117. The Problem With iPhones, iPads, And Other Electronics

Yesterday my friend Leanne posted about how happy she has been with her purchase of a new iPad. I myself have been on the fence about buying one, and have been curious for what things people find the iPad valuable. I have heard many many different responses. Even this past week while at a business conference I had a conversation with one of the companies lead VP’s about the possibility of getting everyone iPads, and the business advantages it would bring us.

Now during this conversation with Leanne another friend of ours posted the following…

“Not all of these apply to the iPad, of course, but check out this link and multiply all of the hefty resource and human rights issues related to the iPhone by 4 (the approximate multiple of the iPad’s size to its smaller cousin.) You should also definitely think of the impacts–social, environmental–of your high-tech purchase BEYOND your mere personal enjoyment of it.
In this day and age, it’s pretty easy to disengage from connecting all of the dots… everything is just made SO far away. http://motherjones.com/environment/2010/03/scary-truth-about-your-iphone”

When you go to the website it talks a great deal about some of the disadvantages of the iPhone and iPad. Things like….
1. The origin of where the parts are made.
2. The amount of waste that it creates to make an iPhone or ipad
3. Illegal mine operations
4. Desecration of land in the harvest of minerals
5. Padding arms dealers pockets
6. Labor and sweat shops
7. Bad safety record
8. Monopoly

Now before all of you Apple loving people go nuts out there, lets remember that I am an Apple snob myself. However I am always willing to listen to other peoples opinion. Doing a little research into this and I have found some (not all) but some credibility to the accusations.

My question to Hudson was this…

“Holy guilt trip BatMan….Hudson while I think you environmental attitude is well worth while I have a few questions?

1. What is your solution? I see you have brought a problem to the table but I see no solution to the issue. While I guess your solution could be to stop buying cell phones, ipads, etc, in todays world that is an unrealistic solution.
2. What did you use to make this comment? A computer? I believe that if I did deep enough about any electronics store, with maybe a few exceptions, I think I would find similar things to what you have posted. So again I see you bringing a problem to us, but using the very thing you abhor.

Im not saying your wrong. Truly I am not, and I am listening to you that there is a need for more awareness and understanding, but what is the solution. There are a lot of people in this world who want to bitch about problems but I see very little problem solving.”

So my question to the world is….Do you think that this is really a problem? If so what is the solution? How do we change this? Do we need to change it? Is it out of our control?

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4 thoughts on “117. The Problem With iPhones, iPads, And Other Electronics

  1. A Few Answers:

    It’s funny that my comment should be regarded as a “guilt trip.” Perhaps it came off that way. I realize very, very few people in America these days are open to seeking out the various impacts of our heavily resource-dependent lifestyles. The Average American–and this is a statistic, not a judgment (there is a difference)–uses six times the energy of an average citizen of the rest of the world. (http://www.energybulletin.net/node/14143) Of course, if that citizen is a European, the ratio is smaller; if you are a Bangladeshi or a Somalian, that ratio is far, far higher.

    Using resources as carelessly as we do (as if each of us had 200 slaves at our employ–http://dieoff.org/page137.htm), it is quite easily to maintain ambivalence about where our stuff comes from, and where it goes. The key here is “Distance.”

    I understand one might take an injection of truth into an unreservedly laudatory dialogue about a technology as a criticism, or a “guilt trip.” That’s also how people who mentioned the actual, physical tolls of war prosecutions on foreign populations were treated by domestics otherwise insulated from the impacts of the violence: they were seen as critics, finger-pointers, rather than people employing the only “solution” we really have at our behest–to raise awareness, to “share the truth.”

    So the two questions you ask me are quite unrelated to my actual point in sharing that information. I was not saying, “Hey, all of you who use Apple products are BAD, and this website proves it! I, on the other hand, by sharing this with you, am GOOD, and am above all reproach.” Pointing out a problem does not necessarily mean than one has a ready-at-hand solution (and often people who have such solutions are attempting to sell a quick fix, rather than a long term remedy.)

    If I had to answer your questions (which were in response to assumed, and not actual, motives) I might say something like this:

    1.) As Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” I believe in the principles of American Democracy–that a well-informed populace has the inborn moral fiber to make collective decisions to right collective wrongs.

    What Apple (admittedly one of the most environmentally-sensitive in the high-tech field) and other companies are selling us is an image of technological superiority that improves, enhances, and elevates our lives, with little or no detrimental side-effects. So long as this commercial sheen is maintained, there is very little hope of the consumer ever shifting their purchasing decisions to reflect their personal, moral values.

    I would not, and cannot, counsel an all-out abandonment of technology. You are right that this is impractical, especially in America (and perhaps other industrial nations) where social attitudes certainly encourage one to buy the next gadget simply to remain employable.
    (*A little aside about this: since renouncing my iPhone three months ago I have been without a phone and this has proved somewhat troublesome in job searches and school applications. If one is without a phone in this society–similarly if one is without a computer–one is almost without identity.)

    I DO, however, think that an informed populace can–and will–make consumer choices that reflect their values and the information they have about the impacts of their various consumed (and often, on the flip-side, discarded) goods. Daniel Goleman calls this “Ecological Intelligence” and has written a fairly compelling book about it, though I much prefer “Confessions of an Eco-Sinner” by Fred Pearce.

    Learning about where my stuff comes from, what goes into it, and where it goes has become sort of a fascination for me. When I was six or seven years old I begged and begged my mom for a Nintendo Entertainment System. After that it was a ceaseless influx of new games, gadgets, gizmos, and game systems–Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sony Playstation, Xbox, Playstation 2, Xbox 360–each new one superseding its predecessor and heralding its approach to the landfill.

    It was with a hard sting to the belly that I first read about ‘eWaste’ in Thomas Kostigen’s book “You Are Here.” I suggest that chapter (Two, “Our Future”) if you’d like to know where our gadgets go–it’s something kind of like Wall-E, except with poor brown Indians instead of robots. And it’s real.

    The sad thing is, most people DON’T want to know about their stuff. At best, it brings a shrug of the shoulders and an indulgent, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” And a little less positively it brings challenges of credibility and personal attacks on one’s character (“Well, YOU use technology, don’t you? So what right do you have to talk about how possibly detrimental its misapplication can be to both humans and the natural world–HUH?”)

    Which brings me to your second question.

    2.) YES, I used a computer to put up a comment on Facebook. This is something I wrestle with daily–daily–but I have yet to reach a point of absolute moral purity of renouncing all modern technology. THIS guy did, though, (http://www.amazon.com/Twelve-One-Room-Cabin-Beyond-American/dp/1577318978/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286828548&sr=8-1) and I’ve heard his record of the journey–and challenge–is positively moving.

    As you said, renouncing technology isn’t practical. But making it LAST is. And being “aware” or “ecologically intelligent” about our impacts when we make a purchase is especially critical to encouraging the evolution of a sustainable and livable planet. Don’t go and buy something just because you like it, or someone else has it (“techno-envy”). Resist, resist with all your might, but if you must–if that techno-demon must be fed–buy something refurbished, or locally from someone who shipped their gadget in from Amazon and doesn’t need it anymore. That’s something. That’s a STEP. And to say that taking steps towards awareness and equity in our commercial transactions is futile is to pretty much throw one’s lot in with whatever planet the extractive industries decide to leave to us when they’re done.

    And your final questions:

    Do you think that this is really a problem?

    As a generation, we have become so abstracted and alienated from the actual, physical, living places that we inhabit (again, “distance”) that it is quite possibly not a problem for us, in the way that getting my car fixed or finding a new apartment is a problem. But it is a potential human rights and ecological catastrophe.

    For info on the problem–very simplified, but it’ll do: http://www.storyofstuff.com/

    If so what is the solution? How do we change this?

    I think the “Cradle to Cradle” notion of design is a pretty CONCRETE, actual, and already fully-developed solution to fixing our design problems–i.e. working with “waste” the way nature does, as food for another process. You might even like this book: http://www.amazon.com/Cradle-Remaking-Way-Make-Things/dp/0865475873/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1286829017&sr=1-1

    Of course, you don’t have to buy it from Amazon. You may be able to pick it up at a used bookstore.

    In the meantime, we can raise consciousness. Engage in the debate, like this. Be open to the possibility of change. Make little steps in the right direction.


    Do we need to change it?

    That depends on if you want your children or grandchildren to inherit a livable planet or not.

    Is it out of our control?

    It is out of my control what you choose or choose not to buy. But it is not out of my control what I do or do not buy, as well as whether or not I inform people of the chooses I make and why. This kind of attitude–“it’s out of my control”–denies the individual agency and just makes them a cog in some kind of marketer’s consumerist paradise.


  2. Hudson, first let me say thank you for such a well thought out and well put together a response. So many times I get into conversations like this and the other person comes very ill prepared on the subject, and generally gets VERY defensive about their passion and refuses to give me examples and details.

    Second let me apologize for making you think I was assuming things about you or your stance on the subject. My true intention was to open this up to a debate with maybe some more information on the subject. No offense meant. For example the “Guilt Trip” comment was made in gest. Its actually one of the things I hate about communicating over electronics. A lot of inflection, tone of voice and meaning is lost.

    OK now on to the topic at hand. You have given me a HUGE amount of information to read and study. I hope you will be patient and give me enough time to read over everything and give you an informed answer and opinion. As I stated before I hate it when people try and debate without listening or hearing the other sides point of view, and I want to give you the time and attention you have given me.

    However if you will allow me to offer a few thoughts that come straight off the top of my head.

    1. I agree with you that Americans in general are greedy wasteful people, who use far to much energy. I worked at a company many years ago that was loosing money. A study was done to find was to save money, and one way was found that would save the company thousands and thousands of dollars each year. The solution was simple. Turn your monitor off each night. The employees were so lazy they couldn’t be bothered to turn off their monitors each night so they stayed on sucking energy all night for no reason. I myself have become very aware of how much energy I use and have tried to become better at turing things off and not being wasteful.

    2. I liked your story about the nintendo. I myself did the same thing with my parents and got one myself. I am looking forward to reading the book you recommended.

    3. “Hey, all of you who use Apple products are BAD, and this website proves it! I, on the other hand, by sharing this with you, am GOOD, and am above all reproach.” Pointing out a problem does not necessarily mean than one has a ready-at-hand solution (and often people who have such solutions are attempting to sell a quick fix, rather than a long term remedy.)” First I didn’t say you felt this way and am sorry it came across that way. Second the last part of your comment about not having a solution is something I see a lot of! People often like to complain about things but have no actual solution or course of action. In your facebook status comment I saw no solution or recommended means of moving forward. In your comments above I am starting to see a solution and a plan of action. I think your comments of educating and the population being well informed are excellant!! I agree and wish more people would learn about what is around them. So often times alternate views are expressed and people get so defensive! It bothers me. So my next question is this. Companies do so much to hide where things come from, what it costs, and the impact it makes. How do we as individuals get the word out to others in so much as it makes a difference.

    Hudson I make you a promise that I am going to take all you have said here and look at it and study it carefully with an open mind. please give me some time to read it all and I will give you a solid response and opinion on everything. If your not interested in my opinion thats ok, but I am still going to look at everything and respond here on my blog anyways. I enjoy looking at other peoples point of view and opinion.

    Thank you again for the information and the time you took in your response. I promise to give you the same amount of time and attention.

  3. Hey Jason,

    Thank YOU kindly and sincerely for the honest, straight-forward consideration you have given my thoughts here. I do try to be open-minded myself and really cherish it in other people.

    I will be honest in saying that a lot of this stuff is new to me–high school didn’t really prepare us to be “ecologically intelligent”–so I have been laboring quite hard in the past few years to try to enhance that kind of awareness in myself. I did start by reading the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.” It’s a great place to start, as is the “Confessions of an Eco-Sinner” book by Fred Pearce. (http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Eco-Sinner-Tracking-Sources-Stuff/dp/080708588X)

    I really appreciate your willingness to look into these issues with me and share different possibilities or approaches that you think might work. Keep me posted, and I’ll certainly be interested in hearing your thoughts.


  4. I am looking forward to it. I suggested to my wife we hit the bookstore tonight and go looking for copies. Living a different and better way has always interested me. This year I did an experiment where I did not use twitter or facebook or any smart phone application of such for 30 days. The experience changed my life! I went from being on the net hours a day to about 30 minutes a day. I have kept it going even though my experiment is over. So finding a better way to do things has been a new topic for me as well. I am looking forward to reading your suggested books.

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