Cleaning Up Ewaste

problemssolutions

Last week I had to write a paper addressing a problem that is applicable to globalization and organizing communication; our instructions were to only write about the problem. As an optimist, it was difficult for me to delve into the problem of ewaste without suggesting solutions along the way; however, it was a worthwhile challenge.

I learned the importance doing more in-depth research and looking at how organizations define problems and communicate about them.  When I finished writing, I was excited to have provided structure to such an intricate and seemingly insoluble problem.

So if you were beating yourself for adding to ewaste, quit it…

THERE ARE SOLUTIONS!

  • Green Products: If companies manufactured green products, they would be easier to recycle, decreasing the amount of ewaste substantially and reducing the likelihood of shipping ewaste to developing countries.
  • Repair Centers: If companies started training their employees (or hiring additional staff members) to repair products, consumers would be able to get their products repaired, rather than tossing them out and buying new ones. This would probably require marketing and advertising support to make consumers who repair products look more ethical, modern, and hip.
  • Media Coverage: Shouldn’t the media expose more truths, rather than emphasize weekly ratings? If photos of ewaste circulated through news stations, the general public would have a different perspective of ewaste and waste distancing.
  • Environmental Organizations: Get involved! Volunteer, donate, like/post on social media pages to create more awareness of ewaste. If you are not familiar with environmental organizations that target ewaste, check out: GreenpeaceBasel Action Network (BAN),  Cloud Blue Environmental Solutions for Electronic Assets
  • Better Use of Personal Technologies: Make your carbon footprint smaller by taking care of your devices to expand the device’s lifetime. When your devices are no longer usable, research buyback programs and recycle only when you are certain the materials are recycled safely on site.
  • Take-back Laws: One of the biggest directives to combat ewaste is The EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (2003, WEEE Directive), which highlights the responsibilities of manufacturers in the collection, disposal and recycling of e-waste.

Finally, I want to apologize for letting this ugly problem fester for a whole week, and though it may have made you feel badly for contributing to ewasteI hope it helps to provide awareness of what ewaste is and how it degrades the environment and human health; further, I hope it provides some knowledge of how to improve the the current situation, and that it demonstrates the urgent need for change.

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Ewaste

Did you ever notice how advertisers consistently depict technology as being sleek and clean?

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…..But look at what is piling up behind the scenes

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In “The Distancing of Waste,” Clapp says, “Affordability and convenience have overtaken durability as major selling features in the marketing of products.” Essentially, more people are buying low quality products due to attractive low costs as well as the underlying assumption that products will be out of style within six months to a year, when appealing new products hit the market.

In “EWaste: Who’s Problem is it?” DiRamio says, “Every time the [technology] industry makes a product more efficient, a whole line of products becomes obsolete, which then becomes part of the 20 million to 50 million tons of e-waste generated worldwide each year.

People often feel less guilty throwing away inexpensive products because they were never considered investments in the first place. Further, privileged populations of consumers who constantly upgrade to the latest technologies are often unaware of what happens when they throw away, or even recycle, their “old” products. 

PROBLEMS WITH EWASTE:

  • Pollution: Ewaste pollutes the earth with harmful toxic chemicals commonly found in computers; some of these include: lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, beryllium, and brominated flame retardants (BFRs); this degrades the environment and human health.
  • Space: There is simply not enough space on the planet for the amount of garbage people are creating.
  • Recycling: Technology is highly expensive to recycle because products are constructed with non-biodegradable toxic materials; recycling facilities often ship materials to developing countries to be dumped and sorted.
  • Repairs: Repairing technology is commonly more expensive and time consuming than purchasing new products because the technology industry trains workers to construct new products rather than to repair existing products.
  • Inequality/Waste Distancing: Ewaste exacerbates inequality, as people in developed countries produce and dispose of their technology in developing countries to assure low costs with cheap labor and a seemingly clean local environment. While developing countries may be equipped to pay developed countries to carry the burden of ewaste that devastates the land and human health, they cannot prevent the pollution from returning through wind currents.

I know, it looks bad, but next week I will highlight micro and macro level changes that can improve current conditions involving ewaste. Until then, please comment with your thoughts on advertising, consumer practices, and the technology industry, or further problems/solutions/insights involving ewaste. Thanks for reading!

Confessions at a Coffee Shop: Using Technology in Public

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Yesterday I went to a small local coffee shop to generate fresh, creative energy while working on a research project. A friend called as I was walking in the door, and as a person who works in the customer service industry, I consider it common decency to sit outside and finish my conversation before ordering, rather than put a friend on hold over the phone while giving the barista half on my attention, rushing through my order.

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How do you feel about using your phone in public places, such as coffee shops and restaurants?

I ordered a coffee, and when I turned the corner toward the back of the shop to find a seat, they were all taken. I turned toward the front and sat in a lounge chair by an empty table. There was an empty chair across from me, and for a moment it reminded me that I was alone: a researcher in front of a glowing screen that blocked the empty chair from my view.

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To me, the people in this image do not seem to notice the empty chairs in front of them; they do not seem aware of their immediate environment; they appear to exist primarily in virtual worlds. While I value technology for its efficiency and convenience, this is not what I want my body language to communicate to the world.

As a communication researcher, I started thinking about how uncomfortable I felt, and how unapproachable I looked to others. Further, the table was too high, my chair too low, and the foot traffic was distracting, so when I saw someone heading toward the door to leave, I quickly jumped in her seat. I sat in one of four chairs, all of which faced each other, and each chair contained a person using his/her laptop in a very focused way.

By sitting in this space next to others, whom I assumed to be students or professionals, I was able to tap into this hyper-focused state. I worked better at the coffee shop than I worked at home in days. While I did not verbally communicate with others in this shared space, I was comforted by their presence and more able to focus and enjoy the writing process. 

 Does a change of scenery have a similar effect on your focus? 

Are you more comfortable working on your laptop at home, at work, at school, or in public places? And Why?

Social Media & Quality vs. Quantity

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Dave Morin, former Facebook executive, helped found Path in 2010 to provide the public with a smaller, more intimate domain to share information with a select group of close friends or family.

Morin addresses the painstaking process of sorting through friends and creating groups of friends on Facebook. When you have a list of hundreds of names, it is a tedious task to sift through and classify WHO GETS TO SEE WHAT.

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For example, I know that my family and teachers are not interested in listening to music videos that I post on Facebook, but when I post a music video, I do not exclude family and teachers because it would be too time consuming to select each person who is probably not interested in my post. Instead, I post the video to all of my Facebook friends, knowing that it will simply clutter some of their news feeds; it might even annoy some people or give them the impression that I am unaware of my audience.

I experience this newsfeed clutter on my Facebook everyday. My favorite example is the Debbie Downer, someone who uses Facebook as an outlet for all of his problems in life, ranging from a morning without coffee, the end to a relationship, a favorite sports team losing a game, or a lost or broken cell phone.

I think to myself, “DOES HE HAVE ANY IDEA WHO IS READING THIS?” And I think, yes, he does know his audience, just like I know my audience, but sometimes I post for specific groups of people, other times I post to everyone I can possibly reach, and sometimes I post simply for myself. The problem is, if you are not grouping friends, EVERYONE SEES EVERYTHING.

Morin believes that by limiting one’s audience, he will be likely to share more information, and the information will be more sensitive and private because less people will see it. I agree, but…

Is posting more sensitive, personal information to social media really a good idea? 

In one aspect, I would love to connect with a group of 10-15 people who’s opinions and views I value, but by communicating in a smaller, more personal domain, I would definitely share more sensitive information about myself. I have little belief that any social media sphere will be truly private, so…

 Is Path setting us up to publicize our closest relationships and most private conversations by presenting a domain that feels more private? 

I think Morin’s solution is clever, and social media is relatively new, therefore it requires us to try new things and see what happens. On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the implied goal is to have more followers and friends, and more likes and retweets; however, Path and Snapchat focus on the communication between a few individuals who know each other well to emphasize QUALITY OVER QUANTITY.

Something New in Motion Picture

 

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General Changes in Film

When the film industry began in the late 1800’s, the public was fascinated with motion pictures and excited about a new emerging form of media. Early films told stories that were relatively simplistic and brief, but throughout the years, culture, technology, and the film industry have drastically changed .

This is oversimplied, but watching these short videos will provide you with some general insight as to how films have changed.

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One of the first films ever made (1896)- Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat

 

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A trailer to a film from 1950- Treasure Island

 

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A trailer to a film coming out in 2014- 300: Rise of an Empire

It seems like films are getting longer, louder, flashier, sexier, and more action-packed, but why?

As technology and social media use increase, users’ attention spans decrease; also, think about how “shock value” for audiences has changed since the feminist movement (1960-1985), and how that has influenced categories of “appropriate” or “inappropriate” content for audiences. Further, the development of green screen technology opened a new realm for filmmakers and graphic designers to add virtual elements that appear highly realistic in motion pictures.

Some other changes include increased use of rating systems, downloading films online and instant streaming programs, the downfall of Blockbuster and the rise of Netflix, Hulu, and Redbox, etc.

As a result of the many changes society and the film industry have undergone, advertisers, directors, actors, and performers are jumping through hoops to be more outrageous and flamboyant than their competitors in hopes of attracting broader audiences, which of course attracts more revenue.

Here are a few examples of how advertisers have demanded your attention 

Old Spice Commercial Compilation 

Geico Pig Commercial 

Cadbury Eyebrows Commercial 

 

Something New in Motion Picture

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Box suggests that the magic is falling away from motion pictures, and it needs to be restored.

Do you think the “magic” has been lost in motion pictures? To what extent? Why?

For me, there is definitely a loss of magic in current mainstream films. Audiences have explored a plethora of inventive and exciting virtual worlds in film, and in my opinion, its time to ask, “So what?”

Hollywood films follow a standard recipe, which has been reproduced for 100+ years to comfort audiences with predictable, hopeful stories where beautiful women fall in love, and handsome men save the world and also fall in love.

I feel unimpressed by traditional western Hollywood narratives, the motion-sickness of three-hour long 3D movies, insanely intricate plots, and over-the-top graphics. I am not very hopeful that the Hollywood film industry will change much because of Box, but it can definitely strike major breakthroughs for artists, actors, performers, graphic designers, and engineers.

Should Bot & Dolly have introduced Box online and with social media, or do you think it would be better to view live as a theater piece? What about in a movie theater?

 

Technology-Free Retreats & Internet Addiction Disorder

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I have been interested in the idea of technology-free retreats because they speak into a relatively quiet current issue in society: the addictive nature of social media and smart phones. Average Americans spend 20% of their time on personal computers and 30% of their time on mobile devices, and as more social media options become available, and there are less options for mobile users who do not want internet access, applications, and texting on their phones, the amount of time Americans spend in virtual worlds will continue to increase.

As a response to the issues of Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) and the general public’s experience of burnout, fatigue, relationship issues, and health decline, individuals around the world have begun assembling organizations to provide an outlet from technology, usually for a few days in remote, natural areas. Such organizations market their retreats as an escape from cultural pressures and anxieties, where individuals can spend time reflecting inward, connecting with people without technology, eating healthy, exercising, and living in the moment.

Accessibility & Cost

Technology-free retreats are not accessible to just anyone- Some activities, such as swimming, cooking, canoeing/kayaking, and yoga/guided meditation can limit or exclude disabled participants. More shockingly, I found that such retreats can cost anywhere from $500-$3,000 + travel expenses and insurance.

In one survey, 46% of Americans with mobile phones said their monthly bill was $100+, and 13% said their monthly bill topped $200 per month. With such high monthly phone bills, why would anyone spend hundreds or thousands of dollars more to be rid of their devices? When feeling bogged down by technology, the more sensible, economical, efficient response would be to simply turn off the computer, TV, and phone, and do something good for the body or mind, like go for a walk or read a book.

Control & Addiction

However, technology has proven to have a strong, sometimes inescapable hold on its users, as evident in the strong consideration for IAD’s inclusion in the 2013 next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders. Addiction is defined as “a strong and harmful need to regularly have something or do something.” Generally, if someone asks if I am addicted to technology, I would say no because I feel like I am in control of my usage; however, sometimes I find myself checking Facebook or Instagram without making a conscious choice, and sometimes I am unaware of the people and the world around me because I am browsing newsfeeds, reading articles, or posting content online. This happens regularly and it is harmful in that it: separates me from my immediate physical environment, prevents me from the face-to-face communication that I prefer, wastes time, and encourages procrastination and laziness.

Physical Mobility

Technology-free retreats would not exist if people were truly in control of their technology usage. The high prices of these retreats suggest that there is a public demand for mediators to remove people not only from technology, but from their physical environments that demand constant communication via computers, mobile phones, and social media. The desire or necessity of transplanting oneself to a technology-free environment implies that individuals need computers, smartphones, and regular access to the internet and social media to be considered functional members of society.

Would I be able to function in society without a personal laptop, smartphone, and regular internet access? Probably not…

As a college student, I cannot image how difficult my life would be without internet access at home, my laptop, and my iphone. Almost all of my homework and reading assignments are accessible online. I spend at least seven to ten hours each week doing research through UP’s online library, Google Scholar, and online magazines like The New York Times and Washington Post. Almost all communication with professors outside of the classroom is conducted online via university email. My assignments consist of essays and research papers typed and handed in via Moodle, UP’s online program. I view my grades and track my academic progress online. I order my books and schedule my courses online. I apply for loans and pay my tuition online. I would not be a successful or even a functional college student without regular internet access and a personal computer.

Some questions to consider

  • What do you think about technology-free retreats? Are they really helping people?
  • Would you consider participating in a technology-free retreat? Why or why not?
  • What do you think about IAD? Is it a real condition? To what extent are you “addicted” to the internet?
  • Do you think having personal computers, smart phones, and regular internet access make people more functional members of society?

For more information, check out this technology-free retreat: Digital Detox

Online Relationships & Catfish

My Experience with Online Relationships 

As a digital native, I think that people expect me to be comfortable forming friendships and relationships online; however, I don’t particularly want to meet new people through social media sites. I’ve never formed a romantic relationship, or even a friendship, online because I consider myself outgoing, confident, and approachable, and I prefer to meet people face-to-face. 

I’ve been enrolled in school while working at restaurant and office jobs for the past few years of my life, so I am constantly moving from one social circle to the next. In my mind, online dating and making friends online is more of a last resort for people who have a hard time making friends or for those who are actively searching for “the one.” When people can’t find what they’re looking for in their physical environments, they turn to virtual environments, where they can search millions of people and filter through photos, interests, career goals, hobbies, etc.

 On Facebook, sometimes I get friend requests from people I don’t know. After browsing their profiles to make sure I really don’t know them and we don’t have several mutual friends, I deny them. This may sound harsh, but I meet enough people face-to-face, and I would rather put the time and effort into maintaining current friendships or creating new friendships with people who live nearby.

I am already invested in relationships with family and friends, and I often have trouble finding the time to keep in touch with everyone. In order for me to invest in a new online relationship, the other person would have to be perfect, and if she were perfect, I would probably assume that she is too good to be true.

Catfish

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After watching the documentary, Catfish, I wondered about why Nev became so involved with Angela (Abby & Megan). He seemed outgoing and confident, but maybe the idea of having online friendships/relationships appealed to him because:

  • his friends wanted to make a documentary about it
  • he was talking with beautiful, talented, charismatic people
  • these people admired Nev and were interested in him
  • he was a little naïve.

While Nev was victimized by Angela’s deception, I found her story more tragic. Her profiles accentuated her dreams and goals as a young woman, and her communication with Nev was also her communication with a past version of herself that ceased to exist. Angela was longing for something she couldn’t find in face-to-face communication or her physical environment. Her lack of fulfillment and satisfaction led her to create different versions of herself online, where she could pretend to be a successful dancer or model or musician.

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Her deception started with social media; she found a place where she could recreate herself, connect with others, and share her art, but her online identities were vastly different from who she really was, and she spent the majority of her time managing her different identities.

It seemed like Angela would have maintained this online relationship with Nev forever if he didn’t breach the line between the imaginary, virtual world and the real, physical world. In the documentary, Angela seemed to live online, taking short breaks into reality to cook for her family or tend to her children.

The virtual world where she primarily lived started to leak into reality as she continued to manipulate others through webs of lies.  Eventually, she was no longer just deceiving Nev online, but she was also deceiving her whole family and herself. During an interview with ABC News, Angela said, “In my mind there were days where I actually believed that Megan existed. I immersed myself into thinking that somewhere she’s there.”

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Meeting the Girl in the Pictures 

Deception will always be part of the human experience, regardless of the communication meduim. Catfish is a provocative reminder that anyone can go on social media sites and create profiles to become whoever they want to become. Online relationships may have positive outcomes for some, but generally I think it is better to meet people face-to-face, leaving it to our own courage and confidence in approaching others, or leaving it to the universe to decide who crosses paths.