I attended the Noam Chomsky lecture this week, and it got me thinking 'outside of the box' so to speak. Thinking about things in a larger global kind of way, which is very like the reality we see around us today. So I wrote this small addendum about technology, it being Noam Chomsky week and all. I am going to deal with a difficult issue, as Chomsky would say, it requires you to look hard in the mirror.
"Cheap and Nasty: The Future in Technology".
Basically, peoples' addiction to cheap n' nasty, small mobile phone handsets. The personal computer still hasn't quite reached the same level. A cheap Dell PC still is around the 500.00 Euro mark, enough to prevent too many of them from ending up in landfill, six months after they are purchased - but that will change, as more and more cheap n' nasty laptops, printers and what-nots, appear on the market, coming from China or whatever. The western society, has really no defense mechanism, or common sense attitude to deal with the concept of 'new technology at rock-bottom prices'. Just hoover it up, dump it in a wheely-bin, and buy more. We are unable to think through the entire process, and realise all of our rubbish, sooner or later does end up in landfill, in our environment. Dick Roche recently made 'an agreement' with technology manufacturers, to 'bundle' the cost of disposal of equipment, into the manufacturing cost of all new gadgets. This fails to even address the problem, and furthermore, it opens the floodgates even wider to masses of cheap Asian imports, which will in a short time, have to be ploughed into our earth, as they are disposed. Yet, Dick Roche, managed to sound triumphant, in radio interviews about this achievement of his. Despite the lack of depth in his whole policy towards disposable-ness.
I am afraid, Dick and company, are from the pre-technological jurassic period in history. Dick doesn't realise, that these problems can't be solved through government passing legislation and 'meeting up' with the equipment manufacturers. These problems can only be solved by going much higher than that - changing the way the consumers think, and the way large corporations sell produce to those consumers. But poor old Dick, just cannot manage to extend his policy that far - pity really - Dick being minister for the environment and all - a leading technological country such as Ireland deserves much better from their own minister for the environment. Dick being from and older generation, that doesn't quite 'get it'. That is what I have to explain in my post. I mean, the companies like Hewlett Packard should be drawn over coals, for introducing the amount of different non-standard ink cartridges, which means, people keep dumping old printers, to buy a new printer and use new kinds of cartridge technology. The only way to introduce sustainability into technological gadgetry, is to meet with European environmental bodies, and from there go directly to the tech-giants such as Hewlett Packard, and say, listen we will not tolerate you 'anti-sustainable' way of designing and manufacturing technology. Go to Dell, and Microsoft and the rest too, and say look, we demand something better. When Europe as a whole takes that stance, then the world - including the USA and China - will have to take some sort of notice.
Just take digital cameras as an example, no two digital camera USB cable seems to be the same, or flash media - so people, lose a power lead, a charger, a lithium battery, a data cable or something, and instead of replacing that part, buy a whole new camera and dump the older one, which is fine, but hey, what's another 10 acres of landfill and pollution? The real trouble is, you do not even have to be a millionaire nowadays to afford all this technological gadgetry. Even somebody on modest income, living in a small apartment can create a tonne of disposable electronic gadgetry rubbish, over the course of just a few years. The consumer has become a slave, to new gadgets. The consumer, will buy a new mobile phone every few months, to get some brand new, heavily marketed, java technology on the mobile handset, a better ringtone to show off to friends, a new billing system for the mobile phone to save a few pennies, or enable-ment to surf the web via a mobile handset. I guess Dick must have thought, it would 'send out the wrong signal', if Ireland, the poster child for technological new economic prosperity, were to stand up against the multi-national corporation and their proliferation of cheap n' nasty, disposable technological gadgetry. That would clearly be the wrong line for the Irish government to take, given Ireland depends so much upon tech-companies to provide it with its own miracle of prosperity.
The western consumer prone to buying new mobile phones, will also be given to 'replacement' of other electrical and electronic devices with equal or even greater frequency. I have observed the electric kettle, the dishwasher, the microwave, the waffle-maker, are all items that are purchased repeatedly even if the old one was still functional. These individuals find themselves in an electrical superstore, and cannot but help buying a new appliance, if it has a bargain sticker on it. With the flood of cheap chinesse made commodities coming into the country - people have become addicted. I mean, even students now are able to buy this stuff using credit cards. It is all about a flow of money from an over valued currency, in relative terms like the Euro or dollar in the west, to a de-valued currency in the East, the Chinesse yen. I mean, it is one of the most horrible manifestations of 'global economics' I have ever witnessed, with poor stupid consumers being used as fool pawns, in the larger game. As long as China continues to flood the Western markets with this cheap and obtainable rubbish, the western world will never produce any piece of technology to compete, and in the process lose most of its own technological and manufacturing capability. And end up with vast acres full of landfill to boot. You can observe something like this, in the horrible way that personal computer mice and keyboard pheripherals have evolved into these gaudy customer-grabbing, shiny objects, with lots of knobs on them that provide little extra functionality. You can even see this with the way new printers emerge on the market, claiming to use a different paper, a different ink cartridge or something. Mostly it is just packaging, but people still dump the old printer, and buy a newer, shinier, gaudier product, almost at a whim.
I think, if you take this idea of electronic and electrical disposable-ness, and link that idea to the proliferation of computer worms, spywares, and viruses,... pretty shortly, we are going to witness the coming of 'disposable personal computers'. I mean, it is all going into bigger and bigger stretches of landfill - but the customer doesn't even care. Why worry about virus protection and identity theft, buy a new cheap and nasty appliance, and let the government, figure out the nasty details of trying to find more space to use for landfill, to dump all of these disposable electronic devices. I don't know, perhaps, if I thought enough about this, I would wind up having nightmares, about a field full of mobile phone handsets, all six months old and a bulldozer just ploughing them into the earth, to try and make them invisible. I worry alot about this cheap and nasty computing paradigm. I have a real feeling that both Dell and Microsoft are trying to push people further and further in that direction. Look, there was 'Never A Better Time to Buy!', not because you need this gadget, but because we wish to sell it to you, and the western governments haven't waken up yet, to this flood of cheap n' nasty Asian produce coming into the European high street. China is not afraid of the USA, it has manufacturing, and it can keep it currency under-valued, by artificial means. While we in the western society, are all willing to put ourselves into economic debt through credit cards, to buy more and more cheap n' nasty technological gadgetry. Half of the traffic on the web these days, is generated from sites, devoted purely to the analysis of tech-products. But as I say, Dick is not able or willing to raise the debate on 'disposable-ness' to a whole new level. The 'bigger picture' in this case, is just too painful it seems.
Brian O' Hanlon.