Tech Trouble: The Story of Electronics

In her latest “The Story of Electronics” video, Annie Leonard tackles the toxic tech industry and explores the inherent, disposable nature of electronics – what she calls “designed for the dump.”  Now, we’ve all been tempted by the affordable upgrade-your-mobile-phone offers every two years, or the sleek and shiny new gadget from Apple.  But behind all the innovation and cool features is a production system comprised of dangerous chemicals and materials all destined for the landfill in a short period of time.  The laptop-we-can’t-live-without is actually chockfull of toxic components we should be avoiding – at least, if we actually want to have a healthy life.  Same for the cell phone, MP3 player, television, microwave oven…

From beginning to end, the life cycle of electronics is not a pretty picture.  As “The Story of Electronics” shows, the mining to get the materials erodes the planet and the local community that has to deal with toxic elements released from the Earth; workers in far-off countries who assemble our products pay with their health; waste generated at production plants poisons our soil and water; and then there’s the carbon-intensive transportation to get the products into our anxious hands.  And that’s not even addressing the effects to our own health from daily use and the unregulated recycling of these items once we decide we want a better, newer model.   

Leonard’s solution to our gadget obsession?  Don’t be tempted to upgrade when your product still works.  Stop allowing companies to externalize costs.  Demand responsible take-back programs and support designers in creating “green” non-toxic products.  This is all possible.  Society does not have to come to a screeching halt.  But it is key that our electronics be “designed to last,” as their current design will dictate how long we last, too.

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