consumerism technology waste

Behind the screens

Smartphones have become a ubiquitous part of moden life. There are already more mobiles on the planet than there are people, and yet vast advertising spend is directed at encouraging consumers to upgrade. Phones are kept for 2-3 years and replaced, often thrown away long before they are broken.

If you’ve been watching the football in the UK recently, you may have seen an advert that encapsulates this drive for novelty. A woman sees a friend with a folding phone, and obsesses about it until she gets one herself. Do we need folding phones? We had them in the 90s, so it’s not an innovation. We want it because we are told to want it.

Fairphone are a company that has been trying to do phones differently for a while, and I’ve written about them before. You may have one of their handsets already. They are made with ethically sourced materials, and they are designed to be repaired. They even come with a tiny screwdriver to assist with taking it apart, and you can buy modules from their website to repair or upgrade the phone.

Fairphone have just released a short documentary, Behind the Screens, showing the long chain of people involved in smartphones. It starts with artisanal gold mining, showing the mines, the hand-processing of ore, and what drives people to do this dangerous work. It ends with waste pickers scavenging discarded phones from an enormous landfill. In between, we hear from people working in assembly, and from phone users too. It’s a neat, ten-minute portrait of a technology and the invisible people behind it.

You’ve got ten minutes, right? You can watch it for free on Waterbear, the platform for environmental documentaries. You might have to sign in for that, but there’s lots to explore on there and you might find something else well worth your while. Here’s a trailer below.

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