questioning technology



the last twenty years of our growing computer-based technology has felt to me like a steady march into a more confusing but somehow easier future.  new gadgets and new software come out daily, allowing us to better and better keep track of things in our lives and in the world.  there is a sense of progress in all of this that is overwhelmingly seen as positive.

i have even had the notion that by changing my lifestyle to fit with higher levels of technology is a way of going more 'green'-- by reducing how many actual cd's i am buying, i am decreasing my footprint, for example.

the other night at dinner, however, sitting around a table with five intelligent, powerful women the subject of our energy use in our technology came up.  one person had recently read that one google search uses as much energy as boiling a kettle of water for tea.  google, by the way, says that this is not quite accurate-- they off-set their energy use with all kinds of green-initiatives (sounds smoke-screen-ish to me).  but the point is that we are using an enormous amount of energy to power our super computers and data processing centers-- energy that most of us are not aware of in any way.  each google search does not just go out into the ether and magically bring back an answer-- a huge data processing center is working away, computers whirring and clicking and buzzing just as in 1957's 'desk set'.  

there are also serious questions about the raw materials needed to make the computer world run.  it takes something close to as much material (by weight) to make a personal computer as it does to make a car, for example.  and the raw materials that we use in our computers may come from a mine next door in canada; OR they may be shipped from australia, increasing our footprint exponentially; OR they may come from mines in central africa where the proceeds from the sale of the raw materials for computers  fueled africa's largest war in recent years (centering on the democratic republic of congo)-- involving eight countries and resulting in the deaths of millions of people.

which leads us to the human cost of our technological world-- the dangers of working with chemicals that are often toxic in factories that employ hundreds of thousands of workers-- workers living and working in huge compounds in china for companies like foxxconn, a manufacturer of apple, sony, dell, hewlett-packard, and nokia products.  at foxxconn's factories workers are scheduled around the clock, and they have little time for fun or 'leisure' activities.  they live on site in huge dormitories, work on assembly lines that are very fast, and their lives are scheduled for them to the point that there have been a large number of suicides at the facility.

i think about the irony of our current world-- the ability to see what was happening on the streets of egypt during their recent uprisings was made possible by technology-- smart phones and twitter most especially.  the connections that we can feel with the 'occupy' movement also comes largely through our technology.  and yet it is our desire to have more technology and always at a better price that is driving a global economy that is not, in the long run, good for anyone.

what are we doing?

-mary-moore.







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