Phoning home

22nd October 2013 by

It was that time. To upgrade or not to upgrade. That was my predicament.  And I admit this with a heavy heart – I did it. I upgraded.  It’s a pressurised and tricky world out there.  Even before I was eligible for an upgrade, my phone provider was texting (badgering) me everyday telling me what I could ‘get’!  Enough I thought.  And then my existing phone would cut out on me again.  It seemed like a never-ending cycle.

Pausing to reflect on it now, the mobile phone and all its bells and whistles has definitely sucked me in. I knew this deep down, it’s something I grapple with.  A few years ago, I was all about using older non-smart mobile phones to make phone calls.  Remember those days of batteries lasting a week?  Or how about our very own challenge to readers to downgrade your phone?  In my opinion I haven’t fared well with the dilemma between the internet as a tool and how too much choice makes a simple life impossible most of the time.  (See part I and II of our Mobiles, Social Media and Mindbending Technology blogs).

I digress.

So having upgraded thereby locking me into another contract with an unnamed large corporate mobile provider, I’ve got myself a new phone, and a bit of guilt. I’m already hatching a plan to wait it out and switch as soon as I can.  Having searched for alternatives, I’m pleased to report that there are a few options out there.

Most intriguing is The People’s Operator, a seemingly independent mobile operator which directs 10% of what you spend to a cause of your choice – at no cost to you. They also make the commitment to share 25% of their profits to help make things better.

Having done a quick survey around the office, another alternative is Giff Gaff which was built around the single principle of mutuality and is run by its members (ie those who use their service).  Members get rewarded for running parts of the business like answering questions in the community, getting new members or helping spread the word.

Both of the above work with SIM only which assumes you already have a phone.

For those looking for a phone, an intriguing concept is the Fairphone.  The story behind it is to change the way phones are made.  The Fairphone team sell their smart phone based on identifying where every part and mineral comes from so the consumer is aware of where each piece comes from. The phone is currently being sold online at €325.00.  One comment from our team here was that perhaps they could consider also producing a non-smart phone for those who have downgraded their technical lifestyle but we haven’t quite written to them about this yet.

Which leads me into the Apple debate and the constant hype of when the next phone is coming out.  I found this article “Apple offers 21st Century technology – with 19th Century ethics” entertaining.  Needless to say, although I’m a smart phone user I haven’t been sucked into the void just quite yet.

And finally, in my research I was very pleased to see that Friends of the Earth have a Make It Better Campaign all about improving the way our products are made.  They’re calling for tough new rules to make companies come clean about the full impact of their products – whether they are smartphones, chocolates or tea.

All in all, I wonder if the next time your phone breaks or your contract’s up, will you re-think the way you phone home?

Shifting towards a conscious society – reflections on the Small is…Festival

4th September 2012 by

Yesterday I came back from the Small is… Festival organised by the amazing charities Practical Action and Engineers without Borders. The event was full of stimulating thought.  The overall theme asked: How can we empower people at the grassroots to tackle global issues like the energy crisis? Currently around 1.5 billion people are still living without modern energy while in the developing world we are consuming more than our planet’s-worth of resources.

People matter and must be engaged

The talks made me recognise the importance of engaging people in the things that matter around them and to become politically excited and engaged as agents.  Toby Kellner, for instance, spoke of a project to engage communities living on low income estates in Bristol by injecting some fun into a solar array project and building a solar tree installation.

Another salient point was about making sure energy technologies are intelligible – people need to understand the mechanics of where their energy comes from at a basic level.

Demonstration of a micro anaerobic digestion unit – it’s a great, simple technology to get your head around and is the sort of knowledge that needs democratisation

We must speak from the heart

The founder of International Peace Initiatives had a different approach to engaging people into action.  Karambu Ringera spoke truly to the heart – she emphasised going within and finding out who you really are and the importance of love as primary forces acting in change projects. Her project building an orphanage on a wasteland in Kenya in the face of opposition from the men surrounding her is testament to this philosophy.

Another technical fix isn’t enough

In actual fact, although we grapple with finding the right social and cultural projects to prevent rising energy consumption and climate change, a more technical fix is on the table. A friend recently suggested that a mechanism to tax carbon at the production side would solve our climate woes. Set highly enough so that only a limited amount of carbon would be emitted, it would effectively force the market to provide solutions and get to the crux of CO2 emissions reductions fast.

Job done? Hmmm, not really. If implemented carefully it may be a fix for climate change but what of social transformation – the reclaiming of our political, economic and social spheres away from the elites towards a commons? How do you engage those who have very little yet have the most to gain from change?

I don’t subscribe to a view that people who have very little materially aren’t interested in engaging in activism and radical themes but I do recognise that many who struggle just above the breadline may have less ‘headspace’ because of the pressure to get by. I think it’s about going to the places and hearths of people to strike up conversations and thoughts – be it stands at the supermarket, or banners on main roads.  The loss of spaces to socialise and meet people and talk about issues is making us more isolated. We need to claim these back in order to flourish. This will be an issue that will perpetuate with or without climate change and I think is fundamental to being tackled before we invent another way to damage ourselves collectively. The real question is how do we make the very workings of our society nimble and truly conscious?

Carla Jones is an Otesha cycle tour alumnus.

Mobiles, social media and mindbending technology- Part I

3rd February 2011 by

Anyone who’s ever met me will know that I am not a fan of mobile phones or anything beginning with i. I have a mobile and am as reliant as the next person on the internet. But I don’t like it. I wish all this information was in my head and not stored as bookmarks on my screen, I wish I could organise my life with people and not with my inbox. The problem with the internet and our constant connectivity is that, whilst it makes everything possible all the time, too much choice makes a simple life impossible most of the time.

Right now as I type I have seven tabs open on my screen, half of these are things that I am in the middle of reading. Everytime I pause for thought, instead of staring at the wall, I check my emails. This is arguably more productive than staring at the wall but I don’t think it’s helping my thought processes. Some days I find it really hard to read an entire article in one go.

I am clearly not the only one finding my concentration span disintegrating under a barrage of information. A friend confessed this week to checking emails in her lectures. Almost every conversation with friends involves some fact or figure being checked on someone’s i-phone, or being treated to photos of what someone else had for breakfast. Why do you even need maps anymore when the world wide web’s worth of information is all in your pocket? Because I like maps and I reckon lots of other people do to, otherwise why do people keep hanging them on the wall?

I am really really glad that I did not grow up with this much technology constantly vying for my attention. The advent of mobile phones has done more harm to education than a bulldozer in a public woodland. My experience working in schools and colleges is that some young people are umbilically attached to their phones, they would rather you remove their thumbs than their texting technology and, whether talking to peers or adults, cannot hold a conversation without their own personal soundtrack piped into one ear. At least when we wrote notes we were also practising handwriting, spelling and grammar. I’m sure some schools have managed to successfully ban phones from the classroom, but these handy pocket devices are just that and so they will always sneak their way back in. Now every young person has one it’s only a matter of time until technology mimics life with a Passing Notes App, a GCSE Cheat App and a The Dog Ate It App.

I’m not the only one concerned about all the the constant ringing, tweeting and flickering that’s interrupting our lives. The New York Times has written lots about how the internet is changing our brains. “Technology is rewiring our brains,” says Nora Volkow, one of the world’s leading brain scientists. Constant bursts of information are not just disrupting in themselves, they’re undermining our ability to focus even when we’re not online.

Whatever the effect of technology on our brains, it will be heightened in the young people who grow up without knowing what it’s like to wait for a roll of camera film to be developed, what it means to make someone a mix tape and what socialising is without social media.

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