I am not part of the mobile phone culture. That’s not to say I don’t have a mobile phone. I do. It’s around ten years old now and laughably old-fashioned. It struggles to do more than make and receive calls. But that’s fine by me – it does the job it was designed to do. I use it when I really need to, which is about four times a year. So, when I say I am not part of the mobile phone culture, I mean, a) although I’ve fallen into the trap, at least I can see it’s a trap and, b) I do not carry with me at all times a tiny personal computer that will wire me up to an unreal world and do absolutely everything except make a cup of tea. And I don’t want to cohabit with a little box that knows my name.
We live in a technological ersatz utopia that promotes an uncontrolled insatiable appetite for new shiny gadgets, baubles and toys to gratify our increasingly short attention span. I don’t want to be part of that. I resist attempts by the psychologists of the cancerous advertising industry to mould me into a human silicon chip, uniform, interchangeable and imminently obsolete. More corporate profit can be generated from a compliant infantilised society of automatons than from a diverse collection of independent thinking individuals, and the machine that makes us into automatons is insidiously invisible. It has taken us unawares. Throwing before us sparkly trinkets in the same way that rapacious conquerors dangled beads before the native inhabitants of new found lands, it appears to be benign but has a heart as cold as ice.
All we see is the glitter, as we are distracted by the whistles and bells of the consumer merry-go-round. Mesmerised by window displays, primary colour packaging, slick advertising and the media hype that makes it all sound so must-have, so now, so necessary, we simply buy into the whole hollow urban culture package without question. That’s the sad part – our lack of inclination to ask questions. I suspect that’s because we don’t really want to hear the answers.
Who wants to know that mobile phones are only affordable because most of the production costs have been externalised? Who wants to know that the great Apple empire, now more profitable than such corporate giants as ExxonMobil and Goldman Sachs, has a despicable record of human rights, exploiting not only the workers who assemble its toys in austere union-free Chinese factories but also its own employees back home? Last year, the company earned $400,000 in profits per employee, whilst extolling loyalty from those cash-strapped and compulsorily non-union employees by telling them, “Money shouldn’t be an issue when you’re employed at Apple.” Rather, according to the management, serving at the altar of the Genius Bar™ ‘should be looked at as an experience.’
Of all the questions to which no one really wants the answer, the one about dwindling resources has everyone engaging selective deafness. Yet the fact remains that we are running out of all the things that make this technological economy tick. One of them is a dull black ore called coltan, an abbreviation for columbite-tantalite, from which tantalum is extracted. This is used in the manufacture of tantalum capacitors, vital components in consumer electronic products such as mobile phones and computers. As with so many raw materials, demand is now beginning to outstrip supply and, in the mining of coltan, we can see something of how the world is going to look in a few short decades from now. Like oil and other resources, extraction has now peaked, but demand continues unabated. Extraction of coltan ore is now bedevilled with stories of conflict and unbridled environmental degradation, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is estimated between 65% and 80% of the world’s remaining coltan is to be found.
Mining of coltan in the DRC takes place in unregulated conditions, on an ad-hoc small-scale basis. The ore is traded virtually illegally on its way to the mobile phone factories inChina, whilst the income from it mostly funds the violent militias that still rule this inherently undemocratic county. Without regulation, the area is becoming an environmental wasteland, with land badly eroded and groundwater, rivers and lakes polluted. In addition, the miners, working in the bush far from their usual sources of food, are living off the land. Killing anything that moves, they have brought the population of mountain gorillas in that region to the edge of extinction. All of this just to feed the monster that is our technological world.
The hardest fact in such a world is that it is virtually impossible to live our lives with any clear sense of ethics. Moral and ethical considerations are no more than pious hopes in a society so disconnected from its support system that it has lost its understanding, its affection and its love for what provides the essence of life. Whilst we live a life of obeisance and supplication to the God of Economic Growth, we stand bereft of true morality and doomed by our own idolatry, lost in a fog of self-justification as we yearn for the next distraction. What we need is a penance app that will guide us through the options for various Acts of Contrition, set out a scale of manageable penances, and then we will be able to carry on as programmed, but with a refreshingly clear conscience.
For more information on the mining of coltan in DRC, try this link: