Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Controlling the Market - Disruptive Technology at Risk

The Supreme Court handed down a monumental decision last week on the relationship between money and politics. The ruling in  McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission removed the overall limit on contributions from the wealthiest donors to candidates and political parties while setting a precedent of ridiculously specific conditions that have to be met before declaring an action “corruption.”

This move comes three years after Citizens United which opened the floodgates for a torrent of dark money to enter into the political arena. If you will recall the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United “effectively freed corporations and unions to spend money" both on "electioneering communications" and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates.

In a world where money is representative of “Free Speech” and corporate entities or “citizen associations” have the same free speech rights as flesh and blood citizens, we are moving towards an Oligarchical Plutocracy - a society ruled by and for the wealthy. The more money I have, the more speech I have. This effectively removes any concept of equality from the American system. While I have covered this in the past and the media is very interested in the implications of this move, I am fearful of what is on the horizon for our technology and innovation.

While the Supreme Court has recently turned away an opportunity to further chip away at the campaign finance laws it may only be a matter of time before more actions are taken to allow for more direct input on the political system by agencies such as unions, PACs and Corporations. The problem with allowing companies with that much control and influence in the political game is that it destroys the safeguards for public citizens. In the end, traditionally corporations have only one interest, benefiting the future of the company and the return to their shareholders - the bottom line.  

But why is this dangerous for future innovation? Let's indulge in a thought experiment. Imagine that you have invented something that is literally going to change the world as we know it. This invention will not only make you a ton of money and build a company, but it will start a new boom of an entire industry, make like easier and better for humanity and possibly even destroying another industry. This is what is known as disruptive technology.

Just like the refrigerator replaced the icebox and the car replaced the horse and buggy, technologies will arise that will outmode a previous technology and the industry surrounding it. Industries rise and fall, but in some instances, the government will step in to try and salvage industry or even support it through subsidies and incentive programs. Those who have control over industry will seek any way to maintain that control over that industry. This is just a historical fact.

We are still seeing business interests and corporate entities try to stifle innovation and competition today. Everything from gaming the way our patent system works to car dealership groups pressing Texas and New Jersey governments to ban sales of Tesla and taxicab groups in D.C. trying to push out Uber. Each of these businesses are using whatever systems they can to maintain their dominant role. For those familiar with the Sacramento area, back in 2006 energy conglomerate PG&E spent $9 Million on a campaign to make sure that the public utility SMUD couldn't expand their coverage to some areas of Yolo County. The effort was to keep their monopoly hold on the area as the only energy provider. It was completely legal.

These types of efforts almost cost the world FM Radio and AC Power among other great innovations. Some say it through stifling practices that we currently don't have better electric vehicle technology in the world. Even with equalizing tools for innovation like Kickstarter or the Maker Movement, there is plenty of room to worry. 

My concern is that, the more corporations become political players and able to throw huge money around to protect their interests the harder it will be for new technologies and innovations to really shake things up. This is something that even those on more of a conservative side of the argument should be worried about. It is a scenario that will itch at the back of my mind while I pay close attention to the future of decisions like these.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

An Open Letter Response to Charles Koch

Dear Mr. Koch,

When I read your letter to the American people in the Wall Street Journal, I felt I had to respond. I am not doing this because I think you will actually read these words or that, in the end, this letter will make that much of a difference to you if you do. I had to point out the insult in your opinion piece. I had to do this because, in this age where money now equates to speech, I had to throw as much “free” speech into this conversation as I could.

You, your brother, and others like you represent a huge, ever widening divide in America. In a land whose origins rested on equality and stories of individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to become successful, you represent an affront to the American dream.   

In your opinion piece, you reference Thomas Jefferson as a historical perspective to support your views on limited government, in justification of your efforts for a “free America." I offer my counter. On the subject of wealth inequalities, Jefferson wrote;

“I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on.” Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, was writing to James Madison about the gross inequalities of wealth he observed in pre-Revolution France. His observations there led him to realize that the massive accumulation of wealth and gross inequality of its distribution represented a danger to the American people. 

You are worth roughly $40 billion, 365 thousand times more than the median American family. You and your brother were born into wealth from your father’s oil company and your grandfather’s railroad and newspaper businesses. Through the efforts of organizations like the CATO institute, the Heritage Fund, and Americans for Prosperity, you hold immense political power and influence. You even hold enough sway that you can elicit the exact type of political mandate on things like climate taxes that you rail against in your op-ed.

The reach of your political network extends to push for massive, ecologically damaging projects for your own benefit like the XL Keystone Pipeline, and derailing mass transit efforts. You are also connected to efforts to limit voting rights, and even corruption. Instead of going into depth on these subjects like I have in the past, I really want you to understand one thing.

In your piece you hail the tenets of, among other things, “equality before the law” but the truth is that there is no equality in America. Those who hold unfathomably massive wealth also hold far more influence on, and have access to, unequal levels of our political infrastructure.

You and your brother are so far removed from the actual American experience that you represent what is wrong with our country and where it is headed. A government run for the interests of the wealthy and the corporations in which they have interest. This Plutocracy that represents your vision of a future filled with “freedom” is so far from the American dream that it is a disgusting insult when you try to press your vision on the rest of us by twisting the words of a founding father.

The Koch name will go down in history as a warning against the oily, slimy influence that corporatists can have on our country. The more the American people become aware of your influence, and the influence of those who have gained from Citizens United and subsequent rulings, the more we will fight you and fight for our future. We will fight for future for all of the American people and not just the 1%.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Science Communications Revolution - using the tools and picking your battles

The world of science and science communication is changing. This is something that we have seen in action at events like Science Online, Decoding Science and through the invention of tools that break down the walls between the realms of Science and the Layperson.

We as a society are growing towards a world where every citizen is a citizen scientist with a pocket tri-corder in the form of a smart device. In this world each citizen takes it upon themselves to capture data in the form of pictures, hashtagged posts, lat-long mapped points-of-interest and even qualitative first-person accounts of existence.

We are currently living in a world where tools already exists that allow anyone to speak directly, in real time, to their favorite experts, celebrities or even astronauts in orbit from the comfort of their own home. In an instant we can have our fingers on any publicly available data from almost any field with detailed analysis. To a certain extent, we can instantly answer almost any question we can think of.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson's reboot of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" dropped its second episode this last Sunday. Tyson’s popularity has skyrocketed to the forefront of American attention through his appearances in popular media like the Daily Show, the Colbert Report and even Superman comics. Before his version of Cosmos debuted, Tyson described, in a Google Plus Hangout on Air, this rising tide in the popularity of science and ease of scientists to reach larger populations as “the main-streeming of science which is a watershed shift in how our culture is thinking about it.

As the expanse of human knowledge and experience grows, the need to directly connect on and educate science increases. The necessity to gain the attention of audiences in this social media and 24-hour-news-cycle driven world where people’s attention span is hair-thin grows ever important. There is a growing swell of scientists that are learning the tricks and trades of hitting that mark. Utilizing both new media and tried and true methods, science is making a break for the front monitor of the public’s view.

At conferences, like those mentioned above, scientists are being taught how to use social tools and storytelling techniques to better communicate. These scientist learn how to translate things like "uncertainty" and "consensus" into a 140 character world where stories resonate more true than hard data. There is one lesson that really needs to be hit home, pick your battles.

Earlier in February, Bill Nye, the well known TV science guy, who educated millions of kids and teens on some basic science in the late 90s, debated renowned Creationist and ant-evolutionist Ken Ham on the merits of Creationism as a scientific and teachable model.

While some warned against the debate or called it a waste of time and others still called it a "Nightmare for Science" in the opinion of this humble observer, this was a stroke of brilliance for Bill and the popularization of the scientific community.

Going into the debate, both sides knew two things, they would not be able to convince their opponent of their viewpoint or change their counter-part’s mind and that they both could use the opportunity to broadcast their positions to a wider audience. Ken Ham used the opportunity to pander to the Biblically observant through jokes about the Bible being “the answer” for all questions and to press forward a strange theory that the laws of physics changed drastically in the last 5000 years or so. He even got a public push to raise funds to build a replica of NOAH’s Ark.

Bill Nye used a small section of the debate to give some basic science lessons about the universe, dating and scientific reasoning to counter Ken’s complaints with evolution, but for much of the debate, he grew the conversation to something greater. Bill knew that this was not going to be an “Inherit the Wind” situation, he knew that he was in “enemy territory” and, being a man who was in the process of attempting a comeback to a larger market-share of American culture through public climate-change debates and televised dancing, Bill wanted this debate to hit larger targets. For a significant portion of the debate, Bill Nye turned the conversation to the need for better public education and science funding. He highlighted the fact that if you wanted a degree in Radio-Carbon Dating or certain fields that required certain types of science in Kentucky, you needed to search elsewhere. Bill Nye turned the debate into a call to action to the people of Kentucky, and abroad, to vote for science.

While Neil deGrasse Tyson has come out recently as saying that debating Climate-Change deniers is not worth his time, this wasn't always the case as he had previously clashed words on programs like Real Time with Bill Maher. In truth, Tyson is picking his battles here and allowing his amazing shiny new program Cosmos to throw down the gauntlet against those who would "pick and choose science" and even those who would try to decry evolution.

What we have to keep in mind is that we are living in a world where trying to gain the public's attention on any really important issue is a Sisyphean effort. Rolling that rock up gets you the groundswell and "virility" to get your 15-seconds. Most of the time it feels like just that. As soon as you get your chance to gain the focus of a post MTV world, the next story is about to be disclosed and you don't want to miss it because that story will change your LIFE!

The lesson here is that picking this battle turned Bill's passion for science to a national discussion topic. Bill Nye, Tyson and more scientists every day are part of a rising movement. The scientific community, who knows what the lessons of evolution can teach, are trying to reach a wide audience through new tools and tactics. Scientists, conservationists and educators are learning to adapt and that is good for everyone.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why you should be paying attention to #scio14 (and why I am sad I couldn't go).

The last few days I have been watching, in amazement, ScienceOnline unfold. After recommendations fro friends and colleagues at places like TechSoup and Upwell I started to pay attention to this conference. While watching I started to long to attend this festival. After having attended everything from the BLUE Ocean Film Festival, Solar Conventions in San Jose, Geography Conferences through Google, Outside Land's Greenspace, and SXSW Eco I have to admit, I am an addict.

I love these coming of the minds that links science and nature and communication. Ignoring the instant buzz you get from so much activity and so many people that you would find at any conference, these eco-tech-media ones feel like a type of science camp where you meet tons of people who grow excited about similar things to you.

ScienceOnline is almost like the king of all of these conferences. It gets to the heart of one question that runs through the entirety of these events. At every conference I have gone to the conversation of how science can communicate easier and more efficiently to a more massive audience comes up.

Just read their mission:
ScienceOnline’s mission is to cultivate the ways science is conducted, shared, and communicated online. We bring together a diverse and growing group of researchers, science writers, artists, programmers, and educators —those who conduct or communicate science online– for meaningful face-to-face conversations around timely, relevant issues. We nurture this global, ongoing, online community and facilitate collaborations which would not have been previously possible. The goal of all this is better science communication within the science community, with the public, and with policymakers. 
Makes me giddy just reading it, they help scientists make people more educated on complex issues and more effectively communicate.  It is at ScienceOnline where ideas like scientists piggybacking on #sharkweek get generated. David "Why Sharks Matter" Schiffman learned this lesson well and is now one of the most popular active Ocean and Shark scientists online. I have been following his posts on ScienceOnline and it has been torturous.

There are panels on how to collaborate on projects through the internet, how to communicate the very complex concept of uncertainty on social media and how to build online communities.

And it is all streaming LIVE.

I want to go and learn and discuss and connect and share. Next year, ScienceOnline, next year. I mean who doesn't want to go to an "Intergalactic Gala?"

This is a convention that will teach anyone in a complicated field how to create what is known as "digestible content." As one who works in communications, the environment and with a lot of very well educated scientists helping them communicate easier and more effectively with the tools available online this is a very important meeting of the minds. This meeting is, in my humble opinion, part of a growing movement that could change the way the world is connected with science.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Top 3 CEO's that are real-life James Bond Villains

I have been covering the vilification of the green industry recently and found through  my research that part of that vilification was a direct comparison of Tesla, Space-X and Solar City's Elon Musk to a James Bond Super Villian, to which I cried foul in my last piece.

The more I have been looking into other companies and their CEOs the more I found much better examples of those who fit the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. profile. The following is a quick list of my top 3 CEOs that would more appropriately be labeled villainous to the James Bondian level.

3. Rupert Murdoch

You cannot read a right-leaning newspaper or watch a conservative leaning news channel without tripping over something that Rupert Murdoch has organized or orchestrated. Currently he controls at least 1/5th of the news in the UK and is constantly trying to expand and even kill efforts for access to more information like Australia's National Broadband Network.

The founder of the American Right's "Propaganda Factory" Fox News is a modern day William Randolph Hearst in his massive ownership of media world-wide and, like the media barons of old, he has also used the position to create a platform for his own agenda, like influencing US, UK and Australian politics to push the national discourse to a more conservative agenda. His organizations are under investigation for numerous phone hacking scandals including British Royalty, Brangelina, 9/11 victims and even a poor, murdered girl's phone. Rupert even went so far as calling his victims "scumbags." This is apparently a culture that Murdoch makes sure permeates his organization.

Murdoch's organization is suspected to have conducted shady deals with the US Government, pressuring the UK Government into war and even bribery. His conservative stranglehold over a large portion of the world political dialog not being enough, Rupert continues to push for even more control through political and regulatory battles.

To top it off, News Corp is a member of ALEC, whose shadiness I have already gone over.

All of these points come together to form the image of a man who doesn't want to promote the news and isn't just looking for more money. This is a man who wants to dominate world information and color the national discourse of countries to shape their future in their own image creating a culture of "anything goes" including bribery, hacking, theft and outright lying. Sounds something worthy of a member of the James Bond's Rouges Gallery, specifically Elliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies. Is he actually evil? Well, there are some hints.

For more about Mr. Murdoch and his Global Takeover attempts, read here. 

2. Nestle's Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Water is not a human right, it is a resource that needs to be mined, bottled and sold for a major profit, even if that comes at the cost of an entire country or eventually makes the situation worse. That seems to be the opinion of the CEO of Nestle, , and no matter what Nestle's PR spin on it is currently, these are the words that he publicly put out there on the subject.

Fresh, clean water is a declared right by the U.N. Instead of coming to solutions to the looming freshwater crisis, which most companies dealing in the stuff are aware of, Brabeck-Letmathe sees an opportunity to make a quick billion or ten though the international privatization of water. Did you know that the water you drink out of plastic bottles is coming straight from the aquifer of Pakistan? Coca-Cola and other companies exploit water resources in similar way with a few evil exceptions like refusing affected villages’ request for clean water to be piped in after Nestle has made their own water undrinkable.  

This is unbridled Capitalism gone a muck. The race to privatize the world's fresh water supply is one that will ultimately end in our ruin (see Water & Power via distopic future movie Tank Girl). Even if we have found massive amounts of fresh water under areas of the ocean, it is going to take money, effort and possible environmental damage to extract and disperse it. Obviously companies like Nestle, and other companies, will attempt to control that supply as well for their own profit.

Who else wanted to privatize and control water resources? Quantum of Solace's Dominic Greene and, honestly, I am not the first one to compare Peter Brabeck-Letmathe to a James Bond Villain. The shoe seems to fit really perfectly here. 

1. Koch Brothers

If you have read my blog, you are already familiar with the Koch Brothers and the dangers they create for the American citizenry and the world in general. While others have made the comparisons between these silver-spoon fed oil barons with the "old money" Duke Brothers from Trading Places the extent of their activities and their influence on US and Global Politics and even science makes their evil on a Bondian level.

The brothers are two of the richest people in the United States and run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the United States.Their political activities have landed them in the spot light of public scrutiny though they apparently like to operate in the shadows. They are on the radar of every major climate group including Greenpeace.

We all have heard about their activities aggressively funding climate-change denial and their influence on government officials in that regard, but it goes further. As an almost cartoonist level of unbelievably typical corporate "fat-cat" behavior, the brothers have waged war on public health care, the Tea Party, the middle and lower classes and even the government itself through the shutdown that they, in part, orchestrated.

What makes them truly worth of the Bond Villain title? They are waging war on the less fortunate and on the science that is trying to make our future livable all in the name of profit. Through placing key people at key conservative positions, like within the organization Americans For Prosperity, the brothers make sure that their business interests come first in the political discourse of the right. Through the campaigns they try to subvert (even small local ones) they grasp to control covernment, much like S.P.E.C.T.R.E These two and their behavior represents the fear-as-reality of the wealthy trying to buy the government, subvert the common man and even put the public in danger for the protection of their business interests. 

So, before we start comparing Richard Branson, Warren Buffett or Elon Musk to something evil and torrid, take a close look at who the people are that are casting these dispersions and who is trying to make our futures better.

Friday, December 6, 2013

ALEC - What the Koch Brothers and Google have in common.

In the Belly of a Luxurious Hotel
There is a cabal of corporations, right wing politicians from the State and Federal levels, and the financial elite who have been operating from the shadows since 1973. ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is a Political Action Committee complete with loyalty oath but, unlike most lobbying entities, the membership of ALEC is secret and what they do is technically not publicly disclosed.

Their official goals are to “advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level.” What they really get involved in is voter suppression, possible vote tampering, curtailing of environmental regulations, keeping wages low,  privatization of schools and pushing for a corporatist agenda in the name of “Freedom from Big Government.”

Amongst their array of tools, ALEC does this through influencing State and Federal politics and holding legislative workshops and giant conventions. Legislators are flown out on company jets to these conventions, usually held at the most luxurious hotels. For 3 days corporate lobbyists and the financial big-wigs wine, dine, and buddy up with these elected officials to work on pro-corporate tailored legislation.

They have just started day 3 of their most recent convention, just after their 40 year anniversary.

In my mind this convention is like the anti-SXSW Eco conference. Instead of trying to find solutions to environmental problems, the ALEC meetings are trying to find ways of gutting the EPA, protecting their most polluting members and ways of not having to pay for killing off a species. I see them sitting around panel discussions sharing ideas on how to curtail solar power and even tax the sun. One can even imagine them cursing their past losses in gay rights and "stand your ground" over overpriced bourbon in darkened smoke-filled rooms.

A Little Background
The history of ALEC starts with, Paul Weyrich, who also founded the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority. This is a gentleman who is one of the founding fathers of modern conservative Religious Right movement and publicly stated that he didn’t want people to actually vote and worked to “Christianize America” with Ted Cruz.

In researching this organization I was shocked to see one company in the ranks of members. Through leaked documents it was revealed that joining the ranks of Koch industries, Rupert Murdoch, and the Tobacco Industry was Google.

While a certain moral ambiguity has become expected at places like Facebook or even former ALEC member Walmart, hope still resided in Google's "Do No Evil" motto. While Google has been acting questionably on that front lately with hiring of former Republican Representative Molinari as their lobbyist and the fundraiser for Climate Change denier Jim Inhofe, and other ultra-conservative representatives, what they are doing currently with ALEC makes little to no sense.

The Young Turks, using some video footage from Brad Johnson of Forecast the Facts, explains the situation rather well.

While it is true that there was a panel yesterday discussing ways to influence auto insurance premiums  for driverless cars, like the ones Google is working on, many of ALEC's efforts go directly against many of the programs that Google and other forward-thinking companies pride themselves on. Specifically Google and Facebook’s environmental efforts would be curtailed and the tax incentives would be wiped clean if ALEC had their way.

An Inside View
At conferences, like the one finishing up today, they have a wide bevy of event and workshops that help bolster the corporate efforts on the legislative side. As described by Washington Post writer Dana Milbank when he entered “the belly of the beast;”

The environment and energy task force, led by private-sector American Electric Power. The tax and fiscal policy task force, headed by Altria. The international relations task force, run by Philip Morris. The commerce and insurance task force, by State Farm. And the health and human services task force, by Guarantee Trust Life Insurance.

Like Dana, most who don’t cough up the $1100 fee for the conference or are members of the press are shut out of the process. In fact, the public would have little to no knowledge of ALEC or its inner workings if it wasn’t for a number of leaked documents including ones that recently show that the group has a strange relationship with North Carolina, that its power may be on the decline and willfully misled the press and the public about the nature of the activities they participated in. They may in fact be in some trouble with the IRS for violations regarding these activities.

The Bad News
Currently ALEC is a 501(c)(3), a charitable organization which officially is not allowed to lobby, hence their issues with the IRS. To curtail this rule and continue lobbying to kill gun control, environmental protections and your right to unionize and even vote, ALEC is working on becoming a 501(c)(4).  This to-be-formed association, called the Jeffersonian Project, would be officially allowed to accept sizable donations without any disclosure. This group would be allowed to create attack ads, technically even lobbying activities as long as their primary role is education. As you may recall from the satirical efforts of the Colbert Report, corporate entities would prefer to donate to a (c)(4) because of the anonymity involved and for a strange loophole that allows anonymous donations to a (c)(4) that can then be funneled to a PAC like ALEC without disclosure of the original donors. If ALEC is allowed to create this organization, there would be literally no real way of knowing who was directly involved in the funding of their activities.

ALEC has big plans for 2014. So far these leaked documents and their own words have suggested efforts to do away with the minimum wage, push fracked natural gas as motor fuel, removing the bottom %75 from low income medical care, go after renewable  energy, and even call a constitutional convention of the states to try and "rail in" the activities of the federal government. Above all else there is the goal of regaining their lost membership and the revenue they create.

If any of these come to pass, the doors will be opening that will be hard to close and each of those doors lead to a very scary place. 

The Good News
The good news is that ALEC looks like it is on the decline and there are things that you, as a consumer and public citizen can do to kill ALEC and organizations that trample on our protections and our rights in the name of corporate gain.

One of the biggest successes that bit ALEC in the end was their wide-spread support and pushing of “Stand Your Ground” legislation. After the Trayvon Martin slaying ALEC felt a huge backlash to their organization. Much to ALEC’s chagrin groups like Amazon, Visa, Coca-cola, GE, and even WallMart wanted to disassociate themselves from this group for fear of seeming too “evil.” According to leaked documents this translated to a loss of about 400 state legislators and 60 corporation members in the last two years and about one third of their proceeds. (BTW, Ted Cruz, probably not the BEST strategy to tell your beloved ALEC to “stand [their] ground” as an organization, COULD be a triggering phrase.)

Another sign that this break away may be continuing is that Google actually dropped out of a panel discussion (the driverless car panel mentioned earlier) yesterday which some may take as a sign that they are rethinking this union. Groups like Forecast the Facts and their associated coalition have been working on applying pressure to Google.

While some may try to teach that "this just how big business needs to operate" it really doesn't need to be. We live in a world where each person has the power to call their representatives, even find out if they belong to ALEC, and voice their opinion. You can write an email to the head of Google to tell him your opinion. You can call out all the companies involved and all the legislators involved. You can create petitions to these companies and the government.

The more you get involved in the process and those involved, the better things can get. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Please Don't Put Your Phone In a Blender

Throw away your phones

It is black friday, a day where consumerism and spending is mushed and kicked onward by the media and corporate entities. Everyone wants us to buy more, spend more and keep our economy going. All this at breakneck speeds. For our current model of the economy to be considered a “success” by those who apparently decide those things, we have to have continuous high scaled growth. This means a lot of buying. . Recently, an add device has resurfaced across products trying to convince consumers to purposefully lose, destroy and replace their older phone models or computers with the latest shiny toy to hit the shelves.

This advertisement hits to the center of this consumer-driving dialogue and is trying to be cute and clever about it. From an environmental perspective, this commercial’s message, and a similar version they held last year, is disgusting. It makes sense, companies want money and to make money you have to buy their newer models, but that doesn’t make it any less repugnant. We are all aware that it takes work, material and energy to create the products we use and love. We all recognize, to some small degree, that when we dispose of our products they either turn into waste or emissions and take a toll on our environment or cost significant energy to recycle and I am not even going to get into the impacts of us all using these things the way we do.

The problem

The problem is that we are far too separated from these elements to recognize that our consumer habits are destroying lives and our planet. Commercials, like the one shown, that use this marketing gimmick of “just destroy your old one so you can get a new one” ignore all of the facts we know about the ills of consumption and waste. They throw that all away and refocus the attention on the “new, shiny” product that you just have to buy.

These commercials would have us forget that the factories where these machines are made are still having problems with suicides even though they have been working on countermeasures for at least 3 years. They would have us ignore the fact that these factories, the energy used to produce these products and the chemicals used in their production destroy the air and the local environment of countries like China.

We must remember that each phone we throw away and the production of each new one both have incredibly devastating impacts, especially if one starts thinking in the scale of global use and production. To make smartphones work, the current technology is reliant on rare earth metals. They aren’t as rare as their name would imply but currently China has cornered the market. When countries find them at the bottom of the ocean they race to exploit the resources, trying to compete with China. Many times destroying the fragile eco-system.

When these metals are mined and processed, they have huge environmental effects and can lead to some scary things if disposed of improperly.

It is disgusting that a commercial would promote the practices they show in these commercials. It don’t matter that there is a disclaimer at the bottom, the practice is presented and encourages a concept of obsolescence. When dealing with a company that has already been known to pre-program obsolescence just to make more money off of their customers, this is all very shady and frightening.

Some may point out that, in the current system, if you want a properly working phone that you can use to get a foot up on the competition out there, you better get one with the best bells and whistles. That may be true in the current system where you can only purchase prepackaged phones, but on the horizon of the new economy is a new vision.

A phone worth keeping 

Modular phones exist on the premise of being able to personalize the components on your own phone. Want a better camera? Better Video-Card? simply switch it out. It is a method that is hoping to answer the question of how to lower the costs of phones for the consumer while upping their value. It also might hold the answer to more sustainable future for consumer electronics.

They are a response to obsolescence through modular upgrading, allowing the consumer to keep up with the trends without having to toss a whole phone in order to do it. Phonebloks, Motorola's modular and open source phone project, was the brainchild of Google's Motorola and created by created by Dave Hakkens to forge a "phone worth keeping."

An interesting development with "homebuilt" parts recently arose. The concept has the potential to become even more individualized the more that personal 3D printers continue to gain in popularity. Once the sustainability of 3D material egg is cracked, the process will get even greener and advances in plastics are making that fast approach.

This black friday, keep in mind three things; 
  1. You don't HAVE to go out and shop.
  2. Doing your research on what your impacts are helps you pick the best product. 
  3. Don't let your behaviors be affected by commercials that teach you to act like mindless animals.