Lest anyone accuse me of hypocrisy, I should first probably show you this video from March 2000. It is me on Sky news during the launch of the UKs first pre-paid WAP phones. In this clip I discuss how mobile phones will evolve to include the ability to play music. This was before the launch of Apple’s iPod and way before their iPhone, which as we now now totally took the mobile world by storm. It would have been inconceivable to me back then that a company such as Nokia would be in such dire straights as it is right now, but that is what has happened.
At this stage in my life I can assure you I was not in the least bit conscious or sentient about any form of ecological issues. Some huge events would happen in my life just one year after this appearance on television which would completely first turn my world upside down, and then totally around, but as I say, this was Simon 1.0 as a ‘successful’ business exec in the mobile industry at the cutting edge of new technology.
Anyway, I felt quite sad to see the latest Apple news about it’s new MacBook Pro launch. I myself have a MacBook Pro, and bought one after getting fed of having to buy a new laptop every two years or so, due it running slow and getting the “blue screen of death”. I bought mine at a discount using Apple’s student discount scheme when doing my masters degree, and all has been well since. My intention is to keep this laptop as long as is possible, to avoid adding to the ever increasing piles of toxic computer and electronics waste in this world.
As Kyle Wiens describes it, the new MacBook is “Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable“.
The Retina MacBook is the least repairable laptop we’ve ever taken apart: Unlike the previous model, the display is fused to the glass, which means replacing the LCD requires buying an expensive display assembly. The RAM is now soldered to the logic board — making future memory upgrades impossible. And the battery is glued to the case, requiring customers to mail their laptop to Apple every so often for a $200 replacement. The design may well be comprised of “highly recyclable aluminum and glass” — but my friends in the electronics recycling industry tell me they have no way of recycling aluminum that has glass glued to it like Apple did with both this machine and the recent iPad.
I have to agree with Wiens when he writes that ultimately the choice will be ours. We will at some point in time have to stop blaming Apple, and take responsibility for our own actions and choices.
Given this news, I thought it would be interesting to look at another solution, brought to my attention by my old friend and colleague Kevin Bradshaw, who after working with me as a consultant at BT Cellnet, went on to form the mobile gaming company Digital Bridges, and who is now involved in developing many new technology start-ups.
The Clambook is basically a shell which allows you to connect up your smartphone and therefore make much better use of the computing power contained within it. This seems to me to be an interesting solution, since in theory it could really help cut down the amount of electronics we use, given that there is probably far more computing power in a modern smart phone than most people would really require for everyday use. Who knows, maybe business “road warriors” will never worry about e-waste, and will only want this for the convenience of carrying a light weight screen and keyboard around, but who knows? We have to get seriously more creative in our product design to really start to address e-waste in the computing and electronics industries.
I thought that I would also finally show you my Mum’s computer. It is from SimplicITy Computers, and it has been specifically designed for the older user, running on Linux.
This is an interesting solution, since the actual software could quite easily be ported onto older laptops, refurbished with Linux, since many older people simply want to get onto their computers to send emails, use the internet, and maybe connect to Skype as we do. With my background in psychology and Human Factors, I have watched my Mum learn to use the computer, and also though it may seem simple, to someone who has never used a windows operating system before, it is quite an education to see what is intuitive and what is still totally bewildering, such as what a flashing cursor means, and how to enter text into a field.
This is no criticism of my mother of course! Sometimes we may think that something is intuitive when in fact it is anything but. I myself have recently started to use an iPad, and this is phenomenally frustrating as you have to start from scratch and learn all the commands.
But anyway, here is another way to reuse older laptops, which would be great not just for older people but for schools as well. Let’s look at simplifying technology and look at just how much we can reuse our old computers with a little bit of creative redesign for specific types of user.
Just while I am discussing technology, I thought I would show you what I am currently using. In the 1990s I was a co-founder of Genie Internet, the world’s first mobile internet portal. Genie was a totally-owned subsidiary of BT Cellnet (now O2) and at the height of the dotcom boom valued at around £1 billion. After being the business development manager for smart phones at BT Cellnet, I moved to content at Genie, responsible for music and games.
That large phone is the Nokia 2110 which was revolutionary in its time for its gorgeous design and “intuitive” hot keys which revolutionised the ease of use of mobile phones. Nowadays I have no need for smart phones, and just use two pre-paid Nokias, one for the Uk and one for Brazil.
That nice looking Nokia on the right was my Vivo mobile phone in Brazil, but the phone’s microphone broke after just a few months. Unfortunately if your phone breaks in Brazil, the phone networks such as Vivo will have nothing to do with you as a customer. You have to return the handset to one of Nokia’s distribution centres. I have not done this as it would cost me more to get the phone fixed than it would to get a new one, and so what to do? Nokia do not seem to have progressed the reliability of their phones since the early 90s. My 2110 still works amazingly enough, but new technology dies after just a few months. Maybe one more reason why Nokia itself is now dying?
Also in Brazil, customers are not given the choice to buy simple phones such as my Nokia prepaid handsets. In Brazil, consumer electronics products are more expensive than in the UK, and the simplest handsets on sale are smart phones, none of which I particularly like. I am not an expert on Brazilian mobile business models, but just as there is a case for developing simple computers, I just wonder if maybe we should still look at simple phone technology for those who do not need or do not want to be so wasteful in their use of these products?
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Update: 20th June
Here is a story published in today’s Daily Mail, of relevance to this article:
The end of the gadget bonanza? China warns it is running out of the raw materials that power our mobiles, X-Ray machines, computers and cameras