Exporting a Dream is Serious Business

We are at an unparalleled place in history; teetering between wars, overpopulation, a chaotic growth of unbridled materialism and climate disaster. The United States has been one of the forerunners in dispensing this paradigm of disinformation to the public – ‘to buy or not to buy’ – achieved through the apparatus of the media and Hollywood, in synch with profit driven private capital.  The acquired collective response is the  unquenchable desire to consume, rippling throughout most of the population and seeping into every aspect of life; food, transportation, housing, fashion, electronic gadgetry, pharmaceutical dependency… And as this myopic message is inadvertently exported to the rest of the world, the resulting gluttony is choking the planet.  Not only are peoples of remote cultures adversely affected by our excesses, but all other life forms as well; seemingly exponentially.

The materialism issue gets sticky when it comes to private ownership,  considering that as populations increase, the amount of accumulated stuff, grows exponentially.  There’s a man with a lot of influence as well as technological prowess with a dream, a “Laptop for Every Kid”, which with a bit of deliberation, I see as a nightmare.  Nicholas Negroponte claims that his motivation to provide a laptop to every child on the planet by the year 2010 – aimed primarily at the developing world – is purely altruistic, yet when one competitor, Intel Corporation, showed interest in joining this charade, they were met with animosity.  The hostility had since been allayed however, when Intel subsequently joined Negroponte’s board. [1]  This magnanimous claim that personal computers will entice children back to school, appears less so, when one considers the monstrous profits they will reap, with the focus on sales not to institutions, but private individuals; at $100 per computer X billions of people.  The fact is that many of the intended recipients are in need of much more basic goods and services.  A tool is useful and necessary only as far as its relevance in facilitating a specific activity.  And we all know that software and hardware don’t substitute for creativity, discipline or ingenuity, not to mention, clean water, adequate food supplies and other basic human needs.  So the question is, what dream could we be exporting?

Over the last decades the American empire has been more and more swinging towards big industry and the corporate globalization route, with the ubiquitous motive of making profit – regardless of whether it’s created out of fluff to drive up market shares – a priority, at the expense of individuals, moral values and the environment in which we live.  Within this globalization framework, are the lethal private equity firms who surreptitiously devour companies and rearrange their practices in order to reap the largest profits they can squeeze, under the guise of ‘predatory investment funds’. [2]  These vulturous business practices evolved with the equally clandestine WTO – World Trade Organization –  which has always been on the side of the business giants.  What never took hold, was a contrasting ethical version of this, in a charter proposed by the economist John Maynard Keynes in 1948, the ITO – International Trade Organization. [3]  This stressed not letting the most powerful governments – following the leads of their transnational corporations –  to make acquisitions wildly out of control.  The aim was to maintain checks and balances, so that no country could run a huge trade deficit or surplus, nor could there exist such a massive debt in the third world as there is today. [4]  The ideas were all about sharing wealth and education.

There’s another man who had a dream, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who beckoned his country to live up to its full potential; recognizing that if all of its inhabitants had equal rights, they could set examples for the rest of the world to aspire to; revealing what free thinking individuals working cooperatively could manifest.  King’s messages of spiritual depth conveyed his genuine insight into what values need to take precedence on this planet; a respect for all life as a coexisting organism.  An antithesis of Negroponte’s ambitions, these words of King’s reverberate, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power.  We have guided missiles and misguided men.” … and … “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”  Dreams and visions can empower and dignify people, or misguide and corrupt them.

Is the act of endowing portable computers to the homes of each and every child all about ‘saving’ them – in many cases among communities that could genuinely benefit from more practical services such as electricity and plumbing?  Or are the aspirations of these high tech global business wizards all about making gains from head-swirling accounting figures; making astronomical profits through persuading these populations into believing that they can’t live without having one of these information technology devices in their personal possession?  A more sound and equitable method would be to introduce computer labs in schools as well as community science, art and business centers; where populations could be informed about how to utilize and apply these tools and programs applicable to their needs, as they also learn through direct communication among one another.

It’s a tough call.  On the surface there appear to be substantial benefits to the electronic revolution and the plethora of products born in its short history, [5] which have lead to this Information Age that we live in.  However when one looks further, there are tremendous strains that unchecked global technological advancement puts on our world, with not only enormous costs and burdens to the environment, but also to the worlds’ populations.  Looking at the facts, there’s much more to the picture than one may see on the surface.

In light of Al Gore’s documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth”, [6] revealing how unrestrained, excessive development has contributed to global warming on our planet, begin by looking at the immediate environmental impacts of computer production where it was spawned, in Silicon Valley, the birthplace of the computer chip revolution. 

http://www.climatecrisis.net/an-inconvenient-truth.php

 Within just a few decades, pristine farmlands became areas choking with toxic waste, becoming one of the worlds largest concentrations of Superfund clean up sites. [7]  Superfund is a term coined by the environmental protection agency of the US federal government, referring to programs devised to clean up the nation’s hazardous waste sites.  Silicon valley is home to 29 of these toxic sites [8], many of which have been since relocated to places around the globe where there are more lenient standards for environmental and worker protections; no doubt in the back yards of the communities where Negroponte would like to deliver his scheme. Who’s benefiting who?

The insidious ecological implications endemic to the computer manufacturing industry is the disproportionately high amount of energy needed to produce components, requiring extensive amounts of power and fossil fuels.  The high-energy intensity required for fabrication, combined with the high turnover rate – inherent in the marketing of most electronic devices – results in an annual life cycle energy burden that is astounding.  The production process and subsequent environmental hazards all lead to a pretty dirty impact on the natural surroundings; an e-waste and energy crisis to communities around the globe that is e-normous. [9] This is not taking into consideration the leftover carcasses of outdated computer parts littering the globe, which themselves leak toxic chemicals, including up to 8 pounds of lead per monitor.  There are a number of areas around the globe where these parts have been shipped to, in order to conveniently remove the toxins from our own back yards.  Subsequently, in many parts of the developing world, people, often children, involved in the technological profit food chain, ardently collect scraps of components and melt them to recover whatever valuable materials they can salvage for cash – an extremely lethal process – completely unaware of what dangers they are exposing themselves to. [10] This feature in the New York Times displays images of the consequences of shipping dead computers to Ghana for instance. http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/08/04/magazine/20100815-dump.html?th&emc=th

In addition to the pollutants associated with computer production, there are inherent social ills affiliated with their use.  The psychological contaminants are not intrinsic to the tools themselves, but in the ways they are marketed. It’s still early in the game, yet clear, that computers along with most electronic devices have an appeal that lure people to become more compelled with the interface, than the real thing.  It’s a preoccupation and distraction that further fragments our attention, in a world in which brief bites of information are the norm, as are various levels of alienation from one another.  The allure approaches the a-word ‘addiction’, except that this connotes something physical, whereas this ‘dependency’ is more psychological.  All over the world people are hooked on their electronic gadgets, blackberries, cell phones, computers, the internet and networking among the labyrinthine online virtual communities – in some cases without ever having to come face to face with another human being – which takes this masquerade to a whole other dimension.  It’s apparent with kids and their hand-held devices [11] and prevalent among the general population in the form of ‘cyberspace addiction’. [12]  There’s a multi billion dollar game industry, and among the ‘users’ a huge population who need assistance to recover from their gaming cravings. [13]    In response, there are a growing number of camps sprouting up worldwide to give professional help to those who have become dependent on their game fixations, such as Korea’s government-funded boot camps for ‘internet addicts’. [14]  There’s also a documented correspondence between excessive violent video game usage and the perpetrators of the various school shooting rampages which have occurred in number of wealthier western nations, made possible through easy access to fire arms. [15]

My suggestion is not to dismantle what the computer chip and internet have bequeathed to the modern world, but to acknowledge the huge responsibility and participatory approach that we all must embrace in order to make intelligent decisions towards checking and balancing ourselves and our industries, so as not to plunder the earth or corrupt future generations.  Fortunately there’s a growing movement of people finding innovative ways to tackle the nefarious aspects of computer manufacturing, labeled as Green IT; aspiring to create new paradigms for sustainable information technology. [16]

Is our allegiance to profit, or to genuinely giving a hand where it is needed and learning to get along with one another?  The need now is to dynamically respond to our needs and desires with sustainable activities.  Eating, watching television or using the internet – the powerful encyclopedic research tool that it is – only become radically unhealthy when they are excessive.  The consumption rate needs to be balanced with other activities, i.e. social, physical, intellectual and spiritual (not to be confused with frenzied religious dogmas).  Commercial advertisements implicitly distort images, which may be difficult for the average person to comprehend, when they are relentlessly apprehended with very one-sided messages, pushing to ‘have one of their own, to sooner than later, trade it in’.  It has been a long history of misinformation built into the ‘for-profit’ motif, dominating the Western world of extreme consumerism.

I’ve picked on this one person’s dream with my axe of disapproval, because now is the time not to have our eyes wide shut; material things will not cure a person’s dis ease.  We need to recognize that continuing this inundation of messages, seducing people to desire to acquire more, will only result in homogenizing the entire world into this insipid belief that the possession is the cure, rather than that of awareness of the spirit of sharing, caring and compassion.  Instead of introducing one laptop to every kid with the concomitant disadvantages of environmental and psychological e-hazards, we could think again together as a group of ways to evaluate and come up with some better actions; devising means to inform communities about ways to enable resource management, improve education, empower individuals, build cooperation, contain competition, manage our excesses and curb our greed-based desires for self-indulgence and profit – which preclude the health and well being of all the other life forms that share this planet.

We could regulate the corporate enterprises who are producing, controlling and marketing the various electronic devices by forming global interactive communities formed in order to advise, check and balance them.  There’s already an administrative solution that has been developed in order to cap companies pollutants, through monitoring the ‘carbon blueprint’, or emissions.  Various governments offer economic incentives for companies to reduce them. [17]

Rather than perpetual production without recycling and the promotion of private ownership, we could elicit a movement throughout the world, starting with the so-called ‘developed world’, realigning priorities to establish and endorse more community based centers where adults can access computer, musical, scientific and vocational equipment in order to learn the necessary skills and share the information for their art, science or business activities in more of a communal environment, and opt for school laboratories where kids can utilize computers and learn skills in a collaborative environment.  Shared spaces encourage more communication among individuals, a healthier alternative in which people are interacting with one another while at the same time learning new techniques.  Active participation among all populations in their own decision-making about what types of products they want to buy, what kinds of legislation they want to support and what types of economic systems they want to endorse is the wave of the future, away from heavy-handed, tightly controlled manipulation through strictly financial clout.  We can move towards economic transparency through shareware and ‘interdependence’, in which mutual effort among all individuals to cooperatively create working community based systems takes place.  It’s a much more advantageous alternative for all life, than bombarding the developing communities of the world with this pretense that private market profiteering and private ownership is the ideal, when in fact people in the West have been more and more isolated from one another than ever, nestled in their own homes with their elaborate home entertainment systems, held captive by the media with misinformation that breeds more alienation, competition and fear.

We need to encourage active participation, awareness, education, compassion, cooperation and love; not profit and competition, which inevitably plunder people’s spirits and their inalienable right to free thinking.  The genuine wealth of the human race is our creative adaptability, which we can employ towards living together in health, prosperity and harmony on this planet, our collective home.  Adding another poignant quote of King’s, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”  [18]

bibliography
1.    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/07/13/tech/main3056256.shtml?source=search_story

2.     http://mondediplo.com/2007/11/01leader

3.     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Trade_Organization

4.     http://mondediplo.com/2007/01/03economy

5.     http://www.chiphistory.org/

6.    http://www.climatecrisis.net/aboutthefilm/

7.    http://www.epa.gov/superfund/

8.    http://www.etoxics.org/site/PageServer?pagename=svtc_silicon_valley_toxic_tour

9.
http://www.etoxics.org/site/PageServer?pagename=svtc_global_ewaste_crisis

10.    National Geographic January 2008; “High-Tech Trash”

11.
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/297964/kids_and_their_addiction_to_handheld.html

12.     http://www-usr.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/cybaddict.html

13.     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_addiction

14.     http://www.boingboing.net/2007/11/18/koreas-internet-addi.html

15.     http://wiki.media-culture.org.au/index.php/Video_games_-_Columbine_and_violent_video_games

16.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_IT
17.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emissions_trading
18.    http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.

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About carolkeiter
Aspiring writer, artist, musician and composer who was born and raised in the United States and has resided in several European countries. Communication is my forte; both through using various tools and in approaching people of divers backgrounds to gather information. Speak conversational - advanced intermediate - French, German and Spanish. Love interacting with people in cultural centers as much as going to remote places to learn more about the different creatures that share our planet. Love of the outdoors and of a variety of outdoor sports. Driven to learn and expand my own consciousness and understanding through curiosity and love of life. Creative skills merge with analytical ones, leading to an interest in a myriad of topics; ranging from politics, economics, science to environmental. Motivated to use my art, music and writing to support and educate people towards humane practices that support and respect all of life, including practices supporting a healthy planet.

One Response to Exporting a Dream is Serious Business

  1. Pingback: Exporting a Dream is Serious Business (via digesthis) | digesthis

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