Thoughts on the Upgrade Experience

What is it about an “upgrade” that gets us so excited? There’s a bit of thrill and joy it can bring us when we spend that money on a new cool gadget, car or home upgrade. Is it the sense of accomplishment? That we somehow earned it or deserve it? Or are these new things engineered to make us think we need the next big thing? Super effective marketing? Heather shares her experiences about her recent upgrade on one of our favorite gadgets.

I can talk to it and it will respond. It gives me a traffic update. It can teach me a new language. I can make purchases with the touch of my finger, not a tap or click, literally my finger print. It’s my new iPhone.

When I finally decided to upgrade a few days ago from the iPhone 4s that I bought circa 2013, I walked into the AT&T store with a huge grin on my face. The iPhone 7 greeted me immediately, they had it displayed front and center. The sales guy asked what he could help with, and I sheepishly said, “I’m here to buy a new phone.”

I look at the prices for the 7 and my jaw nearly drops to the floor. Gone are the days where you sign on for a two year contract and get a great deal on the phone that day. Apparently, that was a misleading sales tactic anyway, I’d always been paying the “full price,” but the fees were hidden in my bill.

The waiting game

I had been waiting and waiting to get a new phone. “My old one still works,” I’d say. “There’s really nothing wrong with it.” That’s still true. It does work, but it just can’t keep up. There’s a 30 second delay on just about everything I tried to do. It would die right when I needed it while the battery claimed to be at 30%. In our age of instant gratification, it was incredibly frustrating, but I pushed on through for many many months.

Why did I resist the upgrade? Planned obsolescence frustrates me even more than waiting a few extra seconds for my Google Maps app to load my location or having to find a spot to charge up my phone every few hours. The speed at which our society churns out new devices and we greedily snatch them up makes me queasy. Electronics waste is a serious problem and the costs of producing these devices is far greater than what’s reflected on our phone bills. So I waited it out as long as I could stand it. The latest and greatest is overrated, to me anyway.

The other reason was the money. Paying $500+ for a phone seems so silly to me. It seems silly that anyone pays that much for a phone. That’s an extra $18 or so I’ll see on my monthly cell phone bill for the next 30 months. I didn’t even get the iPhone 7. For one, he said they couldn’t keep them in stock! The new cell phone plans allow you to “lease” the phone so after a year, or so many months, you can trade the phone in for a newer version. Further fueling the obsolescence beast.

The latest and greatest temptation

As he’s getting my paperwork all finalized, and I sign off on what he calls the “buyer’s remorse clause,” which states I can return the phone within 14 days, a Fedex delivery arrives.

“Are those iPhone 7’s?” I halfway joke.

He opens up the box, and yes, one iPhone 7 has arrived. He asks me if I want to switch. We haven’t cracked open the box on the 6s yet. He hands the newer version to me and I look it over. It’s 128GB and that would increase my monthly payment to around $30. I consider it because I know I’ll hold on to the phone for at least 4 years so it might be a smarter investment.

It was very tempting, but I couldn’t bear that extra $12 on my bill and didn’t want to buy into the “next big thing.” I think I bought the 4s when the 5s was already out. I always do this, it helps alleviate the anxiety I have about purchasing something brand new. Plus, there’s a pretty considerable price break when you don’t buy the latest and greatest. It’s still more than $500. Someone’s got to buy those older version, right? Otherwise what happens to them...

What’s curious is how much I was driven to get that next nicer thing and came very close to making that purchase. Sure, I can afford it, but what’s the point? It wouldn’t have brought me that much more joy, if any at all, than the 6s I ultimately bought.

Pulling at the emotions

It certainly does bring me some type of joy. It’s nice to have something new, that’s faster, that can keep up and allow me to access information I need in a timely fashion. It doesn’t die on me right when I need it (yet). I notice myself checking it more. There’s a small excitement when I press my thumb against the home button and it unlocks. A tiny thrill when I say “Hey Siri” without doing anything and she immediately responds (though I’m a bit paranoid she’s listening to all my conversations and sending them back to Apple, but that’s a conspiracy for another story). I opted not to use my thumbprint for Apple Pay when I was setting it up. That makes it just a bit too easy to spend.

Would the next nicer thing have made me feel even more attached, more connected, or more excited? What is it about these devices and gadgets that hooks us and makes us dependent? I’m not sure we need to be more attached and connected. Do we really need to be able to make purchases with our fingerprint? I’m curious to see how this technology changes the way we spend and think about money.