Waste of the information age

I am typing this on a laptop that is just nearly four years old. This day and age, I can easily afford to upgrade. I mean, I could purchase a new Thinkpad (my preferred model) for as little as $450 USD, which is an amount that most any American can afford, even in this deep economic crisis that the country is in, albeit maybe spread over a couple of months’ payment. Obviously, the more you spend, the fancier the laptop you get and further down the road potential upgrades might be, but that’s not the point. The fact is that I could have upgraded manytimes by now, but I haven’t.
There are many reasons for this, the first being that everything still works very well on this Thinkpad Z60m. I can edit video/photos fine and for web programming, it’s a champ. It’s still running Windows XP. I don’t see it running Windows 7 though and at some point in the future, I will indeed have to upgrade, but until Windows XP user percentages drop below their current numbers by a large degree, that isn’t going to happen.
But, the main reason I keep it around is waste. Andrew McConnell has a superb photo gallery up on his site about an electronics dump in Ghana, just outside of Accra. I’ve seen this dump and the cloud of horrid smoke that rises from it. If you had seen it and knew what it was, you would probably hang on to your electronics longer as well.
This is a big problem and it’s only going to get bigger. It’s one of the things that makes me truly cringe about the information age in that the leftover components are all getting dumped in countries such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa. People have few ways to fight back other than to deal with what is dumped upon their shores. And when they do fight back, suddenly, they’re called pirates.
I despise the electronics industry for their constant push for people to upgrade and yes, I will bash on Apple right now as most any avid Apple enthusiast will tell me that when you have problems with the machine, that means it’s time for an upgrade. An upgrade means more waste. More waste means more toxins shoved off to foreign lands on people who just have to take it and deal with the health consequences of toxin-laced groundwater and air.
For anyone who thinks that they need the latest iPod/iPhone, or laptop marvel, they should come and stay for awhile in rural areas in Africa where the trash is burned daily and you’re breathing in an ungodly amount of things you’d rather not know about (mainly damnable petrochemicals.) For me, in a few months, I won’t breath this anymore, but for the people here, it’s constantly in the air and it’s only growing more. Think the next time you buy an electronics item, stop and think if you really and truly need it. I doubt that most will heed this, as people like whatever is new and shiny, but if we can just even slow down consumption, we can buy time to deal with this growing mass of waste.
As a carbon-related side note, how much carbon waste is being generated in Africa with this Africa Carbon Forum and how much carbon will it reduce? I would like to put forth the strengths of teleconferencing, although I know that means a number of people won’t get to travel business class to do it…
Waste of the information age

2 Replies to “Waste of the information age”

  1. Extremely interesting points, Miquel!!
    I do believe – although this idea is originally from my girlfriend – that a way to solve this is to move from a buy-throw model to a rent-repair one. So you’d pay, say $1000-1500 for your PC and you’d be guaranteed upgrades and repairs for 5 yrs or so without throwing the whole thing (or new, upgradeable laptop models). And recycle all components (with suitable safety conditions).
    Or, my mum’s model – do not throw your old PC: keep it at home (somehow a use for it will appear)!!
    Although I preffer the first option…

  2. Ah yes, I know the “store it in the attic” model for recycling. My in-laws are fond of this method as well. Not really sure how I feel about it, but I suppose it’s not going in to landfill and you are thus limited in the amount of upgrades you can do by the amount of space you have in your home. Something to be said for that.

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