Love Your Cellphone? You
May Not Like Its Friends
When you finally get a hold of your own iPhone 5, and call everyone to tell the news, you may be able to tell whether it’s all that’s cracked up to be. Does it really have a better camera? Does its bigger screen make a difference? Can you actually make a call with it?
You may be able to answer these and other questions. But you may get stuck with the two biggest costs of our craving for smartphones: our privacy, and the well being of those who labor to make them. The first issue is now very popular; the other one, not so much.
To be fair, you may even hate the hype surrounding Apple’s newest gadget; but it’d be hard to argue that it may give the depressed U.S. economy an end-of-the-year boost. It’s an opinion shared by Nobel Winner Paul Krugman, who mentions a recent research note from JPMorgan about it.
Which may be just as well, since there’s hardly any other big corporation, or the so-called ‘job creators,’ looking remotely interested in developing and marketing new consumer products of lately. So if people think they need another mousetrap, who’s to stand on their way?
Still, the computer-in-your-pocket that these things represent is a thing of technological beauty, and even with only incremental improvements compared to the previous model, they are getting somewhere. And the pack will put on some speed on their chase after the industry leaders. So, it’s all good, right?
Not so fast, you’re breaking up. We’re not quite there yet, wherever ‘there’ means, and ours being a society of whiners, there will never be shortage of complaints about performance, customer service, price, you know, the usual. And it’s really too bad that only now the awareness about those two aforementioned costs seems to be getting any traction.
We can’t say we haven’t been warned. But when poor old George O. wrote his classic about the Big Brother and how frightening the world would be by just reversing the order of the year’s last two digits, he couldn’t count with the startling reality of our own times: we don’t really care.
So, they’re listening to our conversation? So what? They know where we live, what we had for breakfast, and what sort of kinky habits we’re into? It doesn’t matter to us. As long as we get 30 free minutes, and rent control protection, and a coupon for skin milk, and an online viewing booth pass, it’s all worth.
How can we possibly blame Georgie for the fact that we’ve turned the most terrifying aspect of his nightmarish dystopia into a quirky reality series, or that 1984 actually sounds quaint and distant from our perspective? How could he predict that we’d actually enjoy being secretly observed, that it’d give us a sense of heightened importance?
And just when we were beginning to build up a whole rationale to justify the retail industry’s spying habits, we’ve learned something even more disturbing: that somewhere, in a place that shall remain unnamed, there’s a building being built that will house the capability of wiretapping and conduct surveillance on every citizen of this nation.
Perhaps today you saw a crowd in the streets, chanting slogans and carrying posters you couldn’t quite make out, and thought to yourself, people are finally becoming aware. But then, you’ve asked around, and found out that they were protesting the rising prices of a popular chicken sandwich, and you may’ve gotten really scared. For a minute. Until your phone rang.
We’re exaggerating, of course, wink, wink. Many organizations are involved in the fight of preventing your cellphone to become remote stations, reporting on you to whoever pays the better price. Companies have announced they’re including stricter privacy clauses, and there’s software available to prevent snooping, and so on and so forth. Just a second.
Oh, someone just sent us a YouTube link to a funny cat video. It’s hilarious. How do they do that? Perhaps you too could produce one of these and it’d go viral, and it’d turn you into an overnight celebrity. They don’t spy on famous people, do they? I need to Tweet this. Hang on. There’s a promotion. What were we talking about? That’s right, it’s crazy.
SLAVERY & CHILD LABOR
When we think of smartphones, or iPads, or laptops, or cameras, or the multitude of things some of us now require in order to even get up in the morning, the first thing that may come to our minds is chips. You know, nanotechnology, tiny circuitry, amazing digital capability of storing data, that sort of thing.
Much rarer is to hear anyone mentioning in the same sentence, ‘rare earth elements,’ or tin ore. But they’re as important as the electronic chips for the manufacturing of our beloved toys. And some are indeed mined by children as young as 11, working under slavery regimes and subhuman conditions.
Rare earth elements, a group of seventeen chemical elements, are said to be virtually impossible to find in large concentrations, and yes, we’ve learned that from Wikipedia (we never showed up for our Chemistry classes). They are commercially extracted, however, from mineral deposits in some of the most impoverished nations, which is in fact, another bitter irony of our oh so fair world.
The other miserably hard to extract component of any circuit board is, of course, tin ore. The combined destructive effect of our craving for these materials on thousands of communities is compared to what the wars over the so-called blood diamonds used to elicit. We seem to have solved at least in part that quagmire. Now how much longer we’ll take to stop this trade too, it’s up for grabs.
Diamonds for industrial use are now artificially developed, and those sold as jewelry, are controlled and require a provenance to be commercially available. Along with that, there’s also an international mandate for capture and persecution for those who still profit from them. It shouldn’t be hard to come up with something similar as far as rare earths and tin ore are concerned.
While there’s little public awareness about the immorality of this trade, there are billions of dollars to be made from it. Specially in China, the world’s biggest producer of rare earths, and the U.S., the biggest importer. The extraction of tin ore also follows a similar pattern of environmental pollution and disgraceful violations of even the most basic labor and living standards.
THIS CALL IS FOR YOU
So, go ahead and get your brand new phone, because after all, what’s difference if you’re the only one to decide that, at this cost, it’s simply not something you should spend your hard-earned cash on? Someone else in Korea or India will buy it, and probably pay even more for it.
But if you’re parading to prevent your favorite TV program from being cancelled, or text-messaging Jay Z, for a chance to see him onstage at the new Brooklyn sports arena, then maybe you could do something about that too. It may take you the grand total of 10 minutes to find out who’s behind it, or how you can sign a petition or something.
They say the new screen has a great resolution, so you may do that even on your way to the subway. Or you’d better not, lest not get you into a nasty collision on the sidewalk, or even worse, while crossing the street. It’s great that Apple is helping get the economy going. It’d be even better if it’d do something about the dignity of its workers and integrity of the natural world in the process.
* Blood Calls