Phone companies in Japan trying to retrieve used mobile phones and recycle rare metals are having a hard time. The number of retrieved mobile phones is on a steady decline from over 13 million in the year 2000 to 6.4 million in 2007. Research shows the top reason to keep a non-functioning mobile phone is as a collection item or memorabilia, meaning they either “like the thing itself”, “want to keep past emails exchanged on the phone” or “want to keep the photos taken on that phone”. (Research data from the Telecommunications Carriers Association and Communications and Information network Association of Japan, June 2008).

Now that shows a mobile phone is not just a phone, even after its life has ended. Just one of its numerous roles is a camera and photo album in one. On their mobile phones, often as a wallpaper image, teenagers will have photos of their boyfriend or girlfriend, businessmen of their little kids, and those of us without children of their pet dog or cat.

High resolution camera phones have altered the way people take pictures-it was never so casual before. The other day I saw a couple of schoolgirls taking photos of each other just to see if their hairdo was good enough. Seems it was quicker than looking for a mirror.

On the other hand, carrying around pictures is quite an old habit. 30 years ago a good number of commuting office workers on a train would have had photos of their kids inside their wallet. Come to think of it, people had miniature portraits inside small lockets hanging on a chain, maybe even before photography was invented (sealed inside a capsule opening with a hinge, just like our clamshell type mobile phone). A hard habit to break it seems, maybe to the dismay of recycle-eager phone companies.

by Keiko Ihara (Photograph by Takashi Sasaki)