The BBC reports that rare metals used in the production of electronic devices are becoming increasingly scarce, which could impede the development of new technologies (see here). Of greater concern, however, is that these materials are often extracted from politically unstable regions.1 The depletion of these resources, driven by our insatiable demand for electronics, will likely exasperate those regional instabilities.
Are consumers responsible for what happens in other parts of the world?
One scarcely considers the human costs of technology. For the most part, we are unaware — perhaps this is our greatest sin. Once, I was a rabid consumer of electronic devices, “upgrading” annually and regarding year-old devices as antiques. (In the late 1990s, I purchased the Palm V, and then, weeks later, the Vx — all to acquire an additional 2 megabytes of storage!) Today, I am inclined to hold onto a device: first, for monetary considerations (that iPhone is expensive); second, for moral reasons — I do not want to be part of the problem.
There was a time when consumers purchased items for durability, such as manual typewriters, expecting them to last for decades. My father purchased a Royal Futura 400 in the 1960s, keeping it until sometime in the mid 1990s. Today, we buy to upgrade. I can’t count the number of computers/devices I’ve owned since the mid-1990s. How thoroughly have we been persuaded, and what the consequences!
I note that France is sending peacekeeping forces into Central Africa Republic. The motivation, at first glance, is humanitarian, but upon closer review, perhaps not entirely. France and the western world needs the valuable materials found in that region. Absent these materials, would anyone be concerned about genocide in CAR? Or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? Or Uganda? Etc.?
Part of the appeal of the “typewriter insurgency” is the consideration of the human costs of technology, both upon the individual and society. Rather than dispensing with the old, the insurgency retains, even resurrects, seemingly outmoded machines as a reminder that modernization, while not intrinsically evil, is consequential. Granted, typewriters are not especially useful instruments in the digital age, but the notion that because something is old, it should be replaced, is appalling. The insurgency stands as a reminder that modernization has costs.
© 2013, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.
- Cf, “Two Children May Have Died for You to Have Your Mobile Phone”, Inter Press Service, Sept. 12, 2012. [↩]