Smart devices have become an indispensable part of our lives today. They could very well be bionic extensions of our arms or brain. Since I am a professional in the telecommunications industry, I should know this better and I am guilty of this myself - the urge to possess the latest and greatest that is out there! There is a constant race to make the next wave of smart-X (where 'X' is a variable device that could be phones, watches, TVs, fridges, etc.) perform much better than its predecessors and competition in the market. This reminds me of the Olympic motto expressed in Latin as "Citius, Altius, Fortius" - which translates to Faster, Higher, Stronger. I found it intriguing that the word Communiter (Together) was added to these three iconic words in 2021 to symbolize solidarity in sports. Just like Olympians train hard to become the champions in their respective sport and beat the previous world record, the manufacturers of these smart devices are investing millions of dollars in R&D (research and development) to push the limits of their electronic 'olympians', so that they beat out competition and maximize their market share / revenues.
Image credit: Samsung
This year, I consciously paused and stepped outside the boundary lines of the game to ask a simple question - BUT WHY?
Let's take smartphones for example. The latest 'olympian' smartphone might have the fastest processing speed, the highest quality of cameras (referred to as the three eyed monster) and the strongest battery life - but how bad can it 'really' be compared to its ancestral smartphone from four years ago. After all it is the same manufacturer, and I am sure you are a loyal customer who trusts their product lineup. If you are worried about security and privacy, most smartphone manufacturers provide software updates and tech support for up to four to five years on average. As you might already know, on September 24, 2021 Apple released their iPhone 13 series of smartphones. In China alone, an estimated 5+ million preorders were placed that overwhelmed Apple's China website, followed by a shopping stampede (check this Twitter link) that forced a stop sell to control the madness that ensued. Now, pause and try to digest that for a minute!!
Let's glean for a quick moment into the detrimental influence of technology on mental health. A study from 2017 found in a survey of nearly 1,800 young adults that there was a linear relationship between the number of social media platforms used and the poor quality of their mental health. In retrospect, when Steve Jobs was interviewed in 2010 by a New York Times reporter about his kids loving the iPad - which was freshly launched that year, Jobs replied that he limited the amount of technology used by his children at home. Later when Walter Isaacson interviewed Jobs for his autobiography, he shared a interesting quote:
“Every night Steve insisted on dining at the big kitchen table, talking about books, history and a variety of other things. Nobody ever took out an iPad or a computer. The kids didn't seem addicted to the devices. "
Once again, monetary profits appear to dominate over societal health implications. This highlights the recent news story from Facebook whistleblower - Frances Haugen, who testified that its products including Instagram "harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy".
So what's the relationship between smart-X devices and Neoveda?
Answer: Neoveda's vision is to also protect the health of Mother Nature because we wouldn't exist without a thriving environment. It might be shocking for some of you to learn that around 85% - 95% of each smartphone’s carbon footprint is generated at the manufacturing stage - due to the mining, refining, transport and assembly of the dozens of rare and precious metals as shown in the infographic below from #VisualCapitalist. This means that buying a new smartphone takes up the equivalent energy of recharging and operating it for a full decade.
In addition to smartphones, the servers and data centers contribute approximately 45% of the Information and Communication Industry's CO2 emissions - because every time you perform a Google search or post a silly Facebook story - it processes the data in the cloud and servers that operate 24 x 7 to fulfill your needs. Even though the FAANG gang has pledged to move to renewable energy for their operations, the impact is minimal as per research conducted by McMaster University, since IoT (Internet of Things) will be the next biggest carbon footprint contributor in this industry.
Besides the CO2 emissions generated, another critical issue is e-waste. Around 41 million tonnes of global e-waste are generated every year, but only less than 16% of this is recycled properly - and this causes toxic chemicals like lead to seep into our ecosystem and potentially cause health issues.
'Alright, I have heard enough. Is there anything I can do?'
I am super glad you asked the right question. Yes, you can!! Here are my four suggested takeaways for you.
Hardest - Urge smart-X device manufacturers to take a step back and get inspired by the Olympics, where the games are held once every four years.
If the next generation of devices are launched after a gap of four years, it would allow sufficient time for significant R&D. The recent line up of Apple iPhones are obviously not much different from its earlier generations. This can also drastically reduce CO2 emissions and consequently e-waste.
There is absolutely no need for a new device every year, and this would allow for our precious, rare metals to remain in the ground, where they belong.
Hard - Make a cultural change to move away from the ‘buy-use-discard-buy’ behavior. Currently, it is a difficult process to find who does repairs and in most cases it is expensive to fix it.
This requires the intervention of the government and corporate worlds to push for a circular economy and subsidize the costs of repair. Let's learn from the European commission as demonstrated here and also check out this cool infographic study completed by the European Environmental Bureau.
Modular designs for smart-X devices that make it easier and less expensive to support and repair.
Stringent quality assessments of devices to ensure longevity of usage and hence need for fewer repairs.
Easy - Well, there is no supply without demand, right!! Hey, I am talking to my dear readers. You would be superstars if you could do two simple things:
Resist the impulse and ask yourself - Do you want it or need it? Give yourself 30 days and if you still desire it, then go ahead and purchase the smart-X. Make sure you replace it only after four years of usage.
Get creative by awakening the MacGyver within you to repair your smart-X to extend its longevity.
Easiest - Worst case make sure to recycle your discarded devices. In Canada, I have used establishments like TerraCycle. Do a quick Google search for your location. Trust me - the data centers will thank you for this search. :)