Well, Internet, I have finally joined the ranks of the smart phone people. There's been a few hurdles getting here. First was the cost: How do I justify paying for data and voice per month vs. what I was paying per use before? That finally changed earlier this year, when the sheer volume of texting I do finally made that cost somewhat equal -- in fact, cheaper over time, if I paid a set plan. Let's call this the effect of two writers being married to each other.
I grew up being heavily influenced by my father's love of computers (and computer games). When I was a teenager, I scoured the annual PC Gamer
bumper issue for next year's hottest video card (and video games), much to the growing horror of my mother, who realised somewhere when I was 13 that she was never going to have the daughter she'd get to dress for parties. To put it lightly, I enjoy building my desktop so it can play ever-newer games with ever-fancier graphics with ever-more lags-in-the-middle-of-a-castle-siege, with lots of explosions on top. This is in direct conflict with my responsibilities as a green citizen. How do I reconcile a love of fancy video cards with the fact that every new gadget I buy uses up more potentially illegal, exploitative or dangerous underlying metals?
Most of my daily work is for the ad industry. It's given me a healthy cynicism for most corporate green initiatives. However, over the years I've read enough, from different perspectives, to understand the kinds of opportunities our increasing dependence on electronics brings to developing countries. I was born and bred in a country that owed its boom years to this industry. It does, it has and it will continue to raise the standard of living for more people than we could ever know. I was particularly impressed, earlier this year, after reading Leslie T. Chang's Factory Girls
, which apart from being a riveting set of narratives, goes into some of the life-affirming aspects of rapid industrialisation for its workforce. The part that struck me most was how each migrant worker nearly always first purchases a new cell phone upon reaching their new town, and the ownership of a smart phone, with all its camera functions, dramatically changes their self-esteem. Making high-end tech products in the developing world, and slowly building the middle classes there that can afford to purchase these same products, is simply part of raising a society's standard of living. That would be the "push progress" message I've seen and heard growing up among the so-called Tiger Economies of Asia from the 90s. The message is so overwhelming, especially if you have lived in any big Asian city in the past three decades, people get kind of defensive when you raise some of the fallouts. Ruining the environment? Exploiting desperate migrant workers? But the developed world enjoys all these spoils, and how can they say we can't too?
One of the other things I keep in mind with this impasse is that for most of Asia, the environmental and social fallouts of all this industrialisation is still new. It makes sense, industrialisation, particularly as pertains the high-tech sector, for us is largely still new, take or give a few decades. The developed world warns about future losses because it's had the gains and reaped what it sowed. The developing world hasn't gone that far yet. This doesn't mean Asia is doomed to be a septic smog pit in the next century. It just means that catching up between the, "Wow, we have shopping malls!" and "Hey, our rivers have gone black!" is going to take time. Imagine if you will that my generation is possibly the first middle-classed and educated enough to indulge in 'organic', 'eco-friendly' and 'energy-saving'. Our parents did not want to live like their parents. Reconciling the genteel pastoral life with healthier living is a new concept. Now, are these ideas moving fast enough? That's hard to tell. It's clear we've already lost a significant amount of our natural resources to propel progress. That may never be recovered. I'm a hopeful person. I don't think we will lose everything. The developed world hasn't lost everything, and its countries were the guinea pigs of the Industrial Age. People adapt to their changing circumstances, it's what they do.
But how does any of this have to do with me getting a new telephone? I wanted to put my money where my mouth is. First, I looked for the most "cruelty free" smart phone out there. There's a neat company out there called Fairphone
that's trying to make better, safer, greener and socially-conscious phones from the supply chain up. I'd love to get one of their phones when they hit the US, but right now, it looks like they're only catering to the European market. Samsung, it turns out, has a pretty good environmental record according to review sites. Its phones are widely available on US networks, and I have always liked Samsung's monitors. The Samsung Galaxy S4 just came out, and it has the functions I need, namely, a nice camera to post cat photos on the Internet, an intuitive keyboard and GoogleMaps with GPS tracking so I don't get lost everywhere.
Then came the problem of a carrier. Poking around brought up Credo Mobile
, which openly donates part of its customers' charges to different progressive social causes as part of its business plan. Most of the causes are things I would support, they offered the phone I wanted and had the coverage I needed. My experience with them has actually been off to a fantastic start. I sent in my purchase order on a weekend, and my phone showed up on the next Tuesday. They worked with me to transfer my old phone number, from a prepaid account at a different carrier, on to my Credo account. I didn't even have to call my old carrier for all the convoluted details when we ran into a hitch, their customer representative did, I supplied some added info, and we were good. I haven't taken any life-affirming selfies yet, and I'm working on those cat photos. But I look forward to walking into Chinatown on Monday and not somehow emerging in North Beach. I might even get not
lost enough to come home with tea eggs.