The Right to Repair

In their article “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”[1], Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka propose repurposing media and electronics that are past their prime as a method of media archeology and an artistic practice. Reading this, I wondered how the practice will be affected by the miniaturisation of electronic components. Gone are the days of easily modifiable circuits with through-hole electrical components; modern circuits use surface-mounted components and multilayered PCB boards. Most examples of circuit bent electronics are old for a reason: modern electronics are difficult to modify.

Through-hole resistors

Surface-mounted resistor

Related to the difficulty of modification is the challenges in repairing electronics. Modern electronics are notoriously difficult to fix once broken. This difficulty is in part caused by their complexity and the aforementioned modern construction methods, but crucially it is also because of purposeful obstruction by the companies that produce the electronics. Not only do companies by design make the electronics difficult to repair, for example by using proprietary screw heads to make the cases difficult to open, but many, such as Apple Inc, make it contractually illegal to even open the device. No wonder that 57% of Europeans report not fixing their phones because of expensive or unavailable repair options[2].

In reaction to this, a movement has emerged in the past decade calling for the right to repair. It advocates for legislation which would make repairing easier, by making contractual repair restrictions illegal and by compelling companies to release documentation for how to repair their devices. Having originally gained traction in the US in cases such as automobile repair and farmers not being allowed to repair their tractors, the movement has now caught root in the European Union. A “Circular Economy Action Plan” draft in 2020 calls for the standardization of parts, such as charge cables for phones, and for making it easier for consumers to have their electronics repaired[3].

[1] “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”, Garnet Hertz & Jussi Parikka

[2] “Identifying the Impact of the Circular Economy on the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry: Opportunities and challenges for businesses, workers and consumers – mobile phones as an example”, European Economic and Social Committee, 2019,  https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/our-work/publications-other-work/publications/identifying-impact-circular-economy-fast-moving-consumer-goods-fmcg-industry-opportunities-and-challenges-businesses 

[3] “Europe Wants a ‘Right to Repair’ Smartphones and Gadgets”, New York Times, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/world/europe/eu-right-to-repair-smartphones.html

Plastopocene [*]

We are used to take plastic for granted as part of our lives. Plastic is everywhere. More than 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, and according to a UN report, more than 9 billion tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide [1]. By the early 20th century, plastics were used in electric lighting, telephones, wireless telegrams, photography, and sound recordings. In fact, when we look at media devices commonly used over the last century, we find that plastics were crucial to a number of popular media technologies. In 1948, Columbia records introduced a vinyl record. Lightweight polycarbonate plastic is also used in c-cassettes, MiniC´Discs, DVD and Blu-Ray.

Plastic is present in the food packaging, clothing, electronics and pharmaceutical industries, as coatings, in the photographic and film industries, in consumer goods, in childcare – almost everything around us. The electronics industry in Europe uses an estimated 6% of plastics [11] and15-25% of the microelectronics in use (eg smartphones, data computers, tablets) is plastic. Plastic is an ideal insulator because it has poor electrical and thermal conductivity, good formability and is lightweight.

Plastics can be divided into thermoplastics, which do not change when heated and can be reshaped, and disposable plastics, which are used in circuit boards, for example, due to their plasticity and good heat resistance. It usually ends up in a landfill.

In addition, there are bio-based plastics, which refer to plastics processed from renewable raw materials of biological origin. Biodegradable plastics are materials that degrade through a biological process into carbon dioxide and water. Contrary to popular belief, bio-basedness is not a prerequisite for biodegradability or vice versa. [2]

A 1956 world oil production distribution, showing historical data and future production, proposed by M. King Hubbert – it had a peak of 12.5 billion barrels per year in about the year 2000. As of 2016, the world’s oil production was 29.4 billion barrels per year

 

From deep time to the 6th massextinctions

Over more than two hundred years, technocultural systems have transformed significant shares of the Earth’s fossil fuels into heat and plastic. The formation of fossil fuels takes thousands of years, the culture of the plastics industry – extraction, transport, trade, fractionation and conversion into monomers and then polymers and then products that are sold, used and disposed of – takes place within a few months (Marriott and Minio-Paluello 2014) [12]

The overall impact of human societies on earth has led to the anthropocene, a new geological era.

A huge number of living systems are not keeping pace with the ecological changes caused by anthropogenic industrial activities. While some species thrive in these changed conditions, there is an ongoing sixth wave of mass extinction that will be of immense importance to our planet and habitats. This is despite the fact that more than 99 percent of the species that have occurred on Earth have already become extinct (McKinney 1997: 110).

An estimated 5.25 trillion plastic particles floating in the oceans with an estimated total weight of 270,000 kilos. Plastic debris accumulates into large spins that only collect more debris with them.

By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the seas than fish.

-Plastics are known to release chemicals that are harmful to the environment, but according to a new study, they also release the greenhouse gases methylene and ethane into the atmosphere. Polyethylene, which is also the most common type of plastic, proved to be the worst producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Polyethylene is used in plastic bags, among other things, and accounts for more than a third of all plastic produced in the world. [3]

Certain forms of bacteria have evolved to inhabit the plastic vortices of the oceans and use it for food. Bacteria are responsible for the most significant changes in the biosphere, the atmospheric oxidation event that occurred 2.3 billion years ago. Microbes also live in the digestive tract of all vertebrates and are responsible for digestion. This raises the question of what we should protect. Aesthetic differences are crucial here; is an easier to feel compassion for a penguin than a micro-organism that requires an electron microscope to examine.

E-waste management, recycling,  environmental pollution and health risks

Since 2015, the global rapidly growing amount of e-waste has exceeded 42 million tons. This poses an ecological, health, ethical and colonialist problem. The global north supplies enormous amounts of waste for recycling and storage in the global south. In the words of geographer David Harvey, “the capitalist economy does not solve its problems, it only moves them from one state to another” **. [4]

Electronic waste mountains are a serious environmental and health risk. Equipment often contains mercury, lead and other heavy metals, various fluorescent and flame retardants, and plastics that, if improperly handled, can contaminate soil, air, and water.  [4] The primary problem of incineration arises from the presence of halogenated flame retardants which release toxic gases. Metals are separated from circuit boards by heating and dissolving in acid. When soaking, wastewater enters rivers as well as soil. In addition, the chemicals used in e-waste treatment are very dangerous to health, and respiratory diseases, for example, are common among scrap collectors in developing countries. Many of them are minor children. E-waste toxins can also cause a variety of birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and many other health hazards [4]

In the words of geographer David Harvey, “the capitalist economy does not solve its problems, it only moves them from one state to another” **. [5]

Photo: IMPEL-EU European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law

Chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system

Many chemicals are used in the processing of plastics and plastic compounds, which have been found to interfere with the human endocrine system, which is the body’s hormonal function responsible for regulating metabolism, growth, development, reproduction and mood. More common endocrine diseases include diabetes, bone loss, obesity, and various thyroid diseases. [6] How important are the chemicals in plastic compounds in the pathogenesis of these living standards diseases.

The greatest concern about the presence of BPA and phthalates has been raised in food and beverage packaging where chemicals can where chemicals can dissolve and be ingested. In particular, the use of BPA-based polycarbonate in baby bottles has been a concern and in many countries their sale is prohibited by law. BPA and phthalates can be found on computers, CDs and DVDs, and, surprisingly, also on thermal papers, commercial receipts, and ATM printouts. It has been found that BPA is absorbed more efficiently if the skin is wet or oily, whether it has been in contact with e.g. moisturizer or sweaty.

Life after plastic

Modern industrial societies are based on the idea of ​​continuous economic growth. Full employment and welfare services are dependent on economic growth, as are debt and growth-based financing and investment systems. A halt in economic growth would mean the dismantling of services and support systems, debt restructuring, bank failures, high unemployment and the downsizing of the entire welfare state. [7]. Growth and development are largely based on the oil industry, the production of plastics and thus the media at the heart of cultures. Communication, transport, stock exchanges and logistics are built on digital media.

In discussions about the collapse of industrial society, the most topical issue is most often the peak of world oil production defined by M. King Hubbert, followed by the inevitable decline in total production. As oil is the world’s main source of energy and its importance is further emphasized in key areas of society’s infrastructure, the oil peak is considered to be an insurmountable problem and the cause of the collapse. What makes the issue topical is the fact that many people assume that the oil peak was passed between 2005 and 2011, when the world economy would have already reached its peak and would soon go into recession. For example, the financial crisis of 2007-2009 is considered to be the result of an oil peak. [8]

Heinberg does not believe that the oil peak can be solved by technical solutions, as the world economy and technological development are far behind the current problem, oil is also crucial for the production of other forms of energy, and a viable form of energy would only delay rather than prevent a collapse. In his book Powerdown; Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World, he puts forward as a primary solution a cultural change of direction in which the world abandons the pursuit of growth and high consumption. [8]

Jonathan Huebner, for his part, defined the innovation peak of technological development by comparing the list of major inventions from the Middle Ages to the present with the world’s current population. He found that the peak of innovation was reached as early as 1873 and that the average innovativeness of the world’s population declined throughout the 20th century, despite the fact that the population was more educated and more funds were devoted to research. Based on the innovation curve he has formed, he estimates that in 2005, 85% of all innovations had already been made. According to him, technological development is limited not only by what is physically possible to invent, but also by what is economically possible or sensible to invent. [9]

The collapse of industrial society is seen as a dramatic chain of events that would result in famine, epidemics, the collapse of democratic systems, population displacement, the collapse of safety nets and chaos. As a significant difference from historical collapses, the collapse of industrial societies is seen for the first time in world history as a purely global phenomenon. On the other hand, if humanity is able to renew its culture and values, according to Thom Hartmann, it is possible to build a new society after the collapse that is not based on private property, growth, subjugation and destruction and could therefore be more permanent in structure. [10]

Alternatives are being sought for oil and substitutes are being developed for plastics, such as sunflower oil, seaweed, cellulose and milk. The production of biodiesel, which takes land away from food production, has already been criticized. What about when you want to make more bio-based plastics on the market. It therefore makes sense to focus on the development and production of bio-based plastics in raw material sources that do not compete with food production, [11]

Of the substitutes being developed as a sustainable solution, there are hardly any. They do not solve the problems of continued growth and over-consumption or acquisition. The only solution on a sustainable basis is to seek out the structure of society, worlds of values ​​and material-centredness from society and to look for alternative models of action.

Painting

REFERENCES:

-TECHNOFOSSILS of the ANTHROPOCENE
Media, Geology, and Plastics / Sy Taffel

* ´Plastopocene´ -term copied from: https://ekokumppanit.fi/muoviopas/

[1]  /https://www.maailma.net/uutiset/tuore-tutkimus-muovi-luultua-vaarallisempaa-paastaa-ilmakehaan-kasvihuonekaasuja

[2] s/https://www.pakkaus.com/biopohjainen-ja-biohajoava-muovi-eivat-tarkoita-samaa/

[3]  /https://www.maailma.net/uutiset/tuore-tutkimus-muovi-luultua-vaarallisempaa-paastaa-ilmakehaan-kasvihuonekaasuja

[4]   /https://eetti.fi/vastuullinentekniikka/

/https://www.maailma.net/nakokulmat/muovigaten-jalkipyykki-mita-muovin-dumppaaminen-kehitysmaihin-kertoo-taloudellisesta; **citation  from David Harvey´s lecture ’The Enigma of Capital”, which was arranged in  London School of Economics 26.4.2010

[5] /https://www.maailma.net/nakokulmat/muovigaten-jalkipyykki-mita-muovin-dumppaaminen-kehitysmaihin-kertoo-taloudellisesta; **citation  from David Harvey´s lecture ’The Enigma of Capital”, which was arranged in  London School of Economics 26.4.2010

[6]  https://www.vaasankeskussairaala.fi/potilaille/hoito-ja-tutkimukset/erikoisalat/storningar-i-hormonbalansen-och-amnesomsattningen—endokrinologi/

[7] “Hyvinvointivaltio vaarassa”, Helsingin Sanomat 30.9.2010, s. A5

[8]  Grupp, Adam: Peak Oil Primer energybulletin.net. Energy Bulletin

[9]  Huebner, Jonathan: A possible declining trend for worldwide innovation

[10]  Hartmann, Thom: The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1997

[11] /https://ekokumppanit.fi/muoviopas/

[12]  TECHNOFOSSILS of the ANTHROPOCENE
Media, Geology, and Plastics

Sy Taffel

Unnecessary digitalization of household appliances

The digitalization of our everyday life in the past couple of decades is a consequence of the massive technological development. While many “gadgets” that humanity invented make sense and do benefit our daily tasks, the desire to make every possible household item “smarter” is in my opinion completely unnecessary.

The Internet of things or “Smart household items” as the industry likes to call them started to appear at the break of the 20th and 21st century when internet technology was slowly getting more accessible to the wider public. The first internet-connected appliance was invented at Carnegie Mellon University, where they made a smart Coca Cola vending machine. It was able to report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold or not. The idea was born, improved, and spread around in the following decades. [3]

The Internet of things could be divided into consumer, commercial, industrial, and infrastructure technology. While I can understand the reason and the benefit of the internet of things in said categories, the consumer part presents more problems than benefits. But for some reason, the consumers would like to use the interconnectivity with every single thing that surrounds them, even if it doesn’t make any sense. And of course, where there’s demand there’s money and therefore more and more standard household items started to become “smarter”. The research shows that the number of household items that could be connected to the internet will drastically increase in the following years. [1]

(Figure 1: Each second 127 new devices connect to the internet) [2]

We have to realize that circuits/parts that enable connectivity include precious materials that and being excavated deep beneath the earth’s soil and are for the past couple of decades impacting our environment in the worst way possible.

We also have to ask ourselves if we really need all that, especially from the consumer perspective? Does your coffee machine need to have a built-in clock with timer functions? Does it have to be connected with your oven that can access hundreds of different recipes online? Do all of the shutters and lights in your house have to be connected in an app that enables you to control them wirelessly? The technology made us lazy and spoiled and it seems like we are prepared to sacrifice our planet for our own desire of ultimate comfort. [4]

References:

[1] Jennifer Gabrys, “Re-thingifying the Internet of Things,” Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, New York and London, Routledge, 2016: 180 – 195.

[2] & Figure 1.: CPA Canada – Mathieu De Lajartre, 2019, Infographic: The Internet of Things (IoT) is a booming business, Last modified February 13, 2019, https://www.cpacanada.ca/en/news/world/2019-02-13-internet-of-things-infographic

[3] Wikipedia, 2020, Internet of Things, Last modified October 4, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things

[4] PCMag, 2020, The Best Smart Home Devices for 2020, Last modified August 27, 2020, https://uk.pcmag.com/smart-home/85/the-best-smart-home-devices-for-2020

 

The role of Internet of Things creators

The internet is not only about connecting people but also about connecting things. Technological developments have enabled things to sense and share their experience with other things, with or without human interference. (Hougland, 2014). Jennifer Gabrys (2016) takes a focus on the Internet of Things’ (IoT) environmental impacts, pointing out that the increase of IoT devices and applications or “Thingification ” also means the proliferation of digital artifacts and infrastructures. By 2025, it is estimated that there will be more than 21 billion IoT devices (Symanovich, n.d.). Below is a data visualization of the Top 10 IoT segments in 2018 based on 1600 real IoT projects (Scully, 2018). The explosion of IoTs innovations certainly leads to opportunities for both economical and societal developments, while raising critical questions concerning digital obsolescence and thus, its impact on the environment. 

In my opinion, important questions for IoT creators to ask when inventing new ideas are: How does the Internet of Things actually enhance our everyday lives? What are the environmental improvements that are meant to be achieved through these devices? and What ethical implications should be imposed on IoT designs? With the understanding that things are ongoing processes and always with a consequence (Gabrys, 2016). We should pay attention to the materials of our products, to understand their process, and their impacts. Besides, it is our responsibility to communicate with decision-makers on actions that not only minimize negative impacts but also create positive changes. In the end, the companies’ brand, once perceived as environment friendly, will increase its market value.

—-

Hougland, B., 2014. What Is The Internet Of Things? And Why Should You Care? | Benson Hougland | Tedxtemecula. Available at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AlcRoqS65E> [Accessed 11 October 2020].

Gabrys, J., 2016. RE-THINGIFYING THE INTERNET OF THINGS. In: N. Starosielski and J. Walker, ed., Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment. Routledge.

Symanovich, S., n.d. The Future Of IoT: 10 Predictions About The Internet Of Things | Norton. [online] Us.norton.com. Available at: <https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-iot-5-predictions-for-the-future-of-iot.html> [Accessed 11 October 2020].

Scully, P., 2018. The Top 10 IoT Segments In 2018 – Based On 1,600 Real IoT Projects – IoT Analytics. [online] Iot-analytics.com. Available at: <https://iot-analytics.com/top-10-iot-segments-2018-real-iot-projects/> [Accessed 11 October 2020].

The Thingification of Everything

What if everything was connected? What if all the information we need would be just one glance away? What if every single move we make could be translated into data, be documented, and evaluated. What if all our senseless actions and unsustainable behaviors would be visible to everyone. What if, instead of learning a new language, we create one that nobody understands.

Karen Brad wrote that thingification“ the turning of relations into “things,” “entities,” “relata”—infects much of the way we understand the world and our relationship to it.” [1]

it is once again possible to acknowledge nature, the body, and materiality in the fullness of their becoming without resorting to the optics of transparency or opacity, the geometries of absolute exteriority or interiority, and the theoretization of the human as either pure cause or pure effect while at the same time remaining resolutely accountable for the role “we” play in the intertwined practices of knowing and becoming. [2]

What if in our desperate attempts to control what was given to us for free, we cover the world in rubbish and data. What if everything is already connected and our dense species just fails to see it.

 


[1] Karen Barad: Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter [Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, vol. 28, no. 3] https://www.uio.no/studier/emner/sv/sai/SOSANT4400/v14/pensumliste/barad_posthumanist-performativity.pdf

[2] ibid

Plastiglomerate – The molten plastic cores of the anthropocene.

Plastiglomerate sample/ready-made collected by geologist Patricia Corcoran and sculptor Kelly Jazvac at Kamilo Beach, Hawai’i, 2012. Photo: Kelly Wood. Courtesy of the artist.  | SOURCE: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/78/82878/plastiglomerate/

Plastic is the material that is probably most representative of our single-use-throw-away culture. When we considering the amount of time that we actively use plastic (as an essential part of electronic devices or as something more simple like a plastic cup) compared to the hundreds of years it takes to decompose plastic, it becomes quite evident what is fundamentally wrong with the way we consume.

In his work Technofossils of the Athnorpocene Dr. Sy Taffel, senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand emphasizes: ” …the urgent need for a dramatic reorientation of the material infrastructures and practices of consumption that underpin twenty-first-century digital cultures.” [1]

How much plastic is becoming part of our future geology is visible in Plastiglomerates. Plastiglomerate, a term just recently coined, refers to polymers that are combined with other materials creating fragments with much greater density. Basically it is a stone made out of a mixture of natural stuff like sand or wood that is held together by a molten and hardened plastic core.

Patricia Corcoran, Charles Moore, and Kelly Jazvac, who discovered and named Plastiglomerates present a striking reminder of the long-lasting and damaging influence of human existence on our environment and a new symbol of the Anthropocene: “…this anthropogenically influenced material has great potential to form a marker horizon of human pollution, signaling the occurrence of the informal Anthropocene epoch.” [2]

————————————
[1] Sy Taffel: Technofossile of The Anthropocene. Cultural Politics, Volume 12, Issue 3, © 2016 Duke University Press, p.358
[2] Patricia L. Corcoran, Charles J. Moore, Kelly Jazvac: An anthropogenic marker horizon in the future rock record, https://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/24/6/article/i1052-5173-24-6-4.htm

The flip side of the media

The flip side of the media

Digital media is often thought to be that environmentally friendly option. After all, it saves huge amounts of information on paper, messages sent via the Internet, remote meetings, information in the web is fast, effortless and energy-saving. However, there is a huge production process behind digital media that is by no means unproblematic.

THE ORIGIN OF MEDIA

In the soil rests the seed of digital media from which it is converted into media in its many forms, global media networks and sophisticated media equipment through mining, chemical processes and a highly refined thermal control system.

The rock is removed by blasting and drilling metals and minerals that, as a result of numerous thermological and chemical processes, reach sufficient concentration, sufficient purity to guarantee media performance, speed of networks and equipment, and a more streamlined appearance of equipment. The functionality of data transmission and cloud services are maintained by means of advanced thermal regulation. A small deviation in temperature can lead to overheating and a network crash.

On our home computers, we look forward to the connection being restored. The blackout of the screen and the interruption of communications may seem like greater adversity and personal punishment. We are accustomed to seeing effective data transfer and access as a right around which much of our lives revolve. However, little has been discussed about the geological and thermodynamic system behind and maintaining seamless data transfer or its climate or social implications.

Both the history of communication and the present have been entirely dependent on metals, of which copper and silica are the most important. Copper and silicon are part of almost all modern media. All metal is bound to the aggregate from which it must be separated. The process requires huge amounts of heat, and only a small fraction of the huge amount of aggregate is clean enough to be used for media needs. Ten kilograms of copper are obtained from a ton of aggregate. The rest of the aggregate is rock waste. Contamination is a by-product of such a process. Surplus rock material is only one part of the waste generated by the process, in addition to the chemicals used, the rock dust generated in mining, the by-products of processing and the used electronic waste. [5]

Many of the raw materials used in electronic equipment come from mines in countries where it is difficult to safeguard fundamental human rights. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, mines owned by insurgents and various paramilitary forces have funded and fed wars that have killed more people than in any conflict since World War II.

Congo and its neighbouring countries account for a large proportion of the tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold used in electronic components. Without them, computers, tablets and cell phones would not work.

Larger-scale mining in particular has also led to significant environmental damage. [1]

Most of our electronic equipment are manufactured in factories whose working conditions do not meet internationally agreed minimum standards. Salaries are not enough to live on, trade unions are banned and many workers live in conditions comparable to slavery. [1]

The biggest environmental impacts of electronic equipment are energy consumption and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, electronic waste, and the toxic chemicals and heavy metals used in the equipment.

The energy efficiency of the devices has improved but the need for energy is still on the rise as more and more energy is needed for digital media storage and data processing.

Tens of millions of tonnes of electronic waste are generated every year. From Europe, e.g. Nigeria and Ghana leave Europe with a lot of “reusable” equipment that ends up directly in a landfill. An estimated 5-13% of e-waste in the EU is exported illegally.

Electronic waste mountains are a serious environmental and health risk. Equipment often contains mercury, lead and other heavy metals, various fluorescent and flame retardants, and plastics that, if improperly handled, can contaminate soil, air, and water. In addition, many of these substances, as well as the chemicals used in e-waste treatment, are very hazardous

and health, and respiratory diseases, for example, are common among waste collectors in developing countries. Many of them are minor children. E-waste toxins can also cause a variety of birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and many other health hazards. [1]

COPPER & CRIMES

According to Goldman Sachs, copper and nickel will be found in the soil for another 40 years. [2] The depletion of natural resources is changing the integrated culture, practices, economy, geopolitics and climate conditions of the digital age. [3] An extensive criminal network has already been built around copper. There are motorcycle gangs, individual criminals and organisations like the Italian mafia involved. Thieves, for example, can take church roofs and grounded copper cable along railways and cause considerable damage. The origin of copper is being eradicated and it is often exported to Europe, e.g. For melting in the Baltic countries or chartering e.g. To China. China is the world’s largest producer of copper, and due to China’s high demand for copper, the market price of copper has risen sharply. In Finland, thefts have taken place at construction sites and the roofs of buildings have been stolen. [4]

NUMBER OF COPPER THEFT FROM RAILWAYS IN 2010

Belgium ………… .717 cases

Germany ……… .over 1000 (Jan-Oct 2010). PRICE LABEL: 12-15 million

France ……… 300. Price tag: approx. 35 million euro

Italy …………… ..1341. PRICE LABEL: approx. 4 million euro.

Great Britain …… 2000 (2006-2010) PRICE LABEL: 42 million euro [4]

Italian anti-mafia prosecutor Aldo de Chiara specialices in environmental crimes. He has been investigating an illegal waste management business in Italy in the hands of the mafia. . The most famous and widespread case is called Operazione Nerone where criminals burned waste to get copper.

Aldo de Chiara: These people are reckless and unscrupulous because they know that the criminal activity they are doing is a danger to public health. It is therefore important to point out that burning wires does not just release substances that are harmful to health into the atmosphere, which can cause respiratory symptoms. Combustible landfills also contaminate agricultural land, causing significant damage to the environment. [4]

HEAT AND ENERGY MANAGEMENT

Heat management plays a key role throughout the media production process. The need for temperature control begins already in mining and aggregate processing. The aggregate undergoes innumerable thermological processes before it is a usable metal. A suitable temperature is essential in the manufacture of the devices. Data transfer and data archiving will not work if the temperature is not correct. The wrong temperature in the print media process causes problems with printing papers, printing plates, and printing inks. Preservation of photographs, prints, films, and paintings requires an appropriate temperature. Libraries, archives and digital storage facilities need a suitable temperature. The stock market will collapse if the digital network overheats. [5]

According to several sources, one google consumes as much electricity as a 60-watt light bulb that is on for 17 seconds. The servers are assembled into large data centres whose electricity consumption has been compared to small states, just to mention few examples of energy consumption.

The carbon footprint of digital media is an issue we need to focus on in the future.

[ 1 ]  https://eetti.fi/vastuullinentekniikka/

[ 2 ]  https://www.is.fi/taloussanomat/art-2000001870184.html

[ 3 ] https://www.sitra.fi/artikkelit/trendit-kamppailu-luonnonvaroista-kiihtyy/

[4]  Minna Knus-Galan /Punaisen kullan metsästäjät käsikirjoitus, YLE, MOT

[5] Nicole Starosielski, “Thermocultures of Geological Media,” Cultural Politics, Vol. 12 (3), Duke University Press, 2016: 293-309.

[ 6 ] https://www.karhuhelsinki.fi/blogi/internetin-ilmastouhkat-miten-kayttaa-nettia-ymparistoystavallisesti

Technosymbiosis of media, performance and plastics.

 

Performance art scene can date back to the primitive people in Paleolithic era creating sacred rituals to emulate the spirit world. It is quite burdensome to produce the exact date of birth of the performance art, as in its essence it is a pure transmission of energy between the artist and the audience at certain given time and space; it happens in present – once the piece is over, it is over forever, only the memory of it can stay. This changes, however, with the birth of media technology, in particular the first film camera.

Kodak created first film camera in the late 80s [1], the first transparent and flexible film base material was nitrocelluloid [2], which was discovered and then refined for the use in film. Now, with this first film camera the performances were possible to capture, store and document them for later use. The performance trace was no longer only in viewer’s memory, but also on a piece of paper.

 

(Photo 1: Original Kodak Camera, Serial No. 540, [3])

 

Nitrate film was used for both photographic and cinematic images from late 19th century until late 40s in 20th century [2]. During this time in performance history, quite a popular style was cabaret. With the birth of revolutionary cultural movements like DADA and Cubism, performance art started to shape its importance in the bourgeoisie fine art society. Performance art was considered and still is, nowadays, as one of the purest artistic expressions. Quite challenging to capture the time and space of a certain moment on film, yet quite revolutionary, provocative and important for the history and theory of performance art the photographs were in the beginning of 20th century.

 

Cabaret Voltaire: A night out at history's wildest nightclub - BBC Culture

(Photo 2: Cabaret Voltaire, [4])

 

However, photographs do not depict the movements, the feelings and expressions of the performer. They are just a still candid photograph of a certain time and moment in that given space. During the same era a new art form in media was born – motion pictures and the first synthetic plastic was produced and patented by Leo Baekeland in 1907 [2]. Polymers like cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate and polyester play an important role in film history as well as in the making and documenting of the performance history. Many film rolls were used and discarded in the landfill, where most traditional plastics might not decompose.

With the creation of digital cameras in 70s and 80s the feeling of many wasteful materials discarded, like film rolls, seems to have disappeared. But is it really quite so? Inside the digital camera, there are many electronic equipments, sensors, detectors that capture the incoming rays and turn them into digital signals. Digital cameras use digital technology. “Plastics are often neglected within materialist accounts of media” as rightfully Sy Taffel said in their paper “Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics” [2]. If we go beyond digital camera as a medium to document performance art, we can think of  the quite recent concept of the art of the future, for example mixed reality. Mixed reality can truly help the artist to caption their performance forever. The feeling and experience for the viewer is quite different and incomparable to viewing the performance piece, for example, in the form of photograph or a movie. In mixed reality the viewer can be present with the performer in space. It is no longer the documented trace of performance you are viewing, it is almost like a feeling that you are there together with an artist.

Performance art is art quite often without objects that happen in given space and moment. In order to be present, the viewer needs to be physical in that space. But with the help of the media the viewer can experience partially or fully the artwork. Their symbiosis is strong and it plays an enormous role in the history, theory and development of performance as an art form. The symbiosis of media and plastics might not be as visible to the naked eye, however, it is daily there in our everyday lives capturing incoming rays, detecting the change in the environment and responding with the output. We cannot talk about one without the other, thus performance, media and plastics are tied together in the technosymbiosis of anthropocene.

As a final thought, here is a small performance and entertainment to compare thermoplastics and thermoset plastics.

 

(Video 1: Comparison of plastics in digital media 1, thermoplastics examples, by the author)

 

(Video 2: Comparison of plastics in digital media 2, thermoset plastics examples, by the author)

 

References:

[1] Ma, Jonathan. (2017). Film Photography History and Emergence of Digital Cameras. https://sleeklens.com/the-history-of-film-and-emergence-of-digital-cameras/ [Accessed 4 October 2020]

[2] Taffel, Sy. (2016). Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics. 12. 355-375. 10.1215/17432197-3648906

[3] National Museum of American History. Original Kodak Camera, Serial No. 540. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_760118 [Accessed 5 October 2020]

[4] Sooke, Alastair. (2016). Cabaret Voltaire: A Night out at History’s Wildest Nightclub. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20160719-cabaret-voltaire-a-night-out-at-historys-wildest-nightclub [Accessed 5 October 2020]

 

 

“Digital Media” is All Material

The last paragraph of the article mentioned an example: “Exploring these entanglements reveals that we carry with us microelectronics devices that are not only hewn from African tungsten, South American copper, and Chinese rare earth elements but that contain the refined remnants of prehistoric life.[1]”

A study collects the information about where does 62 elecments of our phone come from. Top3 iron producers: China (44%), Australia (20%), Brazil (12%); Top3 Copper producers: Chile (30%), China (9%), Peru (8.5%); Top 3 Aluminum producers: China (50%), Russia (7%), Canada (5%); Top 3 Nickel producers: Philippines (21%), Russia (9.5%), Canada (9.5%); Top 3 rare earth producers: China (90-95%), Australia (3-9%), United States (~1-4%).[2]

fig.1 Where do rare earths come from? ( Image from https://www.maketecheasier.com/where-does-phone-come-from/)

It makes me think that when we use our cellphones; we are not simply using an object; we are using resources all around the world, which means that we are connected to globalized space. It also means that we are consuming resources generated in the past, which refers to our current life to geological time. All these happen physically, not digitally. We also need to think that if we are using resources generated in the past, the future generation also needs to use resources that are generated today. So potentially, what we are doing is influencing future life. In short, no one is isolated in time and space.

But considering we cannot change history and what we or our society already did, It is worth making more people realize. As a student who studies New Media, which is regarded as “digital media”, we must give up thinking that media is virtuality or immateriality. Instead, We must critically think about material culture in a globalized spatial scales and geological time scales.

About the final project of this course, I would like to make a project that demonstrates to people how material our “digital” media is, and also, how new “New Media” could be in the future context.

 

Reference

[1] Sy Taffel, Technofossile of The Anthropocene.

[2] Where does phone come from? https://www.maketecheasier.com/where-does-phone-come-from/

A cycle of plastic karma?

Today, we find plastic in almost everything, in our clothes, computers, phones, furniture, appliances, houses, and vehicles. Synthetic polymers are lightweight, durable, and can be molded in almost any shape. Some usage examples are Bakelite for mechanical parts, PVC for plumbing, electric gears and cases, nylon for packaging, and so on. Since synthetic polymers are durable, plastic takes 500-1000 years to break down. Hence, they often end up in landfills and oceans. More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, according to a report by the World Economic Forum [1]. A study suggests that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

Concentrations of plastic debris in the world’s surface waters. Credit: Cozar et. al. 

A cycle of plastic karma? Any plastic that is smaller than 5mm can be considered “Microplastic”. Microplastics mainly come from plastic exposed to UV in the ocean and deteriorate into small pieces, then are swallowed by marine species. Following the food chain, microplastic ends up in fishes, shrimps, crabs, and into our bodies. There are at least 269,000 tons floating in the ocean according to a study by 5 Gyres Institute. Microplastics have been found in food and water that humans consume on a daily basis. Although we need more research before panicking, a sagacious person would not be blithe about the possibility of a cycle of plastic karma to future generations. 

In his paper “Technofossils of the Anthropocene”, Taffel asks a key question:

“The key question is not if, but how, we arrive at collective decisions to attempt the rewilding, dispersion, protection, conservation, thinning, or removal of particular types of living and nonliving entities from specific ecosystems, while recognizing that the dynamism of ecological systems means that any certitude surrounding the deep-time impact of such actions is illusory.”

To elaborate on this question, I propose a specific approach: “How might we separate, prevent, remove plastic from the oceans, thus saving marine and human lives?”

—-

Reference:

Taffel, Sy. (2016). Technofossils of the Anthropocene: Media, Geology, and Plastics. Cultural Politics. 12. 355-375. 10.1215/17432197-3648906. 

Ballerini, Tosca & Pen, Jean-Ronan & Andrady, Anthony & Cole, Matthew & Galgani, François & Kedzierski, Mikaël & Pedrotti, Maria Luiza & ter halle, Alexandra & van Arkel, Kim & Zettler, Erik & Amaral-Zettler, Linda & Bruzaud, Stéphane & Brandon, Jennifer & Durand, Gael & Enevoldsen, Enrik & Eriksen, Marcus & Fabre, Pascale & Fossi, Maria-Christina & Frère, Laura & Wong-Wah-Chung, Pascal. (2018). Plastic pollution in the ocean: what we know and what we don’t know about. 10.13140/RG.2.2.36720.92160. 

Www3.weforum.org. 2020. [online] Available at: <http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf> [Accessed 3 October 2020].


Further Readings:

David Barnes, “Biodiversity: Invasions by Marine Life on Plastic Debris.” Nature, 6883.1 (2002): 808-809. Print.

Derraik, Jose G. “The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44.1 (2002): 842 – 852. Print.

Planned Obsolescence and the Lifespan of Electronics

Back in the 1920s the US automotive industry were faced with a problem. An industry which had long enjoyed explosive growth was now faced with falling numbers. It had taken less than twenty years, after the launch of Ford Model T in 1908, for car ownership to go from a luxury to an assumption. But now the market was hitting a saturation point: most everyone who wanted a car already had one.

As a solution to this, the head of General Motors Alfred P. Sloan Jr. suggested annual design changes to convince buyers that they needed to buy a new car even if the old one still worked fine. The strategy, which he’d borrowed from the bicycle manufacturers, was quickly branded as “planned obsolescence” by critics, though Sloan preferred the term “dynamic obsolescence”. Planned obsolescence has had far reaching consequences not only on the automotive industry, but on the whole field of product design and thus on all the market economies of the world. A shining example of this is modern electronics.

A recent report on ‘electronics and obsolescence in a circular economy’ from the EEA’s European Topic Centre on Waste and Materials in a Green Economy gives us good insights on this issue in the European context and its affects on the environment.

The report states that consumption of electronics has grown steadily over the past decades, mainly driven by information technology, namely smartphones. Today an average of 20 kg of electronics per EU citizen is put on the market every year. Much of this growth in demand can be attributed to falling costs of production: “purchasing a new washing machine, for example, cost 59 working hours work in 2004 but dropped to just 39 hours in 2014 (CECED, 2017)”.  Once discarded only around half of these electronics enter official recycling systems, leaving large amounts untreated. One of the main findings of the report is that the average real lifetime of products is at least 2.3 years shorter than the designers of the products estimate them to be.

Source: ETC/WMGE based on Cordella et al., 2019 and Wieser et al., 2015 for smartphones; Kalyani et al., 2017, King County, 2008 and Wieser et al., 2015 for televisions; Wieser et al., 2015 for washing machines; Rames et al., 2019, EC, 2019 and Wieser et al., 2015 for vacuum cleaners)

The report recommends the EU to pursue policies which enable and encourage circular business models which would extend the lifespans and delay obsolescence of electronics.

 

References

1. Europes consumption in a circular economy: the benefits of longer-lasting electronics https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/waste/resource-efficiency/benefits-of-longer-lasting-electronics

Cancer Villages in Vietnam

Cancer village is the word used in Vietnamese to refer to villages in Vietnam, where many people have cancer because of water pollution. According to the Ministry of Health, as of 2007, there are about 51 villages and communes scattered in 25 provinces/cities nationwide recorded as “cancer villages”. Focusing mainly in the North and Central – where high-intensity handicraft and craft village activities take place (Ha Tay, Bac Ninh, Nam Dinh), near old industrial zones (such as Thai Nguyen, Phu Tho) or near old plant protection warehouses (Nghe An, Ha Tinh) … [1]

Water sources in cancer villages in Vietnam according to the investigation are polluted by pesticides at drug stores, war poisons, graveyards, craft villages, domestic and industrial wastes, and public works. The analysis results of water samples being used for drinking in the “cancer villages” show that most of them are contaminated with microorganisms, some samples have Content of phenol, arsenic or manganese exceeds the permissible standard many times. 

The people of Thong Nhat village (Hanoi) mainly use water from drilled wells.

Image: Contaminated Nhue River (Hanoi, Vietnam) [2]


Case Thach Son Cancer village: The village is contaminated, in both air and water. According to a survey by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the atmosphere here is seriously poisoned by industrial emissions, especially in the area around Lam Thao Supe phosphate factories, Phu Tho battery factory. Besides, the breathing air in Thach Son must receive smoke from 90 brick kilns and the bad smell at the outlet of the wastewater of the Bai Bang paper factory to the Red River. Regarding water sources, both surface water and groundwater in Thach Son are toxic. All lakes and wells are polluted. [3]

From 1991 to 2009, Thach Son commune had 106 people died of cancer, most commonly cancer of the liver, lung, stomach, throat. 19 families with at least 2 people die from this disease (husband and wife, or father and daughter, mother and child), of which more than 3 people have died from cancer. In the Mom Den area, 15 years ago, 200 households had moved to another place by themselves because they could not stand the heavily polluted air from the Lam Thao Supe Phosphate factory. 70% of these families have died of cancer. [4]

— 

I would like to propose three levels of responsibility: Change starts from a systemic level to corporate responsibility and consumerism. The government has the power to gives permission for fabrications’ manufacturing activities on their homeland, hence, takes major responsibility for environmental and social impacts. Corporations must make ethical decisions that impact both the environment and humans. Consumers contribute to the scene by being mindful of everyday consumption, raising environmental concerns, and pushing for systemic changes.


Three levels of responsibility

References:

[1] https://nongnghiep.vn/viet-nam-co-51-lang-ung-thu-d5069.html Nong Nghiep VN. Accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

[2] Image: http://suckhoenguoiviet.org/danh-sach-10-lang-ung-thu-o-viet-nam.html Suc khoe nguoi Viet. Accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

[3] https://vnexpress.net/lang-ung-thu-thach-son-tu-dat-den-troi-deu-doc-2261643.html Vnexpress, accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

[4] https://www.vietnamplus.vn/noi-dau-dai-dang-o-lang-ung-thu-thach-son/21061.vnp Vietnam Plus. Accessed Sept 28th, 2020.

 

I live in the land of a thousand lakes but not a single one of them is like Baotou lake in Inner Mongolia, China.

I have taken hundreds of images of the beautiful lake next to our summer cottage. Most often I’ve photographed it with my smart phone made of aluminium, carbon, oxygen, iron, silicon, copper, cobalt, hydrogen, chrome, nickel and 4.9 grams of other materials like gold, tin and zinc.[1][2] It is a small lake with good water quality. There are no fields nearby that would lay down fertilizers to the streams connected to the lake nor are there any mines nearby that could pollute the small lake in a blink of an eye. There’s just the awesome calmness of the forest, a pair of swans and a family of black-throated loons swimming on the lake and me with my smart phone, the end product of all the mining happening somewhere far away from this paradise.

The technology we nowadays use to work, to participate in social media and to consume entertainment looks shiny, pure and clean. Smooth parts made of glass, aluminium and chrome feel and look good and are actively trying to make us forget where they really come from. Designed in California, Assembled in China but mined where and at what expense?

When buying an iPhone we pay around 1000 dollars for it. The materials of an iPhone are calculated to be worth a bit over 1 dollar.[1] Then with the remaining 999 dollars we probably cover the assembling, design, software, logistics, sales and of course the profit for the huge corporation behind it all. That is a lot of money for an average consumer but you might still wonder who in the end pays the biggest price?

Have a look at this awesome sunset at the lake next to our summer cottage that I photographed with 1000 dollars less on my bank account than before buying the smart phone I took this with!

Then have a look at this video by BBC journalist Tim Maughan from the Baotou lake.

“You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of “rare earth” minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world’s supply of these elements, and it’s estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world’s reserves.”[3]

So who after all is paying the biggest price for sustaining this technology filled modern life? And who collects the profit? Answer to one these questions lies in Baotou. Which one? That should be as obvious as is the whole content of this text. We all know this stuff, we are just so skilled in ignoring unpleasant facts as long as they don’t pollute our own lakes.

Finland does not yet have a toxic lake such as Baotou, the scale is luckily smaller, but already during the last 10 years people living or owning summer houses in Sotkamo, on the shores of the lakes near Talvivaara mine, have suffered from the mining company’s polluting. On 2014 the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland gave a statement that Talvivaara Sotkamo Oy has not been able to obey the rules given in their environmental permit during its whole time of existence. This has changed the way many people in Finland see the mining business and its negative effects on the environment. These mines create jobs but with too extreme consequences for the environment the positive effects get nullified in people’s minds.[4]

This way of thinking seems to work locally inside the Finnish borders but in a way this environmentalism has some nationalistic features. It is still “our lakes” that we are talking about here and even if we quit mining any materials from Finland, we don’t have to quit living the modern life with all the technology. There isn’t that big compromise we have to make. But even though we have seen what mines like Talvivaara can do to our nature I don’t see people wishing to stop this kind of environmentally hazardous mining everywhere outside our borders that strongly because that would have a lot more effects on our comfortable digital lives. And here I am too, using all these devices built from the materials digged from Baotou and contributing to the toxicity of the lake there. But is it individuals who have created this destructive system by wanting to buy new technology with cheaper and cheaper prices? That is how the corporations probably wan’t us to feel about it, but I would point my blaming finger more towards them instead.

References

  1. https://www.statista.com/chart/10719/materials-used-in-iphone-6/
  2. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/433wyq/everything-thats-inside-your-iphone?ex_cid=SigDig 
  3. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20150402-the-worst-place-on-earth
  4. https://www.apu.fi/artikkelit/talvivaara-pilatut-jarvivedet-nostivat-ymparistonsuojelun-koko-kansan-puheenaiheeksi-nain-kaikki-tapahtui (In Finnish)

The politics of mass production and fabrication

While reading Sean Cubitt’s “Ecologies of Fabrication” text [1], I couldn’t help but think about the mass production, mass selling and market domination in postcolonial capitalistic society. In the era since the ending of World War II new economy was established, where there is a large need for the creation, production and manufactures of the common goods. Being a designer myself, the text made me think about how large corporations influence and establish social, cultural and economic authority in globalism and mass market. Particular resonance with  a sociologist C.Wright Mills’s book “The Politics of Truth” [2] comes to my mind here; in his paper “The Man in the Middle”, Mills stated that “Continuous and expanding production requires continuous and expanding consumption, so consumption must be speeded up by all the techniques and frauds of marketing” (“Politics of Truth”, p. 177). In the paper Mills was talking about certain techniques designers in the mass market quite often rely onto and how “the waste of human labor and material become irrationally central to the performance of the capitalist mechanism” (“Politics of Truth”, p. 178).

Society is in itself a sales room. The common big lie in capitalist society is the classical phrase “We only give them what they want”. However, when we truly think about it, the skills of advertising, packaging products in a certain way and fake need for the products are the dogma of the mass production culture. Do we really need everything that we have and posses? When and why lifeless objects became so important in our everyday life? As a designer myself I couldn’t stop but question these important notions, as we, designers, can play and influence the market greatly. Even the model of the capitalist market structure is create yearly styles, make people become ashamed of not owning newest styles and trends and boost their self-esteem with the purchase of this year’s.

If the economy’s task is to sell, where do we stand in it and how can we help as designers, researchers, artists, writers, sociologists within the media field and beyond and how can we influence and establish new ways of producing and create new fundamental values in mass market and mass production. Perhaps, our society needs to be built and constructed around artisanal work and higher quality of products vs.capitalistic cultural apparatus of mass culture, mass society and mass production.

[1] Sean Cubitt, “Ecologies of Fabrication,” in Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, NY and London, Routledge, 2016

[2] C.Wright Mills , “The Man in the Middle”,  in The Politics of Truth, eds. John Summers, 2008: p. 173-183

Circuits of Capital

A system of high-risk, low-paid work in offshore factories, where human and environmental rights are casually ignored is an essential part of the global success story of electronic companies, the automobile, and the fashion industry, among others. [1]

The fact that components for virtually all technological products are manufactured in different locations around the globe is disconnecting us from the reality of human and environmental suffering. This system allows companies to distance themselves from the supply chains they’ve build-up themself. Transparency is claimed impossible and responsibilities are conveniently shifted.
“lt is clear, however, that corporations resist taking responsibility, spending instead vast sums on legal actions blocking charges against them and on public relations campaigns (including the expensive scientists whose reports they commission).”  [2]

Some companies even have the audacity to claim that it wouldn’t be possible for them to demand their suppliers to comply with human rights. This system allows us to maintain our privileged, wasteful, and unsustainable lifestyle without realizing that this way of living is supporting child-labor (e.g. in fashion production) [3] , modern slavery as seen in the fish industry in Thailand [4], and the brutal suppression of minorities supported (e.g. by VW in China. [5]

In what world do we live in where companies feel like human-rights are negotiable?

Among the things that really stayed with me in Sean Cubitt’s Ecologies Fabrication is that when you fight for the environment you also have to fight for human rights: “Environmentalists need to expand their political horizons to include human victims of anti-ecological practices, (…) these include not only workers and those living in the immediate vicinity, but everyone involved in the circuits of neoliberal capital.” [6]


[1] Sean Cubitt, “Ecologies of Fabrication,” in Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, NY and London, Routledge, 2016: p.168
[2] ibid 173
[3] https://www.commonobjective.co/article/child-labour-in-the-fashion-industry
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/21/such-brutality-tricked-into-slavery-in-the-thai-fishing-industry
[5] https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/menschenrechte-ueruemqi-vw-haelt-an-werk-in-chinesischer-provinz-xinjiang-fest-dpa.urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-200108-99-391133
[6] Sean Cubitt 2016, p. 164

 

 

Outsourcing and Offshoring of Fabrication in the 21st Century

The terms outsourcing and offshoring are considered a thing of the modern era of humanity. They were introduced and put into practice together in the 20th century, due to the process of the globalisation. By the early 1980s, both terms are featured in a business lexicon and they become a very common practice in the fabrication of goods.

In the post WW2 era, a lot of companies started experiencing massive growth and the demand for their goods increased for a big percentage. While external providers were often able to provide the service quicker and more efficient, the heavy use of that practice only started towards the end of the 20th century, due to the massive communication, shipment and technology development. Working in other geographic locations, especially in developed countries where wages are lower, has become increasingly effective. This became known as offshoring. The practice called outsourcing however moves a part of the production into a foreign country – contracting work out to an external organization. [2]

Both practices have benefits and risks. Offshoring is useful as the production costs are usually much lower and done faster, while still retaining the quality of the products. Many criticise offshoring for transferring jobs to other countries, rather than employing the local people. That also introduces a geopolitical risk as the cultural and language differences are present.

Outsourcing on the other hand takes the advantage of specialized skills of foreign workers, lower costs and labour flexibility. But relying on third parties can for example introduce misaligned interests of clients and vendors, therefore the collaboration is not that efficient and beneficial.[3]

Many times both practices are combined and put to use together. This way the companies get the advantages of both of them. Sadly, often the environmental and fair labour issues are ignored, even though they are present. A big factor is a fact, that the third party managers don’t want to risk alienating their clients by raising issues of environmental responsibility and fair labour practices offshore.

The biggest environmental issue is of course pollution that is caused by fabrication. Outsourcing/offshoring transfers the problem to countries that already have a big pollution rate. The fabrication of outsourced goods and services contaminate the air, water, and soil, trigger deforestation and increases concerns about global warming. It also depletes labour and material pools and as a consequence endangers public health. [4]

Sadly, lower costs of fabrication lead to a higher, less regulated level of pollution. There are attempts from major companies to limit the effect that the two practices have on the environment, but it often takes them more than a decade to reach the desired level. But for many companies the profit is the most important thing, therefore they will pursue the most efficient way to increase their profits even if that goes against their true values. As George Bernard Shaw once said: “Lack of money is the root of all evil.” [1][5]

References:

[1] Sean Cubitt, “Ecologies of Fabrication,” in Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment, eds. Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker, New York and London, Routledge, 2016: 163-179.

[2] Strange, Roger & Magnani, Giovanna. (2017). Outsourcing, Offshoring And The Global Factory. 10.4324/9781315667379-4.

[3] Diffen, Offshoring vs. Outsourcing, Last accessed September 27, 2020, https://www.diffen.com/difference/Offshoring_vs_Outsourcing

[4] Ecommerce Times, 2004, Environmental Impacts of Outsourcing, Last modified October 19, 2004, https://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/37421.html

[5] Xiaoyang Li & Yue M. Zhou, Strategic Management Journal, 2017, Offshoring Pollution while Offshoring Production?, 2310–2329

The Early Submarine Cables

After the first working telegraph was invented by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in 1839, the idea to connect North America and Europe with a transatlantic submarine cable was born. The desire to connect continents was always present, and after a decade of experiments and testings, the idea became reality.

The first successful attempt in the early 1850s connected Great Britain to the mainland Europe and laid the foundation for the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858 that connected Valentia Island in western Ireland to Heart’s Content in eastern Newfoundland, successfully reducing the communication time from 10 days to a matter of minutes. The first cable didn’t last very long but it was the first successful attempt of a long-distance communication cable. Until the 1870s a couple more cables were laid. The mentioned cables were much more durable and they allowed much quicker transmission than the first one. [1][2]

(Fig. 1: Laying the cables in the early 20th century)

Even though the first cables were laid in the middle of the 19th century, the environmental concern of the potential impact of cables on the marine environment is a much more recent question. During installation, maintenance and decommissioning phases many potential environmental effects can occur. Habitat disturbances, sediment resuspension, chemical pollution and underwater noise emission, while during the operation phase the changes in electromagnetic fields, heat emission, risk of entanglement, chemical pollution, and creation of artificial reef and reserve effects can all harm the environment.[3]

(Fig 2: Corals growing on one of the old cables)

In my opinion, we must acknowledge the potential environmental effects and try to avoid interfering with nature. I believe that we should try and leave the marine environment intact as much as we possibly can. Even though some of the old submarine cables are still working and could be used, they were abandoned because of their small capacity that wouldn’t be enough for heavy commercial use. The abandonment of said cables and the decision to just leave them at the bottom of the ocean possesses a threat to the environment and present irreversible damage to our environment.

Anze Bratus

References:

[1] Cookson, Gillian. (2006). Submarine Cables: Novelty and Innovation, 1850–1870. Transactions of the Newcomen Society. 76. 207-219.

[2] Wikipedia, 2020, Submarine Communications Cable, Last modified November 8, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_communications_cable

[3] & [Fig. 2] Bastien Taormina, Juan Bald, Andrew Want, Gérard Thouzeau, Morgane Lejart, Nicolas Desroy, Antoine Carlier (2018), A review of potential impacts of submarine power cables on the marine environment: Knowledge gaps, recommendations and future directions

[Fig. 1] LTE Magazine, 2018, Submarine cables from 1850 to present days, Last modified November 5, 2018, https://ltemagazine.com/submarine-cables-from-1850-to-present-days

Thermocultures of Geological Media – A summary

The article by Nicole Starosielski examines thermal manipulation in transforming the earth’s raw materials into media and maintaining those materials as media. Examinations include the extraction and refining of Earth’s raw materials into pure materials for media usages, the utilization of air conditioner for even temperature for media productions, and thermal infrared imaging.

Purity of elements: One set of thermal practices is transforming geological matter into the circulation of mass media. Especially refining raw minerals into media materials, where the temperature is used to ensure purity and consistency of materials across media objects. However, it is impossible to reach an entirely pure state of minerals. Mary Douglas defines purity as the designation of one set of phenomena as clean (specifically copper and silicon communication circuits in Nicole’s article) which integrally tied to pollution as a result of a systematic order of elements while rejecting inappropriate ones.

Even temperature: The invention of the air conditioner (1902 by Willis Carrier) was with the intention of standardizing media rather than cooling humans. The reason being the dynamic relationship of pure elements with their surroundings despite an attempt to control their internal composition and limitation of interactions. Nicole takes a look at the fluctuated temperature issues with the printing and lithography industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which are external climate and excess heat produced during press productions. Air conditioning systems since then has been used in ensuring the precision and efficiency in many other forms of media productions. Eventually, after the standardization of temperature regulation, the thermosensitivities of media persisted. Some examples mentioned are the preservation of analog media like magazines, films, microchips, libraries and archives, architectures, factories; as well as digital media like ensuring the operation of large data centers and computational devices.

Productive variation: In this part, Nicole argues that environmental control is incomplete as the temperature remains a force that affects all thermosensitive bodies despite expansive thermal infrastructures. Temperature variations in the productive ends for the expansion of media and capital, for example, the extractive industry with the increasing use of fiber-optic and thermal infrared image technique in the mining industry.

Thermocultures: The study of thermocultures set light to how matters take shape and circulate through the world and offer a branching path to the geology of media. Thermal control and manipulation are underlying operations of differentiation and homogeneity of contemporary media, and the process of controlling the environment in which materials are reactive or stable and in which transformations can occur.


In this course, we aim to investigate media culture under the belief that there is no nature, but the Earth has already been transformed into a mass body of media. The geology of media investigates the state that makes it possible to transform the Earth into media. This perspective leads to a more important question: What can we change in our system to save the planet Earth?

Reference:
Douglas, Mary. (1996) 1984. Purity and Danger: An analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. NewYork: Routledge.
Parikka, Jussi. 2015. A Geology of Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Starosielski, Nicole. 2016. Thermocultures of Geological Media. Cultural Politics, Volume 12, Issue 3. Duke University Press.

On the borderline

Standing in the borderline of land and the water with salt water splashing on my face, the words that were discussed during the first Media&Environment -lecture are echoing in my head: ”THERE IS NO NATURE.” There is no nature because everything is mediated -ocean, forest, nature is mediated.  To me who love the sea and feel like home in the forest  it´s quite a provocative line. But what is the behind the line?

In 2000, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Paul Crutzen noted that the Earth has moved into a new geological era, the anthropocene, or human time. In 2016, naturalists defined the starting point of anthropocene as 1950, when the effects of nuclear experiments are visible in the soil. the beginning of the anthropocene era depends on who is asked. If it is considered to have started in the 1950s, the effects of industrialisation on the environment are ignored. From human kinds impact to the planet there`s no turning back. The footprint of humankind on the planet is far smaller compared to the impact of Ice Eras or asteroids. 

Jussi Parikka is describing the current state of Anthropocene: ´The anthrobscene, referring to the obscenities of the ecocrises.  [1] The impact of humankind is divided into five categories: climate change, mass extinctions, ecosystem loss, pollution, and population growth and overconsumption.

There is no such thing as wild nature. Pollution – including marine plastic waste rafts, microplastic particles, the deposition of composites in the soil and changes in the atmosphere – extends to the point where man does not physically reach himself. Wildlife makes up only three percent of the planet’s megafauna biomass. Everything else is people and cattle.  The wireless network is present almost everywhere, internet cables and gas pipes slice through the seabed,  the atmosphere is full of harmful small particles and microfibers are everywhere; natural resources are used ruthlessly all over the planet.  If the latest geological strata of the country were ever studied, the bones of production animals — broilers, cattle, pigs — would be found en masse among concrete, asphalt, glass, and plastics.

Historian Tero Toivanen points out that: ´Wild nature  exists only in advertisements where the car is sold with the impression that the car enters the wild nature.´ [2].

Reference

[1] The Anthrobscene Jussi Parikka University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis

[2]  Kansanuutiset, Villiä luontoa ei enää ole, Tero Toivanen, interview Katri Simonen

Demand of raw materials in advanced technologies

In her paper “Thermocultures” Nicole Starosielski [1] talks about raw materials needed for media technologies. In order to grasp and understand the paper deeper, I tried to give my own version of the meaning what the compound term “thermocultures” could be. Prefix “thermo” corresponds to something relating to heat, whether “cultures”, in this instance, could correspond the the social behaviour and customs of society.

“Thermocultures” paper gave quite a big overview of how we are treating and transforming the earth’s raw materials currently. “For each ton of ore removed, only ten pounds of pure copper will be produced”. So when the valuable materials are produced, what becomes with the rest of excavated materials. Do they become waste? And where does this culture of pure materials originally come from?

In Cecilia Jamasmie paper “Copper supply crunch earlier than predicted – experts” [2] mentions that “increased consumption from new technologies, including electric vehicles, will drive demand for the metal and its by-products” and that sooner or later the deficit of copper will become visible and evident, as the demand is becoming higher. Copper is one of the main metal of transition and it is an essential component in electronic product manufacture, it is also one of the best electrical conductors. In Cecilia Jamasmie paper [2] a very fascinating chart was presented about the supply gap of copper:

Copper supply crunch earlier than predicted — experts

Without a doubt, raw materials play an important role to the success of the economy of the country and society, however, raw materials could soon be in short supply, as a direct result of them being in high demand. Perhaps, the purification process needs to be re-thought and certain predictions are required to be understood, which raw materials are needed for resource-sensitive future technologies.

[1] Starosielski, N., 2016. Thermocultures of Geological Media. Cultural Politics, 12(3), pp.293-309.

[2] Jamasmie, Cecilia, 2018. Copper supply crunch earlier than predicted – experts. https://www.mining.com/copper-supply-crunch-earlier-predicted-experts/ (Accessed: 20 September 2020)

Thoughts and trembling while reading Thermocultures of Geological Media by Niclole Starosielski

Media runs on perfection. One of those perfect pillars needed for communication and power transmission is copper. After copper sulfide is mined, crushed and grinded a compound containing 25% copper is left. Useless in the eyes of technology. Only after heavy treatment with thermal techniques a 99% copper substance will remain. Still pathetic in the realm of purity. Another stage of electrolytic refining is needed to generate 99.99 % pure copper. Perfection at last. All that was needed for the blessing of ten pounds of pure copper is the vanity of a single ton of ore and a trail of pollution guarding every step of the way.

The purity that is needed for technology to function is both fascinating and scary. But in this ever-changing world perfection is never lasting. Humankind doesn’t run on perfection, we strive on defects and diversity just like every ecosystem we so desperately try to destroy.

J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, once wrote: “You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.” When we look at such a feeble and imperfect species such as ourself, the desire for purity is understandable. I just don’t think it’s worth everything.

Digital Media Exists Materially

Thermal manipulation is essential in transforming raw material into media and maintaining media work regularly[1]. When I saw the term “thermal manipulation” for the first time, I was at home with my air conditioner on, and I always appreciate the inventor of air conditioners. After reading the article, I realize that instead of designing for humans who are afraid of heat, it was designed to cool media printers and lithographers in the first place.

I feel surprised how complicated it can be only to maintain the media stable. When I use digital devices on a daily basis, I did not realize the complicated process behind them. Although those screens and devices seem harmless and green, digital media exists materially. It produces heat and makes up of a lot of materials. My former company has a sign next to a printer and papers: If you can send a document digitally, please do not use paper. But is digital documentation more environmentally friendly? We know that using too many papers can harm our forests, but digital communication, documentation, storage, also cause heat produce, waste of earth’s raw material. Which one is a more harmless way for us to do? From fig 1., we can see that electric consumption is increasing[2], so is it a worse way to use digital paper instead of physical?

If we print out a brunch of paper, we feel guilty because we can easily realize that we are wasting energy. But When we post on social media or send something to the “cloud”, we might not feel guilty at all, because what we did just clicking mouse or touch screen. But we actually transform the guilt or responsibility to other people who deal with the engineering, cables, and thermal manipulation[3].

[1]Starosielski, N., 2016. Thermocultures of Geological Media. Cultural Politics, 12(3), pp.293-309.

[2] Francisco Velásquez, Energy & The Internet – How Much Energy Does The Web Consume?https://www.dexma.com/blog-en/how-much-energy-does-the-web-consume/

[3]Andrew Blum, What Is The Internet, Really?

Computation Under Uncertainty

Nicole Starosielski’s text “Thermocultures of Geological Media” [1] talks about a “culture of purity”, where our cultural imperatives have resulted in us choosing to only use pure metals and other materials in our electronics. Her main critique of this is that the purification process of metals such as copper and quartz is very energy intensive, and that developing technologies which would utilize metals of a lesser purity would result in media with a lower environmental impact. She also says that this kind of technologies, which probably would have to compromise speed and accuracy, would “…significantly alter the form of existing media texts and technologies”. I find the idea interesting but at the same time I finding it very difficult imagining how computation would work in such an inaccurate system seeped with uncertainty.

Our current models of computation rely heavily on reproducibility and stability: bits will not flip randomly (except in extreme cases) and code will always be executed in the same way. Given the same inputs, a set of commands will always result in the same outputs. Introducing uncertainty into this system would not only cause “subtle variations across media objects”, but result in bugs, crashes, corruption and loss of data. Maybe some new computational models could be developed which could better deal with randomness (quantum computation comes to mind), but currently one of our only methods of dealing with uncertainty in computation is by verifying the validity of data and performing recalculations as needed. Already a small amount of uncertainty could cause huge numbers of unnecessary CPU cycles, which across the millions of computers in use today might very well negate any environmental benefits gained from the use of impure metals. And with a high enough level of randomness, even these methods would no longer work and the system would come crashing down under the pressures of uncertainty.

The word “uncertainty” has a negative connotations, even though it is non-partial in the quality of the future it describes. Uncertain events might as well lead to unexpected successes as to devastating failure, but our negativity bias makes us focus and lay greater importance to the latter and makes us uncomfortable in situations where we have too little control of the future. Seen through this lens, the strive to control our future is a very natural trait. In fact, I believe one way to look at the evolution of organisms is as a struggle for control over uncertainty. Existence is an extremely complex system which humans and animals alike have evolved to navigate as best they can in the fight for survival. Excessive uncontrolled futures results in accidents, broken bones, death and the extinction of species.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this thermal perspective on media that Starosielski’s text gave, but question the validity of her thoughts on purity of metals and the possibility of moving away from them in our electronics.

1. Starosielski, Nicole. Thermocultures of Geological Media. Cultural Politics (2016) 12 (3): 293–309.

Terminology in the Anthropocene

The world feels overwhelming at times.

We relate everything to everything and problematize without limit. Murder and theft of land can through Adam Smith’s invisible hand, global trade networks and under sea cables be traced to me not recycling thoroughly enough. Not to say that we shouldn’t see the truth of this, just that it’s exhausting. The world is so complex. There is always another angle to everything, always new terminology to comprehend. There are no Simple Truths™.

In the spirit of this mood, while reading Jussi Parikka’s The Anthrobscene [1], I wondered what the point of coining new terminology is. Specifically, why do we need a term like “the anthopocene”, or any of its’ contenders like Parikka’s “anthrobscene”?

While looking for answers to this question I found an interview [2] of Erle Ellis, an environmental scientist who is a part of the Anthropocene Working Group. In the interview he explained his stance on why formally defining and accepting the term is important:
What’s at stake here, outside the domains of geology and stratigraphy, is a new story of human social relations with Earth. The Anthropocene changes the story from one in which human and natural history play out in separate theaters, to one in which humans shape Earth’s past, present and future. In the Anthropocene, it really matters what humans do to Earth. By placing humanity firmly in the role of an Earth-changing force, with all of its complexities, the Anthropocene demands answers to some hard questions – what are we doing with Earth? Are we doing the right things? What can we do better? And the most challenging question of all: Who is or are “we”?

This is the explanation I’d been looking for. Obviously it doesn’t give me any simple truths, but it seems like a good enough reason to add another complex term into this already complex world.

1. Parikka, Jussi. The Anthrobscene. University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
2. futureearth.org: Why efforts to define the Anthropocene must be more inclusive and transparent

Not Seeing

The idea behind Jussi Parikka’s essay The Anthrobscene is a natural continuation of the overall obscenity of human beings. Parikka’s comment, “To call it “anthrobscene” is just to emphasize what we knew but perhaps shied away from acting on: a horrific human-caused drive toward a sixth mass extinction of species”,[1] made me think of the general discussions about climate change and how immediately seeing (or in this case especially not seeing) the consequences of one’s actions affects the behaviour.

Piling up all the space junk we as humankind have left to float around space on your own yard could help give some perspective. Also making your important calls with your smart phone while looking out from your window and seeing for example all the miners (possibly children) working to provide the materials for your devices could help in at least not taking everything for granted. Maybe you could ask Siri, Alexa or who/whatever to play some music from Spotify on the yard too to keep the workers entertained?

This quote also reminded me of one example where even seeing the truth wasn’t enough. People seem to be pretty nostalgic and driven by their feelings when it comes to their own living environment. While doing my photography BA thesis work in 2015 I ran into Ton Lemaire’s philosophical writings of landscape and through him also a research from 1980’s France conducted by DATAR, the Delegation for Planning and Regional Action, where the participants were asked about the landscapes of their living environments.

Cultural anthropologist Ton Lemaire wrote about the 20th century urbanisation and its affects to landscape and how in 1970’s and 80’s people were already aware and discussing about the “environmental crisis” and the spreading of urban infrastructure but despite of that the answers DATAR got for its survey were far from the truth. People seemed to ignore the growing urbanism around them and were describing (very natural) landscapes that no longer really existed around them.[2] Those visual ideas of natural landscapes had not exited people’s minds even though the world around them had changed. If the urban infrastructure didn’t match the dream image of the living environment, its existence seemed to be surprisingly easy to just forget. 

From the human rights perspective I could easily claim that urbanism in the form of motorways, bus stops, apartment buildings etc. is a lot smaller problem and source of anxiety than the non-human working conditions that many people are forced to cope with in their daily lives. But for most of the westerners enjoying the global infrastructure built with human right violations the latter one is nearly invisible. And if the visible urban landscape was so easy to crop out from people’s thoughts, how easy is it with something nearly invisible? 

Not seeing, just feeling whatever we want to, ignoring the truth, re-imagining the natural, forgetting the work done for us by so many others are all too easily done. How to make it harder? That should be asked more often and hopefully somehow answered too.

 

1. Parikka, Jussi. The Anthrobscene. University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

2. Druckrey T., Gierstberg F., de Graaf J., Lemaire T. & Vroege B. Wasteland: Landscape From Now On. Haag: Fotografie Biennale Rotterdam & Uitgeverij 010 Publishers, 1992.

The Anthrobscene

The beginning of Anthropocene epoch could date back as far as the beginning of the agricultural revolution to as recent as the start of the big technology development in the 1960s. It is connected with the effects of humans on the well being of our planet/the environment and they are getting more and more evident as years pass by.

Back in the 18th century, in the era of colonialism, the raw/unspoiled nature was seen as something that needs improvement, something that doesn’t contribute to the enhancement of our daily lives. Humans fanatically tried to redesign the environment to give it a different, unnatural purpose. Hence began the irreversible influence of mankind on the environment or the era of mankind.

As time passed the increasing numbers of the human population, the advance in technology and the needs of the consumers started to affect the environment and nature more and more heavily. We developed from society needing a pretty restricted list of materials (“wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, silver, and a few plastics”) into a society in which a computer chip is composed of “60 different elements.” [1]

The excavation of those materials presents a great danger to our planet, especially because we need to “dig deeper and deeper” to obtain the desired elements that are slowly running out. The discarded waste and scrap metals from the production of multimedia devices or the discarded devices that are ready for the afterlife are piling up because most of them are either not being recycled or not recyclable at all. That presents an even bigger threat to the environment than the process of obtaining the elements.

In my opinion, the biggest issue is the human’s tendency to adapt and avoid the problem instead of tackling it and changing the way we live to resolve the issue before it starts to haunt us. Technology spoiled us and in a way we keep on playing Russian roulette with our planet. We refuse to be the losers of the climate change issue, but many are just postponing the solutions, passing the problem on to the next generation. But where does it end? Are we able to go back and step out of the luxury of modernisation? Is there enough desire to change things for the better?

In conclusion, the media technologies present a big threat to our planet; consequently to humanity. Our ways of consumption will have to change to efficiently extend the life span of our planet. Instead of doing our best to find a different inhabitable planet, we should focus on preserving this one.

References:

1. Jussi Parikka, “The Anthrobscene”, University of Minnesota, 2015

2. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, documentary, Canada, 2018

3. Sophie Yeo, 2016, “Anthropocene: The journey to a new geological epoch”, viewed 11 September 2020, https://www.carbonbrief.org/anthropocene-journey-to-new-geological-epoch

Anthrobscene and the Neocolonial

The author of Anthrobscene mentions China as an essential part of the global chains of production and abandonment of media technologies and gives multiple examples. In my opinion, using China as an example is not only because China is a typical country that exists in the Anthropocene, but also due to neocolonial issues caused by Anthrobscene.

Anthropocene, was first defined as relating to the current geological period, also denoting the age in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. While Anthropocene, is marked by the human ability to move vast quantities of geologic material. Anthrobscene, is another name to describe Anthropocene, but emphasize its obscene part. As Peter mentioned, the environment is always related to media studies. Anthrobscene relates to Issues of energy, which are caused by heavy reliance on polluting forms of nonrenewable energy production and through the various chemicals, metals, media cultural aftereffects of the geological strata.

To conclude how china contributes Anthrobscene is rather easy: China itself lacks raw materials to support industrial development, so importing scrap metals is inevitable. To support the infrastructure of modernizing society, China becomes the largest scrap importer of recycled metal, although the profit margin is less than 1%. However, China has a new restriction policy about reducing the import of scrap metal. Given is a line graph that shows the trend of The recovery of waste nonferrous metals in china between 2014-2018. It is obvious that the quantity of recycling has increased, even reach 111 million tons in 2018. Nevertheless, the trend of import scrap metal has decreased by 36%.

It comes to the worry of neocolonialism: Instead of the previous colonial methods of direct military control, developed countries now use economics and conditional aid to influence a developing country. Shipping their electronic waste to developing countries can be regarded as an example. If not China, there must be some other countries or some other area to pay for electronic garbage.

 

Reference:

https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/metals/070920-china-boosts-metal-scrap-imports-after-policy-change-bir

https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/11/how-china-profits-from-our-junk/281044/

https://www.metalsinfo.com/news/display_pid_9-cid_18-news_id_216082.html

Infragraphy Volume III – Spring 2020

Graphic Design: Ameya Chikramane

DOWNLOAD PDF: http://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/files/2020/05/Infragraphies_vol3_web.pdf

CONTRIBUTORS: Ameya Chikramane, Boeun Kim, Lassi Häkkinen, Samir Bhowmik and Shambhavi Singh

INTRODUCTION
The world moved online in 2020. The global spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 with the resulting quarantine and lockdowns forced a significant portion of humanity to accept a virtual life. Global Internet traffic soared to over 30 percent in March and online transactions to over 42 percent in April [1]. The internet has done well during the coronavirus pandemic. Its infrastructure has held up. It allowed a transition to remote work, learning, socializing and entertainment. Netflix, the video streaming service added more than 16 million new subscribers [2], and online shopping giant Amazon hired 100000 workers in March, and reported massive earnings [3]. In between streaming and online shopping, the perfect combination of the so-called late capitalism, one thing remains unconsidered. At what cost? What is the impact of such rampant connectivity and consumerism to our society, to our environment? It is a big mistake to think we will be saving the environment by lockdowns, when all we have been doing for the past few months is streaming and shopping. Connectivity is material and resource-based, supported by a global infrastructure of data centers, power plants and submarine cables. The internet consumes energy. A whole lot of it. Global data centers recently consumed around 205 billion kWh [4]. As the massive pressure on the ‘Cloud’ intensifies and energy use goes through the roof, we need to again re-consider how we design and implement such infrastructure, or change how we live.

This third volume of Infragraphy is short but rich in its range and contents addressing internet  infrastructures. Boeun Kim’s ‘The Paradox of Online Society’ attempts to unbox the hidden cost behind the digital transition by discussing how the quarantine affects the socially disadvantaged, the energy cost and air pollution, and the silver lining during the pandemic. Lassi Häkkinen’s ‘Vulnerability of Technology and Data in the Physical World’ looks at physical world vulnerabilities of our information and data, and the impossibility to separate infrastructural materialities from the the digital. By illustration, Shambhavi Singh examines the ‘Infrastructures of Isolation’, and finally, Ameya Chikramane explores new approaches to the post-digital. All these critical student texts and artworks deal with the materialities of media technologies and their societal and environmental implications, as outcomes of the course ‘Archaeology of Media Infrastructures’ in the Spring of 2020 at the Department of Media, Aalto University. 

Samir Bhowmik
25 May 2020, Helsinki

1 Yevgeniy Sverdlik, Will the Coronavirus Break the Internet? Datacenter Knowledge, 13 March 2020 <https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/uptime/will-coronavirus-break-internet-highly-unlikely-says-cloudflare>

2 Trefis Team, Netflix Subscriber Growth 2x Expectations; Good News Or Peak? Forbes, 28 April, 2020 <https://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2020/04/28/netflix-subscriber-growth-2x-expectations-good-news-or-peak/#5d046ad53ea1>

3 Alina Seyukh, Amazon To Hire 100,000 Workers To Meet ‘Surge In Demand’, NPR, 16 March 2020 <https://www.npr.org/2020/03/16/816704442/amazon-to-hire-100-000-workers-to-meet-surge-in-demand?t=1590396613400>

4 How Much Energy Do Data Centers Really Use? Energy & Innovation, 17 March 2020 <https://energyinnovation.org/2020/03/17/how-much-energy-do-data-centers-really-use/>

Clouds or Grids?

The Internet Cloud seems like a palatable, abstract concept that somehow holds data, or bits, much like how real clouds hold molecules of water. The clouds then precipitate data to our devices, pretty much the same way that real clouds precipitate rain.

In the early 1990s, Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman came up with a new concept of “The Grid”. The analogy used was of the electricity grid where users could plug into the grid and use a metered utility service. If companies don’t have their own power stations, but rather access a third party electricity supply, why can’t the same apply to computing resources? Plug into a grid of computers and pay for what you use.

One of the first milestones for cloud computing was the arrival of Salesforce.com in 1999, which pioneered the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website. The services firm paved a way for both specialist and mainstream software firms to deliver applications over the internet.

The next development was Amazon Web Services in 2002, which provided a suite of cloud-based services including storage, computation and even human intelligence through the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

According to Rebecca J. Rosen’s article Clouds: The Most Useful Metaphor of All Time?” . . . when engineers would map out all the various components of their networks, but then loosely sketch the unknown networks (like the Internet) theirs was hooked into. What does a rough blob of undefined nodes look like? A cloud. And, helpfully, clouds are something that takes little skill to draw. It’s a squiggly line formed into a rough ellipse. Over time, clouds were adopted as the stand-in image for the part of a computer or telephone network outside one’s own.”

Clouds get traction as a metaphor because they are shape-shifters, literally. As a result, they can stand in for many varied cultural tropes. Want something to represent the one thing marring your otherwise perfect situation? Done. Want to evoke the nostalgic feeling of childhood games of the imagination? Done. Maybe you want to draw a picture of heaven? You’re in luck. Clouds as metaphors pepper our language: every cloud has a silver lining, I’m on cloud nine, his head is in the clouds, there are dark clouds on the horizon. Clouds are the lazy man’s metaphor, a one-image-fits-all solution for your metaphor needs.

So there is a shift, not only in terminology but also in perception. The problem with using the word “Cloud” is that it is perceived as a harmless, abstract repository that effectively hides massive physical infrastructures and the associated thermo-cultures, energy expenses, and waste management practices. The materiality and physicality of cloud systems are manifested in the form of data centers that eat up to 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) each year. Further aggravating this trend is the fact that these data centers actually utilize only 6-12% of the total power consumption, the rest being reserved for traffic surges, crashes and redundancy ie. to make services faster, reduce errors and improve consistency.

Considering these points, one has to wonder what would today’s energy and data consumption scenario looks like if we had stuck to the term ‘Grid’ to denote modern data storage and distribution.

Ameya Chikramane, 4.3.2020

Archaeology of Media Infrastructures – Spring 2020

Course Summary: The course provides a framework of archaeological exploration of media infrastructures. It allows students to think beyond a single media device and design for broader media ecologies. Tracing the emergence of contemporary media infrastructures from early instances in human and media history, it examines both hard infrastructure (architecture, mechanical and computing systems) and soft infrastructure (software, APIs and operating systems). What are the breaks, the discontinuities and ruptures in media-infrastructural history? What has been remediated, in what form, in what characteristics? The course prepares students for the follow-up course: ‘Media and the Environment’ in Fall 2020.

Wednesdays 13.15 – 15.00 / Starting 5.2.2020 / until 1.4.2020

The course is filed under Media Art and Culture / https://into.aalto.fi/display/enmlab/2020-2022+Advanced+studies

Register: weboodi.aalto.fi  

Infragraphy Volume 2, Fall 2019

INFRAGRAPHY Volume 2. is a compilation of critical student artworks and short essays dealing with the materialities of media technologies and their environmental implications.

These works and texts are the outcomes from the course ‘Media and the Environment’ in the Fall of 2019 at the Department of Media, Aalto University. The course was a series of scholarly readings about and around the themes of media including media’s relations and impacts on the so-called Anthropocene, thermocultures of media, ecologies of fabrication, media and plastics, Internet of Things, Planned Obsolescence, e-waste, and media’s energetic landscapes. A key approach of the course was also introducing artistic methods and practices that could address emerging media materialities. The final exhibition of the course was a collection of student artworks as a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications.

DOWNLOAD PDF: http://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/files/2020/01/Infragraphy_Fall2019_WEB.pdf

The Anthrobscene – Course Exhibition 22.11 – 9.12.2019

Artists: Reishabh Kailey, Gurden Batra & Serpil Oğuz. Discarded electronics and wood, 2019

The Anthrobscene – Media and the Environment Course Exhibition
Department of Media
22 November – 9 December

The Anthropocene is nothing but the Anthrobscene. This obscenity according to media philosopher Jussi Parikka (2015) is— “because of the unsustainable, politically dubious, and ethically suspicious practices that maintain technological culture and its corporate networks. Obscene because this age marks the environmentally disastrous consequences of planned obsolescence of electronic media, the energy costs of digital culture and furthermore the neo-colonial arrangements of material and energy extraction across the globe. To call it anthrobscene is just to emphasize what we knew but perhaps we were shielded away from acting on—that is the horrific human-caused drive toward a 6th mass extinction.” 

The exhibition is a collection of student artworks that deal with the materialities of media technologies. It is a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications. It tackles the Anthropocene through the lens of media theory, culture and philosophy to understand the geological underpinnings of contemporary media. 

Artists: Gurden Batra, Ameya Chikramane, Punit Hiremath, Eerika Jalasaho, Julia Sand, Reishab Kailey, Kevan Murtagh, Hanna Arstrom, Leo Kosola, Takayuki Nakashima, Liisi Soroush, Surabhi Nadig Surendra. 

Artists: Reishabh Kailey, Gurden Batra & Serpil Oğuz. Discarded electronics and wood, 2019

Sandpapering and viruses

Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method by Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka made me wonder, what if one doesn’t have a clue how to bend circuits, but still wants to meaningfully manipulate consumer electronics. How to do it without touching wires and boards?

I have two examples in mind that are surely not part of the circuit bending culture and also not converting waste into something usable. Their method is more destructive than constructive, yet they have similar reverse engineering and critical attitude to consumerism than circuit benders.

The Persistence of Chaos is an art project by Guo O Dong and cybersecurity company Deep Instinct. The object they created is a normal Samsung laptop where they installed six computer viruses: ILOVEYOU, MyDoom, SoBig, WannaCry, DarkTequila and BlackEnergy. These malwares have got a lot of media attention, because of the damage they have cost to different instances. Also Dong’s project got notified in media earlier this year, because it was sold in auction for $1.35 million. The virus laptop is now unusable non-functional object and as a sculpture serves different purpose than originally. One could say Dong destroyed it but on the other hand the laptop was from 2008, so in our current cycle it was already expired = waste.

An image of Dong's malwared laptop.

An image of Dong’s malwared laptop. (Taken from: https://thepersistenceofchaos.com/)

The second thing in my mind is perhaps on-going and untitled project by Ingrid Burrington. In her essay last year, Burrington describes that she is sandpapering and grinding an old iPhone at her studio. Slowly, meditatively. When Dong manipulated the software of the computer, Burrington focuses on the physicality. The images of her process show that the phone has partly transformed to dust and small pieces.

She explains:

“I’m slowly sanding this iPhone down into a pile of black and gray and glass fragments because I want to see if I can make it look more like the materials it’s actually made of.”

These projects are not circuit bending, but still an interesting way to convert waste electronics into something meaningful. Would be nice to find more like these.

Burrington's grinder and iPhone.

Burrington’s grinder and iPhone. (Taken from: https://thecreativeindependent.com/people/sand-in-the-gears/)

Dusted iPhone.

Dusted iPhone. (Taken from: https://thecreativeindependent.com/people/sand-in-the-gears/)

the (w)holi(e)ness of aesthetics

Sean Cubitts comment on aesthetics have been haunting me and it raised a lot of questions. Why did he want to turn to aesthetics and what is its relation to media and environment? He said that an aesthetics approach must consider both, the sustainability of material practice of media and a movement through communication as a means towards communication as goal. Also he mentioned that engineering and design in media industry are in demanding spiral of neoliberal growth.

Aesthetics are entangled in every scope of spectrum in human life. Markets in media industry are definitely aesthetics-driven.  In media the content and majority of media devices are filled with aesthetic experiences and are created as a response to the need of them. Aesthetics is a value which we all quite blindly follow. Our need to aesthetics is so valued that it seems like a human right. Commercial trends are based on aesthetics and can anyone honestly say that have made a decision based only, purely on sustainability in any case? That the aesthetics wouldnt affect at all to the choice of consume? Is good conscience an aesthetic experience? Can we forgo of our need to value aesthetics? And does it always mean ugliness of another?

climate change and reductions in biodiversity arise from industrial rhythms that are out of alignment with those of the earth, a media geology of plastic thus forms a critique of the unsustainable, and ultimately self-destructive, speeds of contemporary capitalism

Obviously we value efficiency and speed in practical way but could we think of rhythm and speed aesthetically? Is efficiency an aesthetic choice? What is ugly when it comes to speed? Can you affect on the aesthetics with art or design or is it subjectively unchangeable?

What are we willing to sacrifice in the altar of aesthetics as an artist, a designer or a consumer?

In search of the golden materiality coefficient…

Inside Nest Saturated

It is needless to say that we are a species obsessed with numbers. From school grades to business ROI, everything needs to measured then optimised. ”Data driven” mantras are everywhere as we are recorded every little mouse movement on any app or website. Using metrics and numbers is not inherently a bad thing but just focusing on one metric while missing the entire picture or having a bias in recording mechanics or not taking the time to actually analyse what numbers mean are the dangers to be watched out for. To be data informed not driven.

Internet of things or IoT exists in multiple forms going from absolutely ridiculous like a toothbrush with a high end live camera to the relatively successful IoT device: Nest Learning Thermostat created by the same person who created the iPod, who then sold Nest to Google for a very high amount of money. This thermostat markets itself as an energy saving device- ”Saving energy is a beautiful thing.” It can learn from how you use it and can program itself, not only that, it even encourages and shows you how to save more electricity. It also promises to reduce your electricity bill while saving the environment, sounds like a win win!

Apart from its expensive price of of around €220, we have to stop and ask about its own materiality, energy usage and cumulative carbon footprint. We have to start with the plastic casing then add up all the rare minerals needed to build the ICs to enable the smartness and on top of that it must consume some energy itself. So if we make a ratio of its own materiality to the amount of energy it can save from getting consumed, we can start have a good measure of things and can compare it with regular thermostats. But what about its life cycle and recyclability and how much will be end up as e-waste, how do we account for that? What is the impact on lives in the Global South? And as it is owned by Google, we have to talk about privacy or the lack of it, which the consumer is willing to sacrifice.

For the curious here are the numbers/stats I found about Nest Thermostat in USA[1]-

  • 99% paper and fiber-based packaging
  • PVC-free
  • Total GHG emissions over ten-year life cycle: 15 kg CO2e (74% in production, 2% in distribution, 23% customer use, 1% recycling)
  • Annual energy use estimate: 1 kWh/y
  • Materials used: 61g plastic, 15g steel, 11g battery, 11g electronics, 4g other metals (’electronics’ and ’other metals’ seems vague)
  • It says they use ”Ethical Sourcing” whatever that means [2]
  • Recycling is available but we know how that goes in reality

These numbers start giving us a better picture behind the magic energy saving marketing and start a better conversation. I understand it is hard to create metrics and coefficients which capture the full story but we need start somewhere. More research is needed here to move the IoT field in the right direction to use it for climate saving benefit and not just lazy human convenience. While on the subject, there are other numbers which need to be analysed in the equation like a possible carbon tax and ongoing carbon offsets, do they really help? If yes, how much?

References and further reads-

Title picture from- https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/nest-thermostat-teardown-/all

[1] http://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/nestthermostatenorthamerica_productenvironmentreport.pdf?hl=en-US

[2] https://abc.xyz/investor/conflictminerals/

Detailed read about Nest thermostat- https://downloads.nest.com/press/documents/energy-savings-white-paper.pdf

The paradox of e-waste

As we dive further in to explore the obsolete media tech, the mass of the electronic waste is appalling. My first thoughts about the topic is questioning why we don’t have more efficient recycling methods for these items. Why haven’t we developed ways to utilize the rare minerals and valuable metals on circuit boards so that the polluting waste disposal wouldn’t have to take place? Turns out that there is plenty of advanced methods for re-using the materials. Not only is there usable methods, these methods may even be more profitable than traditional mining of these minerals – a new industry “e-waste mining” may emerge [1].

So why is the recycling of e-waste still so minimal? Even in Finland, that is among the best recyclers in Europe, only half of the waste is recycled and globally the estimations of the percentage of waste that ends up being recycled is about 20%  [2] [3]. In Finland the legal responsibility of the recycling is pinned to the manufacturers and importers of the electronics, which was somewhat surprising for me – I always thought recycling is organized by the cities or the state. Seems like this model of waste responsibility only applies to few industries – vehicles, newspapers and electronics [3]. This goes to explain why presumably the waste from Finland also ends up in places such as Ghana and India, smuggled in labelled as second hand electronics, to go around the local and EU implemented waste disposal legislations – the companies don’t have the same incentive of rectitude as public sector.

In India, one of the graveyards of e-waste, the e-waste recycling seems to be mostly in the hands if informal workers who extract the minerals by crude methods in primitive conditions [4]. The informal recycling is not supported by the state of India – the workers often operate at night to avoid police raids and recycling units often operate illegally due to the environmental impacts of informal extraction methods. Many of the workers are afraid of losing their income and participate in hiding the underground recycling industry from authorities. It seems like the whole e-waste chain operates mostly in darkness and is difficult to monitor by the state.

Initially I thought that the problem of e-waste disposal was technical – that we produced electronics that can’t be recycled. After reading more about the topic, it seems that the problem is mostly societal – the tech for recycling already exists. However it seems that for the companies responsible for the waste management it is cheaper to illegally dump electronics to third world countries and these countries are unable to control or monitor the actions of the companies. If the companies responsible of the recycling are in the industry of producing the tech product i doubt that they would have much interest in more advanced recycling methods. And as long as there are people living in extreme poverty there will always be workers willing to participate in keeping the e-dumping in secret and extract the valuable mineral in primitive methods with cheap labour costs harming both themselves and the environment, locally and globally. The topic of sustainability therefore can not be separated from discourse of human rights, poverty and global equality. 

To have some hope, I found an interesting initiative called “Sofies” that works on creating legal recycling sector in developing countries. On their site they say that by cooperating with the local authorities and introducing proper recycling tech among other methods “The environmental impact resulting from rudimentary practices has disappeared entirely.”  [5] As a joint study from Beijing’s Tsinghua University and Macquarie University, in Sydney [6] found that e-waste mining is 13 times less expensive than traditional mining, maybe the countries afflicted by e-waste can turn it into profit with the right resources. 

[1]https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44642176

[2]https://goodelectronics.org/e-waste-a-big-problem-needing-bigger-solutions/

[3] https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-9296700

[4] https://www.ymparisto.fi/fi-FI/Kulutus_ja_tuotanto/Jatteet_ja_jatehuolto/Jatehuollon_vastuut_ja_jarjestaminen

[5] http://theconversation.com/electronic-waste-is-recycled-in-appalling-conditions-in-india-110363

[6] https://sofiesgroup.com/en/projects/managing-e-waste-in-developing-countries-considered-a-global-issue-the-question-of-decent-and-responsible-recycling-of-electronic-waste-requires-filed-answers-to-integrate-an-informal-economy-in-a-f/ 

[7] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.7b04909

The evolution of tech

Gabry’s text Rethinking sustainability, she highlights observing the internet of things thought its relationships to all other existing things “Relations necessarily give rise to things… “ “..how relations and things emerge together”.  This made me think about the similarities that evolution, animals and food chains have in common with tech “ecosystem”.

Tech and technical devices are all interconnected and evolve through paths of surprising clashes of different technologies such as computer, camera and phone coming together to a smartphone, and then creating a platform for something like Instagram that wouldn’t have not come to be unless all that tech was in one device. Or in a more linear way, single purpose tech is getting better and better at doing the original job – such as cameras that have served the same purpose for centuries now, but have evolved to the modern digital cameras with superior powers compared to the original ones. This could in evolutionary terms to be a metaphor for an organism that has specialized very well to a tight ecological niche, such as a tropical bird that has a beak shaped to be compatible with a specific flower. There is also these symbiotic tech evolution relationships – for example tech of memory cards evolving alongside the tech of camera. Or film, that became “extinct” when new digital cameras overtook the ecological niche of film cameras. 

The ecosystem of organism is a complex network of beings, all dependent on one another – closely or linked through several organisms. So is tech. Tech ecosystem consists of people, needs and tech living in this constant interaction changing each participant.  For example – without smartphone’s, Instagram might not have come to be, without Instagram the selfie culture would not have arisen, without the selfie culture the algorithms for all new weird image filters would not have been invented. So the evolution of tech is kind of chaotic and takes arbitrary paths. Usually the presumption has always been that tech evolves forward  taking humanity to the next level, but have we really defined what forward or this next level is, what are the end goals of the linear tech evolution? Faster tech, more sustainable tech? Or just tech that will suit the whatever needs people currently have, that may not be relevant at all a few decades later?  

Sewall Wright and other researchers in genetics and mathematics have used a model of evolution that presents organisms as a dot in a three dimensional scenery with hills of different heights. The different hills represent different evolutionary strategies, and higher the hill the dot representing an organism is, the better it’s changes of survival is. Hills are evolutionary “attractors”, that the current conditions favours the organism to evolve towards. Generation by generation the dots of the same species adapt better to their surroundings, their change of survival increases and they move higher up a hill until they reach the top and are as fully evolved to their surroundings as they can with this evolutionary strategy. Sometimes the hill that the dots have started “climbing” is lower than the other hills – in this case the organism is stuck with it’s evolutionary progress, as it can’t de-evolve and therefore can’t go back to a more neutral evolutionary state represented by a valley. In a valley the organism could start its’ progress to another evolutionary direction that might take it to a higher hill, making it more adapted to its surroundings than a lower one. As the environment keeps constantly changing and interconnectedness of the beings creates chaotic changes in the network, this scenery of hills and valleys is actually in a constant move, where hills and valleys keep emerging and collapsing. The evolutionary strategies that worked before may become obsolete and nothing ensures that the evolutionary strategy of today still works tomorrow. Although, the constantly changing scenery also gives the organisms more flexibility to change strategies, and adapt towards an alternative evolutionary strategy hill as new changes open up to the organisms stuck in hilltops. 

I feel this non-linear progress with constantly changing goals also represent the evolution of tech better that linear model of evolution. Before we competed of the best TV antenna solutions, now the needs have shifted towards the best internet connections for Netflix use. Best film has changed to best memory cards. List goes on. The chaotic aspect of the system is very much linked to the amount of connections and relations between the parts of it – when thinking of tech the IoT definitely adds on a layer of chaos linking the parts in completely new ways. The ecosystem of devices, people and needs is not just connected from a device to a person, there is now also a lot more parallel relations from device to device. With my play of thoughts comparing tech to evolution of organisms, the evolutionary scenery would change even more chaotically, as IoT would create completely new hills to the model. Completely new, unseen needs guiding the evolution of tech may emerge – and the needs that tech sets to tech may have a way bigger role than the needs people have for tech.  

More: Deep Simplicity, Chaos Complexity and the Emergence of Life, John Grippin (published 2004)

Collapse OS and other speculative scenarios

We are now aware of the environmental materialism behind our media. From rare earth material mining to plastics, from growing e-waste to warming data centres. But what now?

Let’s use some speculative fiction to try and paint future scenarios.

Scenario 1: We take drastic collective action NOW and stop mass production and development of technology and media. That means no new models of iPhone or Mac, we make best of what we already have and try to create new devices only through a better developed recycle process which minimises polluting in the process. This will have major economic impact on businesses like Samsung, Apple, also players which create semiconductors i.e. all fabs and factories and many more. Even other big tech media companies like Facebook, Amazon etc. will be heavily impacted and be slowly scaled down. But there can be some sort of government bail out and re-use of these companies and factories for other purposes like recycling centres. And also assuming this will be backed up with more creation and reliance on renewable energy. Then again, what happens to the consumer culture? Can people make peace with this for the greater good right now? Can we start going back to slower internet and not being ”connected” all times? All the engineers, designers and researchers working on the future tech, AI, blockchain, mars rovers and such immediately stop all their work. A lot jobs will fade away and will need to find a new direction. Media artists, musicians will have to redefine the future of their work. Sounds like a bit hard to swallow, doesn’t it?

Scenario 2: We keep going as we are, and make ”great progress”. Smarter internet of things, blockchain based everything, Bitcoin adoption, AI smarter than ever, sensors, AR, VR… you get the point. Some of these solutions can even help the case of improving environmental impact. But then again, earth’s resources are only limited and going to run out eventually. So around 2030-2050 the global supply chain collapses. It is impossible to produce new electronics and our systems which are heavily dependent on tech, also collapse. A Mad Max type of scenario begins and we start creating low tech devices from scavenged electronics. A lot of inspiration for this scenario comes from this project I found called Collapse OS. It is basically an operating system written for low end electronics which can work with all sorts of different input output and storage devices. ”…the goal of this project is to be as self-contained as possible. With a copy of this project, a capable and creative person should be able to manage to build and install Collapse OS without external resources (i.e. internet) on a machine of her design, built from scavenged parts with low-tech tools.” The project also has a why section which is definitely worth reading- https://collapseos.org/why.html

Scenario 3: Technology manages to save the environment and humankind. Lol, just kidding.

There a lot of details which I did not sketch out in these scenarios. What other scenarios can you think of?

The modern form of human

How Taffel in his text Technofossils of the Anthropocene describes the effects of the plastics in human body made me think of us as recording devices of our environmental conditions. In the same way that Parikka’s essay Anthopocene describes a new perspective to earth as a recording medium of human activity, the same can be applied to us. The story of our surroundings can then be read through medical examination of our bodies. 

The recording of minerals and plastics used in synthetic processes and items doesn’t just tell us about the information of the current health state of the person, but it can possibly even tell us a lot about where the person is from. For example, in this study it was found that Taiwanese had higher more mercury and cadmium levels than western populations (1). The heavy metals can also tell us if the person lives in an urban area or not (2). As shocking it is to think how much we are just part of the environment that we live in and therefore just as full of the agents causing problems in it, it is also fascinating thought that exposure can possibly leave us with a unique mix of chemicals that can be traced back to the events of our personal history. It is kind of like a constantly changing molecular fingerprint. 

Thinking of us as being that are mixed with our surrounding in this microscopic level, it could be interesting to lead this line of thought to even further, to our identity. Many of these chemicals affect to our mood, our thought processes and to how we experience ourselves as people. For example teflon has correlation to childhood obesity (3). Body image and the reactions that obesity has from the environment has a deep impact on one’s identity, how other people see them and who they grow to be as adults. Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), Perchlorate, Bisphenol-A and phthalates contribute to the development of thyroid diseases (4), that have deep links to psychological well being and mood. Exposure to heavy metals has meen linked to autism, ADHD and ASD. All these illnesses and health problems may change vastly all aspects to imagine of one’s life – for example social life, social status, profession, education or political views. Illnesses are just the most visible and well documented cases of the effects that environmental chemicals have on us – who knows how much there might be undetected links to behaviour on us that aren’t severe enough to be classified as diseases? 

The exposure to chemicals may change our identity, how we act in the world and how we respond to the world around us. As we live in this constant interaction of the environmental effects of the use of technologies in all the industries needed for modern society, can we categorically be separated of the tech and it’s material outcomings? Or are we all, on some level “cyborgs”, as the technology used around us is in constant contact with us changing our bodies and therefore us on molecular level? 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435846/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4599656/.
  3. https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2015/11/study-teflon-chemical-linked-childhood-obesity
  4. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/special-reports/introduction-update-psychiatric-effects-toxic-exposures.

What does “Made in Japan” mean?

In general, the meaning of Made in Japan is thought as very high quality. But Im wondering about what defines Made in Japan”. For example, TOYOTA, it is famous in all over the world as Made in Japan”, but these materials, technologies, labors who made it and something involved are maybe not only Japanese.

Toyota became a global company after started to export to the United States In 1957. This map shows that Toyota has 51 manufacturing entities around the world in  over 170 countries in December 2017. In the case of Europe, a general management company was set up in Belgium in 2005. More than 280,000 cars are produced in Turkey and more than 230,000 are produced in France.

In addition, as shown in the graph above, recently the number of production overseas has increased more than the domestic sales. (black box… overseas production, stripe box… domestic salesInterestingly, these manufacturing entities do not make the whole car, but only produce parts at a specific factory and assemble them at the production factory. For example, in Poland, engines and transmissions and in Canada, aluminum wheels are the main production.

There are over 360,000 Toyota employees worldwide, and about half of them are said to be foreign employees. In other words, nearly half of the workers are not in Japan. Ishii(2017) also proposed the need to ask the meaning of localizing workers at overseas bases. He think that the relationship with overseas workers is also problematic due to the high retire rate of local employees and dissatisfaction with promotion.

In this way, TOYOTA has been called Made in Japan”, but considering the production process, labors and other some aspects, we should rethink what is the  definition of Made in Japan. Is it a design? brand? or location of the head office?

 

References ;

Toyota Homepage; https://global.toyota/jp/detail/4063440 (9.10.2019 accessed)

Shinichi Ishii(2017) /Evolution of Toyota’s export and overseas production/ Management Research Vol. 64, No. 1 / http://dlisv03.media.osaka-cu.ac.jp/contents/osakacu/kiyo/DBa0640105.pdf(9.10.2019 accessed)

Shinichi Ishii(2017) /Product development and human localization in overseas development—A case analysis of Toyota Motor’s US development bases—/Journal of Japan Management Association Vol.38, pp.64-75, 2017/ https://www-jstage-jst-go-jp.anywhere.lib.kyushu-u.ac.jp/article/keieijournal/38/0/38_64/_pdf/-char/ja(9.10.2019 accessed)