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Voluntary obsolescence: checking out of the upgrade cycle

This week I purchased a new cell phone. I’ve been using my current phone, an HTC Desire Z (dubbed the G2 by T-Mobile in the US), for a little over a year and it’s time for an upgrade.

Or maybe it’s a sidegrade. Instead of buying the newest model on the market (or waiting for one of the half a million or so introduced at CES this month) I re-bought the Nexus One, a phone released almost two years ago.

I bought my first Nexus One directly from Google when it came out, and it quickly became my all-time favorite phone. The hardware fits me perfectly — just the right weight, great screen and buttons. It’s had two follow-ups in the Nexus S and the Galaxy Nexus, but neither one has struck me the same way. Because of its background, as the first “Google Experience” phone, it fell into the hands of a lot of able hackers, and so has great community support and quick releases for the CyanogenMod and Whisper Systems software I like to use.

When that Nexus One was stolen in November 2010, I thought I’d appreciate the upgrade. But while the phone I got featured some souped-up specs and an upgraded OS, I just didn’t like the experience as much.

So for now, I’ve chosen to check out of the upgrade cycle and stick with a device that I know works for me. It’s tempting to think I’ll be out of some loop, but the truth is, the hardware I need for my phone is not that greatly different from what I needed two years ago.

Keeping off of the high-end upgrade cycle — because really, having the shiniest phone in your pocket is not a one-time choice, but a commitment to regular upgrades — is cheaper, less disappointing, and less likely to contribute to a mountain of stuff in my house that is just too expensive to throw away. Much better, if you know what works, to stick with it.

Of course, there are other approaches. Lore Sjöberg, a writer for Wired, wrote about founding the Cult of the Somewhat Delayed a few years back. His cult would consist of people who kept on top of the latest advances in technology and culture, but with a two-year offset. This month, devotees would be checking out the movies, news, and gadgets from January 2010, which makes my new phone a crazy device from the future.

Those not ready to take the two-year plunge might check out Last Year’s Model, a project to get people to hold on to their devices a little longer. They advertise their MySpace page as a way to keep up with the project, which makes me think it’s either a bit out of date, or they’re very committed to the cause.

In any case, I’m happy to live at a time where the progress we can achieve in two years is enough to give the feeling of obsolescence. But I’m also happy to know that I’m not really out of the loop if I decide to skip the upgrade.