GIGO of monumental proportions
author’s note: This post begins a series exploring the phenomena of electronic waste, running for the next couple of weeks on Mondays and Tuesdays.
So I am a bit of a technophile. I have to be. I live in a global world that connects me to fantastic people. I move quite a bit and rejoice that I can do things like keep the same phone number so my friends do not need to work that hard to track me down. And I am an engineer that tries to keep my eyes open for a problem that affects our society. I try to think deeply about the world around me. I see an intimate connection between our technology and our society that goes beyond a simple sense of technological innovations diffusing within the world. And with the rampant proliferation of short-lived electronic devices that still have a quasi-useful life after they have “died”, I see a problem.
And incidentally, so does the United Nations. As per a recent report, the United Nations frames the problem as an “urgent need to prepare developing countries for a surge in e-wastes.”
That is how we want to understand the challenges and opportunities afforded to us as we now produce electronic devices faster than we can get rid of them? I posit that it is not just enough to warn the developing world that the waste is coming but that we need to think deeply about the nature of our social structures.
To be sure, the situation present in the developing world appalls me. Remarkable volumes of electronic stuff get shipped there; some stuff that still has life remaining in it while some stuff comes from developed countries that just do not have any space left in which to put it. Most means of disposing of electronics involve dumping the junk into open-pit fires where all sorts of nasty agents become biologically available. But the reward comes when people can recover the precious metals such as gold built into the electronic components. And the problem is growing exponentially by the moment. Finally it has gotten big enough where the United Nations sees the train of inevitability.
But really? Yes the problem exists, but do we have to accept mounds of trash getting dumped in the developing world? Can we think of something different? Can we figure out what questions we need to be asking to get a handle on this problem?
GIGO is Garbage In, Garbage Out. Because we see the problem so much on the Garbage Out side of things, it is time to change our thinking. So the goal of this series: getting some thoughts out about the problem of e-waste. Your thoughts are most welcome in the comments, if even simply to get angry that this problem has reached truly monumental proportions.