This project originated from discussions at the ICT4D meetup in London. ICT for “D” (d meaning development) is a term that started gaining momentum in recent decades, although people have been using communications technology for development since the advent of smoke signals.
Ugo and I have both worked extensively in places where communications technology can make a massive difference – where simple mobiles can often literally save lives in everyday situations. And we’ve seen that people’s relationship with gadgets and technology is completely different in most of the places we worked. I often give this example, but even a simple ballpoint pen would have never been discarded in the provincial Mozambican office I spent time in.
What was troubling us more and more was not actually the “underdeveloped” places we worked in, but in fact the attitudes and behaviours of people here back in our northern homes.
Watching people discard devices because they ran “slow”. Watching people upgrade by simply buying new phones every nine months.
Have we become passive, flabby consumers of technology – like the future humans in Wall-E? Have we have lost our “repair muscle mass”?
I remember saying to Ugo, when we serviced my old Macbook together, looking at the scratched-up battery casing – remarking how many people will use and discard a laptop before ever even opening up their machines.
Would you buy a car and never open up the bonnet and simply trade it the moment something went wrong? Why do we treat our ICT devices the same way in Europe and the US?
Much like greenhouse emissions, e-waste is a first world problem that is causing a huge amount of hurt in the third world. The tongue-in-cheek project Design for the First World reminds us that, actually, we need to take stock and recognise that we have some massive problems of our own that need to be solved urgently.
We are starting our project “preaching to the converted” – working with our supportive friends from the ICT4D community, Transition Towners and Freecyclers.
But we see this a massive, global behaviour change project – our vision is a world where everybody opens up their gadgets after warranty, where consumers demand repairable and upgradable products, where people become true owners of their e-stuff.
To do this, we are focusing on making self-repair less scary and third-party repair more accessible. But this is just the beginning.
In terms of hardware, we need to encourage manufacturers to do their part – rewarding those who improve and shaming those who don’t. This means increased transparency in the electronics industry that allows consumers to make informed choices.
In terms of software, we need to break the cycle of new hardware -> new software -> new hardware. People need to be able to optimise software for existing hardware to prevent the “running slow” problem.
These may seem like mammoth problems – but if we don’t try, we’ll never know if we can crack them. We’re starting small, but our vision is big.