Technology and Child Safety

I recently read an article on ComputerWorld, Children mine cobalt used in smartphones, other electronics, that had me thinking yet again about how people in rich countries tend to ignore the needs of those in poor countries. The picture at the beginning of the article says it all, but the details will have you wondering whether a smartphone really is worth some child’s life. That’s right, any smartphone you buy may be killing someone and in a truly horrid manner. Children as young as 7 years old are mining the cobalt needed for the batteries (and other components) in the smartphones that people seem to feel are so necessary for life (they aren’t you know).

The problem doesn’t stop when someone gets the smartphone. Other children end up dismantling the devices sent for recycling. That’s right, a rich country’s efforts to keep electronics out of their landfills is also killing children because countries like India put these children to work taking them apart in unsafe conditions. Recycled wastes go from rich countries to poor countries because the poor countries need the money for necessities, like food. Often, these children are incapable of working by the time they reach 35 or 40 due to health issues induced by their forced labor. In short, the quality of their lives is made horribly low so that it’s possible for people in rich countries to enjoy something that truly isn’t necessary for life.

I’ve written other blog posts about the issues of technology pollution. One of the most recent is More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t. However, the emphasis of these previous articles has been on the pollution itself. Taking personal responsibility for the pollution you create is important, but we really need to do more. Robotic (autonomous) mining is one way to keep children out of the mines and projects such as The Utah Robotic Mining Project show that it’s entirely possible to use robots in place of people today. The weird thing is that autonomous mining would save up to 80% of the mining costs of today, so you have to wonder why manufacturers aren’t rushing to employ this solution. In addition, off world mining would keep the pollution in space, rather than on planet earth. Of course, off world mining also requires a heavy investment in robots, but it promises to provide a huge financial payback in addition to keeping earth a bit cleaner (some companies are already investing in off world mining, but we need more). The point is that there are alternatives that we’re not using. Robotics presents an opportunity to make things right with technology and I’m excited to be part of that answer in writing books such as Python for Data Science for Dummies and Machine Learning for Dummies (see the posts for this book).

Unfortunately, companies like Apple, Samsung, and many others simply thumb their noses at laws that are in place to protect the children in these countries because they know you’ll buy their products. Yes, they make official statements, but read their statements in that first article and you’ll quickly figure out that they’re excuses and poorly made excuses at that. They don’t have to care because no one is holding them to account. People in rich countries don’t care because their own backyards aren’t sullied and their own children remain safe. So, the next time you think about buying electronics, consider the real price for that product. Let me know what you think about polluting other countries to keep your country clean at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Radio Shack, We Knew Thee Well

I’m dating myself here, but the first time I entered a Radio Shack was in 1972. I had just finished reading The Radio Amateur’s Handbook and was absolutely fascinated by the whole thought of working with electronics. The combination of reading science fiction and electronics books of various sorts, convinced me to go to a technical high school. I graduated with all the necessary knowledge to become an apprentice electrician. However, entering the Navy moved me into computers, where I remain today. (I started out as a hardware guy and moved into programming later.) Radio Shack was filled with all sorts of cool looking gizmos. It was akin to entering my science fiction books and experiencing what “could be” first hand. The day I finished designing and building my first power supply and amplifier was an absolute thrill. I still have the plans for it somewhere. The mono output of 20 watts seemed fantastic. I’m not the only one with fond memories—authors such as PC Magazine’s Jamie Lendino and John Dvorak have them as well.

Over the years I watched Radio Shack change from this absolutely fascinating place I had to visit every time I passed it to something less. Eventually, it became just a common store—the aisles filled with televisions, radios, and consumer gizmos of all sorts. It got to the point where I could buy the same type of goods just about anywhere for a much lower price. For me, the death spiral was just sad to watch. As a country, we really need stores that encourage people to invent—to think outside the box. Unfortunately, Radio Shack is no longer that store. I visited a Radio Shack in a mall the other day and there were only a few items left for sale at high discount. I helped a friend buy a mouse. It was an odd feeling to leave the store one last time knowing that I’d never see the store I knew and loved in the 70s and 80s again.

Even the salespeople changed over time. During the early 70s when I first started going to Radio Shack, I could hear salespeople talking the talk with any customer that came in. One of them even convinced me to use a different transistor for my amplifier and to rely on a full bridge rectifier to make the output cleaner. If these terms seem foreign, they do, in fact, belong to a different time. The surge of creativity I experienced during that phase in my life is gone—replaced by something totally different today. The young lad I talked with the other day was a salesperson and just barely knew his trade. Gone are the salespeople who really made Radio Shack special.

I yearn for the resurgence of creativity and of stores that promote it. This is one case where brick and mortar stores have a definite advantage over their online cousins. When you go into a brick and mortar store, you can talk with real people, see real demonstrations, touch real hardware, and get that special ethereal feeling of entering the zone of the tinkerer and the definer of dreams. Radio Shack, we knew thee well, and we really need something like you back.