Everyone knows that iPhones are manufactured with planned obsolescence built in: processors and RAM allocations that can’t keep up with operating system upgrades purposely designed not to account for earlier models. Apple makes too much of its profits from hardware sales, so handsets have become akin to fashion seasons.

Hardware upgrades entail power and capacity. The new activities made possible by new silicon. But there’s another kind of planned obsolescence, that of degradation.

I’ve reached the point in the life of my iPhone when the home button begins failing. It’s not as bad as some have been; my iPhone 4 button stopped working completely. This time it’s just a sign of the device’s inevitable end. The degeneration mostly exhibits in the form of an overly eager Siri. Like an elderly relative at a family gathering.

“What? What did you need?” With that shrill bee-beep you can’t disable, the one that doesn’t even respect the mute switch.

No, I wasn’t talking to you, Siri. You can go back to sleep. But even that takes time. She has to settle back into the unseen background of the OS, as if creaking back into a plastic-covered davenport (that’s what she’d call it). We say “my phone is dying” when it needs to be charged. “Sorry I didn’t call; my phone died.” But our phones also die for real. Apple sees to it. They count on it.

It’s upsetting to be lured into personifying a smartphone. It’s a burden we shouldn’t have to face. A dull knife or a failing vacuum can’t perform their jobs either, but at least they don’t incite guilt or anger. Apple’s three decade-long project to make computer technology friendly and personable has been too successful. Maybe we’d be better off if we returned to the inhuman honesty of simple machinery.

published July 18, 2014