My phone has been making me feel guilty. Phone companies have been making me feel cranky. And both have been making me learn a few things about conflict in the Congo.
It began when I decided to finally do something about my antique iphone. OK, it wasn’t an antique but as you can see (above) it was pretty retro and I was quite attached to it. My tech-savvy husband said I might as well use message sticks or smoke stacks to keep in touch if I wasn’t prepared to upgrade.
The way that phones are sold as a sort of “hire purchase” arrangement, with the handset payments built in as a portion of the monthly bill, makes it feel a bit like you don’t pay for the phone at all. It’s a very alluring and very clever tactic by phone companies. Indeed my service provider has been regularly calling for a year or two, trying to tempt me into a buying a new handset.
However, I resisted because I was vaguely aware of the atrocious situation in the Congo, which it seems is not on the radar of many Australians. For starters, Africa is a long way away from here. Plus, it’s hard to get your head around which African country we’re even talking about because two neighbouring countries have confusingly similar names.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is suffering because it has the dubious distinction of being a significant source of coltan, a mineral needed to manufacture mobile/cell phones and other electronic devices. The mining industry there is helping to finance some horrific violence (and specifically sexual violence, because rape is a cheap war weapon). It is responsible for millions of deaths and unimaginable misery.
And this can all be directly linked to our “need” to have up-to-date technology.
But since my apps needed updating, messages were going missing, and my phone needed recharging frequently, I thought it was time to upgrade. I still didn’t want to get a new phone so I obtained a cast-off — a newer model than my antique– and a new SIM card from a phone shop. And then (without boring you with the details; let’s just say that I had to sift through the vacuum cleaner dirt to find an original SIM) the phone companies made me jump through hoops to get it all operational.
So not only is the industry responsible for a far-away war. At every possible step, technology loves “planned obsolescence” and forced compliance to upgrades in the name of progress. It’s also wasteful and irresponsible to the planet. Infuriating!
Eventually I managed to get the “new, old” phone working and I so have more time up my sleeve to take some sort of action before I purchase a new handset. I have a bit more information about the situation in the Congo and some strategies towards changing it, such as lobbying electronics companies to ensure that conflict and child labour do not contribute to their products.
It really doesn’t feel like enough, but I don’t see my family and friends on the mainland learning to read smoke signals any time soon.