BLOG POST: Energy, Toxics, Waste, and Slavery
The reading and lectures this week focus on a variety of social problems related to technological production and consumption. Some have argued that more personal responsibility among users is the solution for some of these problems. In this blog post, we you will test these ideas by trying them out.
Part I. Choose ONE of the problems below for this blog posting. (You do not need to sign up in advance.) State which topic you chose at the top of your post.
Part II. Follow the instructions as stated.
(a.) Energy Efficiency. Answer the question: What percentage of your electricity use is related to communication technology? First, you must figure out how much electricity you use. You might use your electric bill, your power company Web site, the Manufacturer or EPA Energy Star web sites, and/or you might make a note of all electrical devices you use and look up information about their power consumption. To make this manageable, you can limit this to only devices in your home, only devices you own, or devices you use in any 24 hours of your life. Next, figure out what percentage of the energy consumption comes from communication technology. Show your work! Be sure to include specific details from your devices and calculations (e.g., a list) to show that you did this assignment. (Do not forget battery chargers.) Are there any things you can do to reduce energy use for communication technology? (Alternative products? Alternative patterns of use?)
(b.) Safe e-Waste Disposal Make a list of all of the electronic devices you own that you use for communication. Use the Web to try to find out if there is a take-back program sponsored by the manufacturer of each device. Paste or link to the relevant details. If no take-back program exists (or you can't find one) figure out some realistic way to safely dispose of each remaining device that does not involve the device occupying landfill space. For instance, find an electronics recycler and list the charges for recycling each device. You may have to mail it to them or drive a long way. Donating it to most generic drop-off charities like Goodwill will not work unless you can be certain the device can be recycled, re-used or re-sold by them -- many donated electronics are thrown away. Show your work! Be sure to include specific details for each device that demonstrates that your solution will not lead to landfill or incineration. Refer to details about these alternatives from the Slade reading.
(c.) Product Lifespan -- Calculate the product lifespans of all of the communication technologies you have owned over your life. E.g., list all of the computers, cell phones, laptops, gaming consoles, and other items mentioned in the readings for this week. State which kind of obsolescence forced you to abandon each product: technological, psychological, or planned? (See Slade p. 5-7.) Answer the question: Do you see any trends or patterns? If there are not any patterns or you aren't sure how to do this part, you might compare your results to those on other blogs or search for "product lifespan" on the Web and see how your experiences compare to other reports.
(d.) Child Slavery Choose one specific desktop computer, laptop computer, cell phone, or gaming console that you use (or used to use). State the brand and model number and approximately when the device was made. Include a picture of the device from your own camera or the Web, citing the source. Try to discover whether or not child slavery was used in the mining of Coltan used for your device. For example, first you might try to determine whether the minerals discussed in the Cox reading were used in this device. The minerals may be referred to as columbite-tantalite, coltan, tantalum, or as a variety of capacitor (tantalum capacitor). If they are there, try to discover how much or how many. It might help to take the device apart as you did in blog post #2 if you don't want it anymore. You might refer to product manuals or specifications on the Web. You could try an image search for "tantalum capacitors" to help you recognize some of them in your device. Try to identify the source of the minerals. The web site for your device manufacturer may be helpful. Many electronics manufacturers now have sourcing policies. Web sites for international organizations (like the United Nations or not-for-profit anti-slavery organizations) may be helpful. Show your work! For credit, be sure your research is specific to your device and not just general information. Refer to specific details from the Cox reading. Warning: Doing a good job with this option can be very difficult but can be very rewarding. We will reward you with extra credit if you do a good job in a circumstance where there is little information or the information is hard to find.
Part III. As it said at the beginning of the assignment, some have argued that more personal responsibility among users is the solution for some of these problems. Now that you have tried to address some of these problems personally, do you think this is realistic? Please provide specific reasons for your conclusion, linking them to your own experience in Part II. For example: Is it likely that everyone will behave the way you just did? Can these behaviors be effectively encouraged? Or is the problem best addressed in some other way (government regulation, by manufacturers, by engineers...)?
IMPORTANT: At some point in this post you must quote or refer to either the Cox or Slade reading (or both). C&T Ch. 16 may also be helpful.
This assignment must be at least 300 words (about 1 page). Part I -- restating the assignment -- does not count toward the word limit.
DEADLINE: Post your blog entry by 11 a.m. -- one hour before class begins. (You may want to select your topic as soon as you can.)
Due on March 18, 2009.
- It is impossible to get full credit for this assignment if you only rely on wikipedia. All of the information required is not in wikipedia.
- Extra credit opportunity: Extra credit will be awarded for particularly rigorous or creative attempts to answer these questions, particularly for (d.) Child Slavery.
This is the Web site for SPCM 199, Communication Technology and Society, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.