Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Connecting people at what price?

Update 29.11.06
Okay, fine. I admit it. I'm not as concerned with environmental sustainability as I am offended by crass consumerism. But since avoiding overconsumption has a positive effect on environmental sustainability, I figure we can all be happy. And this makes me really happy: The Christmas Resistance Movement!

Happy Holidays!


Because special people deserve special gifts, I hope you enjoy your new:

o Mobile phone
o MP3 player
o Digital camera
o Computer
o Television
o Other ____________________________

Did you know that more than 140 000 tonnes of computer equipment, phones, televisions, stereos, and small home appliances accumulate in Canadian landfills each year? And that's not counting all the hazardous electronic waste, including cadmium, lead and mercury, that gets shipped to developing countries for disposal!

But new technology needn't be so wasteful and there is much we can do to ensure our own responsible use and disposal of electronics. Please reuse and recycle:

Apple Computers: Electronic Recycling
Bell Mobility: Recycle, Reuse, Redial
Dell Computers: Recycling
Electronics Product Stewardship Canada
Fido: Handset and battery recycling or disposal
Hewlett-Packard: Return & Recycling
Natural Resources Canada: Office of Energy Efficiency & ENERGY STAR®
RBRC: Call2Recycle
Rogers Wireless: Phones for Food
Telus Mobility: Return & Recycle
University of Victoria: Environmental Indicators

Peace and Love

Watching TV last night I was reminded just how strong the push to consume really is - especially this time of year.

For example, the latest Rogers Wireless ad - "gifts so nice they'll thank you twice" - has a young woman soliciting the help of her friends to come up with 1000 songs for the mobile phone she plans to give to a guy she has a crush on. The ability to personalise the phone with hand-picked songs reminded me of how we used to attempt to seduce each other with mixed tapes. I couldn't help but smile that the practice still exists, but it saddened and irritated me to see how expensive and wasteful it has become. I mean, is this really what we have in mind when we call for more technologies that bring us together?

The phone she gives to the guy is a Sony Ericsson W810i - and its price ranges from $150 to $360, depending on the service plan chosen (although the "choice" is actually determined by the credit rating of the customer). Now, the idea that love can be purchased isn't new: since at least 1947 De Beers has encouraged men to spend two months salary securing the committment of the women they wish to marry. But the Rogers' scenario isn't marriage, and it seems like a pretty expensive (in the broadest sense) gift to impress someone who probably already has a cell phone!

While I'm hopeful that not many people have the financial means to shop like this, it did get me thinking about how many people will give and receive mobile phones and other electronics for the holidays this year - and how many of these people already have fully functional devices that will soon end up in the closest, or worse. Much much worse.


Anonymous Joe McCarthy said...

I completely agree with your exhortation that we be mindful of our consumption habits. This past weekend, a group of folks were carrying signs saying "Hurry" and "Buy more stuff!" outside Westlake Center in downtown Seattle, which, in a rather tongue in cheek (or perhaps ballpoint in cap) way, offered an opportunity for people to reflect on their intentions and actions during this annual hyperconsumption period.

However, for those who do decide to consume a new mobile phone, I just wanted to add a company missing from your list: Nokia has a recycling program, as well as a number of [other] environmentally sensitive / sustainable intentions, products, practices and behaviors. I just received a Nokia N93, which, with a 3.1 megapixel camera, has eliminated my intention to buy a [separate] compact camera (and so my daughter gets her camera back ... and my son will get my "old" phone).

[Disclaimer/disclosure: I'm an employee of Nokia]

Anonymous anne said...

hi joe - oh that's a nice anticonsumerist intervention! andthanks for sharing the info on nokia's sustainable practices. to be honest i just culled all the canadian bookmarks i had...

Anonymous MM said...

Everything can be reduced to simplistic hyperconsumerist systems (football is 22 men kicking a leather bag, marriage is just a piece of paper, beer is just poisened water etc. etc.) and then as easily denergrated and dismissed. But I would suggest our social relations are more than the sum of their parts. That there is an excess, a history and a cultural heritage that creates our very being. We can either isolate ourselves in perceptions of superiorty, or engage, explore, develop and celebrate these very events.

Anonymous anne said...

We can either isolate ourselves in perceptions of superiorty, or engage, explore, develop and celebrate these very events.

if we had to choose, then yes, we could do that. but who says we have to choose? can one not find humour in anti-christmas agitprop, be pleased with thrift, explore new identities and relationships along product lines, develop new aesthetics and ethics, and celebrate the heathen practices alongside the righteous - all at once?

Anonymous mm said...

I would suggest it depends on your motives.

Creating 'humourous' anti-christmas agitprop will do very little to alleviate the offence you locate in crass consumerism. Indeed, this very approach rather peversely generates a new market of anti-consumerists – regardless of the recognised "irony of actually buying something for Christmas Resistance". We need only observe this proliferation of anticonsumerism and ethical shopping (thrift etc) or the absurd attempt to defeat consumerism via consumerism proposed by entities such as Adbusters.

For our lives to have deeper meaning–which appears to be the agenda behind much of this anticonsumerist posturing–liberal communists will have to ditch simplistic notions of politics and get their hands dirty. Actions such as avoiding overconsumption has little effect on environmental sustainability. The myth that it does, is perpetuated by an empirical understanding of our world, rather than a political one. The question is not "why do we consume so much", but "why are so few allowed to partake at all"? Far from being an advocation of a free market economics, I am asking why has the notion of 'denial' come to the fore of our political action? Furthermore, why is it that those with access to certain privileges feel a need to advocate the limit for everyone else (both on both the macro and micro scale)?

Anonymous anne said...

mm - good points and questions! as someone who actively avoids the adbusters/nologo brand of politics (as well as "post-feminist irony") i think these are very important issues. and while i wouldn't disagree with what i understand as the concerns of your comment, i'm not sure how the underlying tone of accusation, and strict either/or scenarios, really help advance a new politics and ethics i can stand behind either. in other words, aren't you just advocating anti-anti-consumerism?

To be more specific, by dismissing empiricism you also dismiss the material reality of global flows of products and their waste - which clearly affects environmental sustainability and socio-political relations. And what sort of privilege does it take to defend, speak for, or otherwise represent, those who cannot "partake at all"?

However, this question of denial is really intriguing! I can see some of the academic discourse on excess and spectacle come through in your comments, which is curious since it seems to conflict a bit with your position against whatever passes as Marxism, or intellectual posturing, these days.

Can you tell me more please about how we can all get our hands dirty? And must we really choose between becoming virgins or whores?

Anonymous Shazz said...

mm - I appreciate your comments
I'm anti-Christmas gift purchasing (I make some cards and yummy consumable stuff for friends and they seem to like it just fine). A homeless shelter and the animal shelter will also get care packs this year.

Your specific statement: why is it that those with access to certain privileges feel a need to advocate the limit for everyone else (both on both the macro and micro scale)? resonates very strongly with me. I call it the "we'll just keep one mercedes" simplicity movement! :-D "Voluntary" Simplicity is a lot easier to choose when you're starting from a position of power and wealth. What's really admirable is choosing simplicity when you don't already have *material* abundance in your life.

Anonymous MM said...

Rather than advocating strict either/or scenarios between consumerism, anti-consumerism, or even the suggestion of anti-anti-consumerism, I am asking are any of these positions truly political? Are they complex (ethical)? Do they require thinking (critical)? Do they require dialogue (democratic)?
This is not to suggest that economics per se is not influential on and influenced by politics but rather that simplifying that relationship, blinds us to the manipulative forces of consumerism. Moreover, the common trait that these pseudo-positions rely on is one of removal. When we are witness to injustice, hypocrisy and lies, the very real anger, sadness, shame, guilt and frustration we feel, is displaced, contorted and contained. Pulled back by the very horror we are seeking to escape. Smothered with easy options that do not necessitate thinking, our potential (collective) actions become increasingly sanitised, governed, and commodified. Freedom Inc.
However, what I argue for is not a wholesale dismissal of empiricism, but rather that we recognise how the political directly manipulates our understanding of the empirical. There is a danger that those who are understood to have the knowledge, get to govern our morality, without any wider accountability. I would defend that knowledge, as being potentially useful, but that what we do with it, how we act on it, is the moment that needs attention.
Here is the world. (Empirical)
Here is our current understanding of it (empirical).
How should we act? (Ethical/political)
Here is excess food.
Here is starvation.
How should we act? (ethical/political)
As Shazz has indicated, those who can afford a position in a virgin or whore dichotomy remain largely unaffected by the consequences, whilst those who cannot are asked to give something up. Here we encounter the denial I previously mentioned. For instance, we are increasingly asked to change our habits (recycle, use public transport, limit use of facilities etc). Although there does appear to be some merit in these disciplines, the distribution of them is uneven, and helps elevate the moral high ground from which they are distributed and furthermore seeks to find responsibility in the individual. Debate (the Other) is crushed via the political manipulation of empirical evidence. The mode of denial (no meat, no cream, no caffeine, no Christmas etc.) lacks any critical political possibility, indeed all these 'radical' positions have been catered for by capital. And that's the rub. Being radical is increasingly contained and made safe. We need to find new edges. Places that hurt. We need to get our hands dirty.

Anonymous anne said...

Being radical is increasingly contained and made safe. We need to find new edges. Places that hurt. We need to get our hands dirty.

Agreed. But I was hoping you had some ideas how to go about this ;)

Your comments also reminded of something I read this morning that raises some related, I think, issues: Love Me, I Celebrate Diversity

Anonymous MM said...

Locate the force that stops us getting our hands dirty. Thinking can become procastination. Action, on the other hand, can lead to new potentialities, new thoughts. But rather than becoming isolated in a whirlpool of thinking about thinking we must continue to pursue the act.

How do you go about writing? You think of a topic or are frustrated with a situation (etc.)–but there comes a point where you commit to that momentum and you actually, physically write. So to be recognised as a writer, it is nescessary to leave thinking and commit to action–in this case your writing. Action is what makes our thinking real, and open to criticism, contestation and antagonistic investigations. We can quickly see how it is possible to expand this way of being across the political gamut and pursue appropriate action in differing arenas.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What kind of weird people throw older tech out anyway? Everyone I know passes stuff onto others: mobile phones get given to those on pay+go deals, computers sold, given away or repurposed (e.g., firewall), etc. Everything gets used till breaking.

Maybe the problem is that people you know have too much disposable income :)


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