The next time you think of replacing your cell phone, remember it’s made of nickel, silver, gold, platinum, as well as plastics and other finite materials; will you reconsider?
We love to share clever designs with our readers, to write about the technologies we hope will save the world one micro chip at a time. There are motorized bikes, energy reduction innovations, smart grids, and numerous other designs worth sharing. But rarely do we consider the ethics of design; nor do we ponder the origin of components that make up the technologies that render life more convenient. For Australian designer Leyla Acaroglu, these questions are central.
From Extraction to End of Life
In an interview with The Zone, Leyla criticizes universities for selling design philosophies that are deliriously short of morals. Her creative response, as Director of Eco-Innovators, was to develop an animated series called “The Secret Life of Things” that depicts the trajectory of products from natural resource extraction to end of life.
In this video, we meet Eric-Sun, the traumatized cell phone that has been discarded after only one year and seeks psychological treatment from an old Russian? camera.
All the pieces that put Eric-Sun together
Together, the phone and camera map Eric-Sun’s life history. This little compilation of metals traveled extensively before coalescing into a hand-held cellular device. Pieces of him were extracted from South African gold fields and Russian platinum mines, and he is composed of silver from Mexico and nickel from Australia. In fact, the doctor says, “if we go through all [his] metals, we’ll be here all day.”
When he was first born in the factory, taken home and plugged in, Erin-Sun was bright and shiny and life was exciting, but by his first birthday, his battery no longer stayed charged and he was eventually replaced by a sleeker, sexier model.
Out with the old, in with the new
This is the fate of many cell phones. In fact, of the 1.2 billion phones in use today, only 1% are re-used, according to Leyla. The rest, like Eric-Sun, are shoved in a drawer, dropped in a landfill, or shredded. The precious resources used to build the phones are then wasted.
Leyla’s model, via the animation, proposes design with a conscious. She encourages students to make products in consideration of the environmental and social impact, to make products that are either designed to last longer, or at least that can be taken apart and re-used elsewhere.
Don’t plan for obsolescence or fads. Plan for upgrades, plan for upward capabilities.
Hold on to your phone
America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests – where cell phones are concerned – that consumers play a role as well. They recommend that users keep their phones for longer and charge batteries correctly in order to prevent Eric-Sun’s unfortunate fate. And then, when it is impossible to keep the product any longer, at least reuse or recycle it.
Holding on to cell phones for as long as possible is especially necessary in the Middle East, where we have fewer opportunities to assemble their components into new incarnations. Although it is hard to resist the pernicious marketing for the new iphone or blackberry, please consider the resources it takes to make them. They are finite, after all.