Monday, August 15, 2005

New Toys, Old Toys



I post the above cartoon not because I find it particularly funny (I don’t), but because it frustrates and depresses me. This office dork need not part with his action figures. He should instead keep his monitor until it stops working. In the background, we see other office employees admiring the newly requisitioned flat-panel monitors. The older, boxy models are carelessly piled on the bottom shelf of the cart.

Similar scenes are all too common in "real world" offices. In fact, it seems as though many offices “update” their computer hardware every few years (at least)! The employees usually love it (new toys!), so it’s good for morale. The hardware manufacturers love it (more money!), so it’s good for the economy. What’s there to lose?
“A Carnegie Mellon University study estimated that in 2002 the United States sent about 10 million computer units to Asia for recycling….As long as computer users and the computer industry refuse to clean up after themselves, people in [Indian villages] will pay the price instead.”

-“Hazards of High Tech,” Mike McPhate, Sierra Magazine
Calling this variety of outsourcing “recycling” is misleading. The computer parts are broken down by hand, “picked clean of metal,” and burnt or doused with acids by Indian women and children. For their labors, these “recyclers” are paid $1 a day, a nominal sum even by Indian standards. More troubling still is the host of medical problems these workers develop, the eventual result of working with “leads, dioxins and other pollutants.”

The lifecycle of computer hardware is a fine example of trickle-down economics. Way to go, Gipper. Way to go.

Photo credit: The New Yorker

7 comments:

chris@organicmatter said...

Sometimes I'm proud of my seven year old (has it been that long?) CRT monitor, though I confess that I'm constantly tempted by the sexy factor of a 19" flat panel.

Of course, after spending the weekend moving and realizing just how much crap I have, I'm also tempted to sell all of my material belongings, donate the proceeds to charity, and become an ascetic living on top of a mountain somewhere.

Devo said...

Asceticism is dangerous... I've considered it in the past, and it's a tempting option, but I think part of its danger lies in the temptation inherent in it to folks like us. It's an identical conundrum to what we faced after Dubya was "re-elected" (and it feels so good... sorry, the song "reunited and it feels so good" just started playing in my cranial victrola as I thought the word re-elected... I dunno why, maybe it's cuz I'm a lil' crazy) and so many people immediately threatened to move to Canada. If the entire Progressive/Liberal population immediately made mass exodus to the Great White North, what would be left to represent the "other half" of American politics? Nothing. What would be left to stop the insane power mongering spearheaded by the evil hydra of government and industry? Nothing. It is a heavy charge, but folks like us are commanded by destiny to take up the mantle of the vocal minority, spreading reason like a virus through the spongy minds of profiteers and villains. One day we may prevail, but that is a fate left known to none. In this way, we already are standing atop the mountain, very alone in our convictions, and burdened with the impossible task of saving humanity from itself.

Oops, I think I accidentally bumped my melodrama switch somewhere in the middle of that particular tirade. My bad. I'll try to watch that in the future...

Updog said...

When I was buying my current computer, I spent a little time tooling around in the Mac store. They had a 24" flat screen that, at the time, cost the same as my compter. The sales lady, upon seeing me admiring it, pounced. Not only did she extoll the wonders of this admitedly lovely screen, she she decided to go whole hog. (all this to a guy in a hoodie and ratty jeans)
In her best 'wouldn't you like another serving of ice cream' voice, she said, "Wouldn't it be nice to have TWO of these?"
Yeah, and a cook and friggin butler.
Where do they get these people, and does that usually work for her? I mean do people really say, "well sumbich, that's darn good idea. Jolina! Grab us a 'nother of these here flat screeners!" Toss it all in the back of the F250 and it's back to the styrofoam ranch.
Shopping makes me nauseous.

Hungry Hyaena said...

Chris:

Go, go CRT! Mine is only four years old, but she's 21" and I imagine she'll last me for at least another four or five, hopefully longer.

Devo:

True enough. That realization kept me here in the good 'ol US of A...that and this whole idea that I might one day "make it" as an artist.

Melodrama switches aren't always bad.

Updog:

Jolina!? LOL! You told me that story some time ago, but you didn't add the accent and the name. It was funny then, now it's even better.

Two ginormous flat screens? WTF? It's not like you're Industrial Light and Magic.

Mikhail Capone said...

At least in the case of monitors the switch is to more energy efficient and not-1-kilo-of-lead-in-them alternatives...

But in the case of most other techno gadget and computer accessories, the norm is usually that there is no good reason to update and it's sad to see secretaries and other word-processor-using workers with brand new 3ghz Pentium 4 that are as overkill as using a gun to turn off your TV.

Jewbacca XP said...

if you dont like it, move to an Asian indian village!!!

Hungry Hyaena said...

Mikhail:

Most monitors are becoming more energy efficient, but not all of them and, more importantly, few monitor "upgrades" are motivated by a desire for better energy economics. If they were, one would hope the individual(s) upgrading would consider proper disposal procedures and attempt to mitigate the negative impact.

As far as "techno gadgets" are concerned, I know a person who replaces his PDA at least every eight months. Every time he buys one, he remains satisfied only for a few months before he gets technology evny and covets the latest model. He's rich and an excellent liquidator, so he doesn't think twice about such purchases.

The only "good" that comes of this - and I use the word very loosely - is that I inherit his old units. A year and a half ago he gave me one of the older models and, when that one ceased working entirely, I inherited yet another one. He has a pile of them. It's totally ridiculous. I try to discourage him from buying more, but he just replaced his five month old Treo 600 with a brand new Treo 650. Five months!

Jewbacca XP:

There you go...that's intelligent input.