The recent flurry of reports and rumours about the new Samsung Note 7 phones thanks to the propensity of their batteries catching fire (but not ‘exploding’ like a bomb) have had predictably dire consequences for the company. The fault apparently lies in cramming the battery too tightly in the phone’s body, in the never-ending quest for more power, and the rush to get new devices to market at breakneck speed. The results have been a massive recall of Note 7’s and potentially a second recall as the replacement batteries might not be solving the issue. Particularly alarming are reports of the phone’s catching fire on airplane flights, where the stakes of onboard fires are as high as anywhere.
The question is, should incidents like this make us unduly worried about the technology in our pockets? If we’re literally putting ourselves physically in harms way, should we not step back and slow down our endless pursuit of the latest and greatest gadgets? In particular, when we’re talking about students, should we err on the side of caution if their putting physical wellbeing at risk?
There are a few factors to take into account here. First, the odds. Samsung rightly recalled millions of devices after a few incidents were reported, because even if the chances of anything going wrong are more remote than other dangers we face in modern life, if there’s danger of even one user being injured, then every precaution should be taken. Luckily consumer protection laws around the world judge and fine companies who neglect their users’ wellbeing extremely harshly, and arguably online user forums and the tech press are even harsher.
Cases like the Note 7’s are likely to appear from time to time, but luckily, the backlash that companies like Samsung receive in the market for failures like potentially flammable phones (however remotely possible that may be) ensures that future designs and safeguards against such unwelcome outcomes are beefed up. A tiny danger therefore becomes an almost negligible one with each new generation of tech.