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Communicating the impact of our gadgets to students and young people

why we repair

We often think about how to reach the next generation, who increasingly think of the internet as an immaterial “cloud”, and who connect to it via impenetrable, sealed black boxes.

Our thinking from the beginning was to look for ways to reach students at scale: work with teachers and create learning materials.

We still have no resources to work more in depth with teachers, although thanks to our supporters, we hosted a workshop for Design and Technology teachers last September. This really got us planning for future work with teachers.

Meanwhile, educators have contacted us – the most exciting development by far was the first Restart Party in a school, hosted by a school in the Bronx.

In the spirit of DIY and finding a way to reach teachers and students with few resources, we contacted Skype Education (actually on the suggestion of our Design and Technology teacher friends).

We developed a lesson we could deliver remotely. This week, we were really excited to Skype into our first classroom, talking with two “Digital Literacy” classrooms in Chicago. The students were 13 years old, and very engaged in the material.

Our lesson really provokes students to think about the material aspects of the internet and our digital culture, and has them thinking about both the embodied resources in our gadgets and in the infrastructure of the internet, but also the energy that goes into powering the internet.

We start by asking “What is the internet made of?” The answer that came first was: “information”! Then we prod: but what else? What materials? The first classroom said “Wires”. But it is very telling that the second classroom said “Satellites”.

Many students are just as surprised as adults to hear that the “cloud” is actually a huge physical network of hugely energy intensive data centres. When we showed these famous images from Google Data Centres, there was a perceptible “hush” among students.

Soon the carbon footprint of “the cloud” will overtake that of global air travel. (Greenpeace and others are campaigning on this, and a number of big companies have made commitments to move to renewables.)

Then we moved to the gadgets we own which allow us to access the internet. We talked about manufacturing impacts: the huge amounts of water and carbon used in their production, the impacts of mining of “rare earths”, and the need to use gadgets for longer.

Students apparently most enjoyed the “hands on” part of our lesson, where we change the battery on an iPhone 4S, showing them around inside a smartphone.

We also chuckled with the first question: “Are Janet and Ugo married?” Answer: No! (We’ll include that in our introduction slide from now on.)

Thank you to Ms. Cruz, who invited us into her classroom, and to her students for their great participation!

This week we also had the pleasure of presenting on product lifecycles and best practices in product design to a group of young people at Makerversity for Prince’s Trust workshop. They too were intrigued by the comparisons between embodied energy and energy used during a gadget’s “use” phase.

We feel like we are learning how to communicate the impacts of our gadgets and our digital lives to young people – learning what language to use, how to interact, and how to make these issues immediate and real.

Please get in touch if you are interested in working with us to do the same.

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