy of my smartphone clipped to the dash.

      1. wunno sev Avatar
        wunno sev

        oh yeah, absolutely. that's a massive upgrade. i really enjoy riding bikes with indexed gears. it's just hard to justify putting the money in for a bike that's not really worth much. i'd have to buy shifters, cables, a rear wheel – and might as well get a front too, since i'll probably want 700c wheels, so then i'll need tires, tubes, rim strips….at that point, i could hit up craigslist and just buy a bike with indexed shifting. misguided emotional attachment to my old panasonic is all that stands between that option and reality.

  7. JayP2112 Avatar

    Of course the answer to this question is Mustang.
    The S197 GT to be specific.

  8. Wildcat_445 Avatar

    I bought my own device (a Nexus 4) a couple of years ago, and have a no-contract prepaid plan through T-Mobile. Reception sometimes sucks (it's no Verizon…but so is the price), but the phone is still serving me well. I may get a Nexus 5 before they're discontinued. (Plans are to produce it through the end of March.) I got sucked into Verizon around 2009 or so, and even after I was off the 24 month requirement, my monthly cost kept going up, and up, and up, with more fees and "taxes" added at their whim. In essence, I was no longer paying for the phone, and they were keeping the overage as pure profit. These days, $30/month gets me 5GB of data, and I rarely hit 2GB. I can make phone calls to mobile and land lines using Hangouts either on data or WiFi, using the same Google Voice number I've had since, like, forever. Maybe not 100% perfect but for my usage, it's been perfectly fine.
    So yes, I'm that cheap old bastid you hear about, the one with the cheap T-Mo plan and an 18 year old CR-V that just won't die. What little TV we watch (NHL, from Canada of all places) comes via antenna. Even my Internetz are cheap, also $30/month.
    Quick note on the phone hardware: to me it makes little difference about the hardware. As long as I can run the apps I need while I'm mobile, and the hardware isn't laggy, I'm fine. I also carry a Nexus 7 just so I can more easily read the screen, answer emails (with my clients, I have to be "on call" in case of emergency, no matter how they decide to contact me), and use it for navigation, as it has a nice big screen I can see without needing my reading glasses. (It tethers via WiFi to the Nexus 4.) I'm not one to stick to brands for physical features or status–I just want to carry what gets the job done, without paying a fortune. The main reason I stick to the Nexus family is for the fast OS updates. I got stung with both of my Verizon phones, waiting 12 to 18 months only to find out promised OS updates would never be forthcoming. So much of it is tied up in corporate politics. Why let me upgrade my one-year-old phone when they can dangle that nice, shiny Smartphone III a year from now with all the latest doo-dads and buzzwords?
    I think a lot of us are alike–we simply want a usable and reliable phone/smartphone, at a cost we can live with.
    And for the record, the answer is: "potatoes."

    1. racer139 Avatar

      Don't update your 4… Mine has been utter shite since the update. Its a touch better since the newest .01 update but still white for the most part.

  9. Yuppie Scum Avatar
    Yuppie Scum

    Google is coming out with a modular/upgradable phone. Could be cool and less disposable if the execution is good.

  10. salguod Avatar

    With cars, I've been in a run it for 9-11 years mode for a bit. Bought my '93 Escort in '95 with 22K, gave it away in '05 at 184K. Bought our '99 Odyssey with 29K in '01, traded it in '10 at 206K. Bought my '05 Mazda3 new in '06 and I'm still enjoying it now at 154K and counting.
    However, I'm coming round to a bit different mindset. There are so many interesting cars out there, I should be cycling through them faster if I want to experience the gamut of automotive delights. I'm leaning towards replacing the Mazda, when it's time, with something older, maybe 20 years+, that I can enjoy for a year or two and then sell without losing my shirt. Then I get to try lots of things, without too much commitment.
    My youngest daughter starts driving soon. Maybe I'll pass the Mazda to her and give it a shot.

  11. Maymar Avatar

    I kind of get the tactile thing – I've had a work-assigned iPhone5 for almost two years (well, on my second after the first battery got near-useless about a month ago), and it feels nice, solid, metallic, all that (so of course I have it wrapped up in a massive, and absolutely necessary, Otterbox). That said, I hate touchscreens, and I'm not all that compelled to worship at the Temple of Jobs. Just for the sake of the physical keyboard, I have a Blackberry Q5 – it meets my rudimentary needs, although I miss the ability to easily swap batteries like on older BBs. I'll use this until it stops working and I have reason to move onto something else (same reason I finally ditched my 7-year old laptop recently).
    As far as cars go, I just naturally get wanderlusty after a year or two mostly. But, I'm also content to buy heavily depreciated vehicles, so it's not about having the newest, best thing, just something to interest me for a little while. That said, I certainly wasn't eager to turn in my '10 Civic once the mileage limit was hit, but it didn't make financial sense to hold onto it at the time. I can't see any reason I'll have a problem with hanging onto my Mazda until it's paid off (in 6.5 years) – and at that point, it'll be a question if I need more space (re. with child by then), or otherwise drive it into the ground.

  12. Synchromesh Avatar

    Apple should personally thank HTC for driving me away from Android. I had one of the first Verizon Android phones – HTC Eris and it was a tremendous piece of junk all over. After that I started buying BMW… errr… iPhones. On my 3rd now. Sure they weren't perfect but I surely won't go back to Android. Played with a few recently and just don't see how people can use that horror every day.

  13. Devin Avatar

    I use a Moto G for a phone. I've dropped it on the floor like, 100 times by now, and it's not broken. Thus it is apparently the best phone on the market, because all the iPhones and Galaxies and whatever I see are either in massive cases or covered in shattered glass. It was also cheap.

  14. Rover_1 Avatar

    A very very rich person I know still has the two W126 500SECs that he bought in 1986. (One for him, one for wife).
    He still has them in everyday use along with the W124 wagon, bought at the same time, though they have been added to with a G500 for use on the farm and vineyards.
    He says that he can't see any reason to trade in for a newer model until self driving cars come in. This annoys the local Mercedes Benz dealer who nonetheless still regularly lone him the latest S-class in an attempt to 'upsell'
    So he's done what you suggest, only nearly 30 years ago.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      I wonder: are the repair bills on the W126 less than the lease payment on the latest S-class?
      If so, I can see an opportunity here: buy old W126, make sure it's always broken so I can drive loaner S-class for (almost) free!

      1. Rover_1 Avatar

        Well, first you have to buy some new W126s and a W124 wagon after being a new Mercedes customer for years, buy a new G500 several years later and keep buying Mercedes trucks and vans for your businesses over thirty years,and retain a net worth of over $100 million, despite paying out $30 million in losses during a property crash instead of hiding behind bankruptcy laws and shell companies. And be very strong-willed and not mind everyone thinking you're eccentric. This eccentricity can help with wine sales and the respect of business associates.
        Also servicing costs on W126 one owner vehicles over that time aren't much more than tyres and oil changes.The cars concerned have done less than 400,000km today.

  15. Sjalabais Avatar

    I get your argument. To start with the parallel, I've only bought IP67 certified phones for ages – because of my hobbies, and because of a black belt in clumsiness. My last feature phone was such a Samsung, a good product, that suddenly died because of water intrusion. Yes. I received a new one, but had bought an S5690 Xcover in the meantime. Worst smart phone ever, too little memory and internal storage to even run Android properly. So I accepted an S4 Active as an employer phone with a private number later on. I've lost this one under cars, in engine bays, while cayaking, skiing, hunting, and it even spend a night outside in the rain nesting between strawberries because it fell out of my pocket without me finding it. Still works and I'm happy.
    Car-wise, the old Volvos I keep on posting about are my automobile ideal. I love things that are build to last because engineers did the decisions. As opposed to marketeers and economists. That's why my current Honda, free for optional equipment that could excite anyone, is the first non-Volvo I'm actually happy with. If the transmission goes, which I do fear with a certain level of anticipation, I will feel let down and throw some verbal poop after the framed H.
    At the same time, I respectfully lack understanding of people who drive one, and just one, car for decades on end. Irv Gordon is an automobile hero, but I'm sure I couldn't have done it. On the other hand, I've tried to replace a steel frame bike I bought myself as a 16 year old from hard earned money four times. Nothing beats its geometry, flexibility and durability, so this bike were only the frame remains original is still my #1 bike.
    There's an answer in here somewhere, here's the short one:
    <img src="; width="600">

  16. Fiatcoupeguy Avatar

    What about a Fiat Coupè ?

  17. Dean Bigglesworth Avatar
    Dean Bigglesworth

    I'm still driving my first car. Bought it new in 2003. Though I did buy a cheap Volvo in 2011 when the head gasket on the Focus went.. Still have that, too. Been wanting to get something new for the last eight years at least, but haven't found anything I'd like and didn't require financing for five years, which i'm not too keen on doing. Waiting for the BRZ/GT86 to drop in price, the used values haven't dropped at all in over a year…
    As for phones, I used Nokias up until they shot themselves in the foot and discontinued the superb N9 and stopped supporting the MeeGo os. Tried going back to symbian with a 808 pureview but apart from the great camera it got too frustrating. Had tried a few friends Android devices, liked them even less than the by that point outdated symbian. Windows Phone is an incomprehensible mess even for someone who has used tech basically all his life; i've never used an electronic device of any sort that's less intuitive than those bloody things. I get angry just thinking about them.
    So after a while with Symbian I broke down and bought my first Apple product ever, the cheapest one available at the time, the iPhone 4s 8gb. Around the time iOS7 was released. Then I got a 5s. Installed OS X on my 2008 PC(easy, and works really well)… Which eventually lead to me buying an iPad, AppleTV, and now after a series of ThinkPads my first Macbook since the G4 era. The bloody things just do everything i need them to, and they work together seamlessly. Unless something breaks I don't see myself upgrading in a long, long time.
    But enough about phönes, I'm rambling again. Here's the Old 97's and Waylon, instead. And it's at least tangentially related to cars. [youtube oCE234YfPo0 youtube]

  18. NotJustDucky Avatar

    I'm reminded of a comment years ago where somebody mused that he should have bought a dozen '89 Dakotas new (before Daks got "lame") and put them in storage so he could take a new one off the shelf every few years when the old one wore out.
    In the phone department, I've had a Blackberry Torch slider since 2011:
    <img src=""&gt;
    AT&T keeps reminding me that I'm eligible for an upgrade, but the main reason I chose it is the physical keyboard, and in the race for slimmer and flatscreenier in the phone world there isn't much on offer with actual keys anymore, and noting with the slider form factor, which I really like. I'll most likely keep this phone until it just plain doesn't work anymore, so the electronic equivalent of driving the wheels off of a car.
    As for cars, I tend to keep vehicles until they reach the end of their useful life, so every few years I find myself in the market for a "new" well-used car whether I like it or not. I don't think there's been anything added to the common feature set of the average car new car that in my mind would make a new car a vast improvement over something ten years old. If I didn't need a pickup for truck stuff, for everyday general transportation duties I would probably be quite happy with something like a first generation Scion xB for quite a long time.

  19. ptschett Avatar

    I take a honey badger approach on both cars and tech: I get what I want at the time that I want to get it, I keep it as long as I like, and if/when I move onwards I do that at my own timing.
    Therefore, here I am with a 2007 MacBook and an iPhone 4 for tech [the iPhone 4 was the first cellphone I ever had], and a '96 Thunderbird / '05 Dakota / '10 Challenger R/T for cars; I have a '15 Challenger R/T on order and am planning to trade the '10; and I'm still in the early stages of thinking about replacements for the MacBook and the iPhone 4.