I will outline and investigate ways in which technology use is altering how we relate to our environment and the Anthropocene. As digitisation advances, technology becomes inescapable within the everyday. Subsequently, implications associated with concentrated technology use are widely overlooked. New age, cyber-culture is altering human identities whilst also changing ways in which we relate to others and our surroundings.
Bernard Stiegler examined ‘humanness’, which progressively embodies a delicate convergence between man and machine. Stiegler declared that “Man is nothing other than technical life” (2011:4:57). ‘Transhumanism’ refers to notions whereby technology aids human advancement in ways that allow us to surpass traditional organic limitations. More so, automation is revolutionising most areas of modern life, ranging from leisure to medicinal purposes. These intensifying dependencies on mechanisation invites us to reconsider previous discourses of humanity.
Martin Lister et al (2008) describes technology as a supplement to our intimate identities by examining video game cultures. He stated that that “An awareness of computers may offer ways of thinking about the self…” (Lister, 2008: 276), citing Kennedy (2007) whereby “Identity then is ‘technicity’, which here encapsulates ‘taste, technological competence and the use of technology as a means through which to form and express individual and group identities’ (Kennedy, 2007: 137)”. It is implied that technology can act as a means of personal development and a conduit for human identity. Online, people have vast opportunities to forge and customise identities; we are presented with strict control over what we share and perform.
Lister (2008) also examines discourses of post-humanism, paying attention to emerging theories such as ‘Cyberfeminism’ which had previously described technology as tools of female liberation such as ‘#tampontax’. Lister (2008) cites S. Plant (2000:329) affirming that “Plant’s model of a blurring boundaries between the biological and the mechanic is predominantly one of the networks rather than bodies.” Technology such as personal computers and smartphones have provided vast amounts of accessibility and control, allowing people to interact freely online; promoting deliberation and participation within the public domain.
Traditional, problematic and ‘messy’ qualities that define human nature are often simulated and mimicked by innovative technology such as genetic or intelligence based algorithms. M, Hughes (2014) stated that a news article that “there’s not a single aspect of the human experience that hasn’t been touched by technology”. He examined technological enhancements, and how they enabled humanity to surpass biological restrictions; stating that that “the desire to become more than humanity is certainly not new”. Hughes cited examples such as ‘Hydraulic exoskeletons’ that improve the strength and speed of users within military conflict zones (Hughes, 2014).
Charlie Blake et al (2012) cited Henri Bergson (1972), declaring that humanity has been burdened “…by the weight of progress and is crawling and groping into an uncertain future…” (2012; 204).
We are seduced by commodification that supplements, improves or enhances vulnerabilities of the physical and psychological self. Technology is embedded within healthcare industries and increasingly, realms of aesthetic improvement. A university and medical centre in Ohio have constructed an interface that allows sensation to be perceived from 20 areas of a prosthetic hand whereby nerve bundles mimics natural movement (Talbot, 2013). D, Z. Morris illustrated recent advancements in technology. The article referred to an Indiana University, who used 3D printing to construct a “remarkably lifelike” prosthetic jaw for a male Cancer survivor (Morris, 2016).
Individuals within developed and wealthy countries are relying on technology to enrich the quality of life; confiding in automation to expand our human capacities. Capitalist infrastructure today markets technology as alluring, such objects exhibit mystical intrinsic qualities. Consumer culture embodies the promise of enriched lifestyles, technology such as smartphones, laptops or cars are neatly packaged as essentials in human existence.
These devices have established a pervasive involvement within the every day, becoming both physical and psychological extensions of ‘humanness’ by increasing capabilities beyond prior restrictions. J. Stibel, (2015) examined the steady decrease in the size of the human brain which is linked to a reduced demand for communication or linguistic skills; resulting from automation. Internet connectivity has profoundly altered human intelligence, “…as the Internet revolution unfolds, we are seeing not merely an extension of mind but a unity of mind and machine, two networks coming together as one” (Stibel, J. 2015).
This amalgamation of man and machine is embodied by an increased reliance on technologies. Personal devices carry high-cost values that are bounded by material and sentimental currencies. They are advertised as deeply meaningful necessities within contemporary society. Upon its release, the iPhone 6s was advertised as an essential enhancement to quality of life, individual identity and social connectivity.1
Apple caters to a wide demographic. Despite this, iPhones advertisements often feature celebrity endorsements that draw on discourses of class and wealth. It isn’t only marketed as an essential tool to modern life but also publicises a gateway into ‘high class’ lifestyles.
Capitalist implications & Anxieties
However, there is a darker side to capitalism, smartphones are costly to produce, acquire and dispose of. Apple’s latest model, the iPhone 7, costs between £599 – £799 to purchase. A Green Peace report (2007) investigated production processes of the iPhone, which involved toxic compounds such as lead, antimony and bromine. These often harbour carcinogenic properties and harm both wildlife and the environment.
Concerns were raised regarding planned obsolescence, iPhone batteries were “…unusually, ‘hardwired’ (glued and soldered) into the handset, hindering replacement and rendering material separation for recycling or appropriate disposal more difficult, and therefore less likely to occur” (Green Peace, 2007).
Wiens (2011) commented on this on the ‘iFixitBlog’. Apple releases products annually without fail, these are “faster, shiner and just plain better”. Wiens critiqued Lithium-ion batteries, stating “…they’re wonderful technology, but they have a finite life of 300 to 500 cycles”. He mentioned that the average user is likely to recharge their device once every day meaning that each device will typically last a year. This decreased lifespan combined with “unusual hardwiring” is arguably evidence of planned obsolescence. Capitalism drives consumption, creating romantic representations of commodity expenditure which is depicted as fetishized, gratifying and rewarding (without regarding associated implications). Planned obsolescence within contemporary culture has detrimental effects on our surroundings, electronics contain damaging elements which don’t decay easily. Capitalist infrastructure discourages restoration or maintenance of products; instead, we are offered replacements instantly so that old device is discarded without thought with waste becoming an invisible by-product of consumer denial. 2
A Daily Mail (2015) article examined technological waste, a 2014 report was cited which revealed that “…41 million metric tonnes of electronic waste worth a staggering £34billion was discarded” (Akbar, 2015). Developing countries discard mass amounts of waste that are shipped to areas of poverty such as ‘Agbogbloshie’ in Ghana. Akbar (2015) declared that “…appliances even leak toxic elements such as lead and mercury which harms the environment and the young men who trawl through the broken goods hoping to find something worth selling”.
E-waste is transported to underprivileged areas as they provide cheaper and easier alternatives to recycling due to slack regulations. Recycling e-waste in developing countries would prove difficult and costly resulting to the dangers associated. Photographer Yepoka Yeebo is cited within the article, that “electronic waste leaks lead, mercury, arsenic, zinc and flame-retardants. They’ve been found in toxic concentrations in the air, water, and even on the fruits and vegetables at the wholesale market” (Akbar, 2015). Africa is not the only ‘electronic graveyard’, Hong Kong is also a receiver of large amounts of electronic waste. K, Lui (2015) states that “Up to 20% of all U.S. electronic waste may be ending up in Hong Kong. Not in some scrapyard in the developing world, picked over by haggard children and wheezing laborers, but in the backyard of one of the world’s most sophisticated financial capitals”. As consumption increases, waste is becoming a problematic and hidden threat to civilisation. Disposal often dealt with ‘illicitly’ with the risk of dangerous consequences (Lui, 2016). Precious metals are frequently extracted by burning materials in the open air; tested soil extracts typically “contain shockingly high concentrations of poisonous heavy metals” (Lui, 2016).
There is substantial anxiety regarding the consequences of mass consumption and its effects on the environment. A journal by W, Steffen et al stated that “Global Warming and many other human-driven changes to the environment are raising concerns about the future of Earth’s environment and its ability to provide the services required to maintain viable human civilizations.” It is suggested that “…the Earth has now left its natural geological epoch, the present interglacial state called the Holocene” (2007:614). Growing concerns regarding the future of our environment are represented through various media forms, J, Zylinska (2014) stated that that “…media audiences in recent years have been repeatedly exposed to images of tall buildings collapsing on their screens, thus being made to witness a new kind of “real screen trauma”. (2014: 108). Productions such as ‘The Age of Stupid’(2009), ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ (2004) and ‘2012’ (2009) have all alluded to climate-related extinction.
A Guardian article cited a group of scientists which released “compelling evidence to show that humanity’s impact on the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and wildlife has pushed the world into a new geological epoch”. Evidence suggests that current human activity and “…accelerating technological change, and a growth in population and consumption have driven the move into the Anthropocene…”. We could be on course for “a sixth mass extinction which would see 75% of species extinct in the next few centuries” (Vaughan, 2016).
Integration between man and technology is altering how we relate and understand our surrounding environments. I would argue that this intense relationship with automation is responsible for the denial or rejection of consequences related to wasteful consumerism.3
When questioned initially in an interview, an older individual demonstrated little knowledge to the harmful production processes that are involved in the creation of technology. When prompted to reflect on consumption and disposal and the implications associated, he stated that “We are in denial because we knowingly purchase these goods despite being aware of these negative effects, we don’t want to feel guilt or resentment after splashing out, we want to prolong enjoyment” (Noble, 2016). It is axiomatic that from both interview responses and auto-ethnographic investigation4 that, the allure of commodity fetishism is distancing us from production, disposal and waste processes; blinded by capitalist fetishism which portrays technology as essential enhancers to life. It is likely that these attitudes are responsible for the negative effects on the Anthropocene and consequently, humanity itself. Electronic consumption and waste negatively impact both man and its environment. Despite this, it is problematic to determine whether this perceived lack of knowledge or conscious is a result of miss-information or denial. However, I have outlined above, it can be assumed that technology use is partially responsible for the decline in environmental stability.
1 The iPhone is publicised as an essential enhancer to sociability by integrating between both family and friends within a single device. I also wish to focus on Apple’s personal assistant ‘Siri’ was described as “more helpful than ever”, packaged as a highly intelligent AI that exhibits character and humour; with witty comebacks or remarks. Increasingly, technology is mimicking human behaviour and acting as a supplement to many daily activities. 2 I am critiquing a system of which I am a part of. Frustration mounts as I am writing this on a 2015 ‘MacBook Pro’ with an ‘iPad Air’ to my left and an iPhone 6 in my pocket; all these devices cause environmental damage. Within a 24-month contract, this device was replaced twice due to battery depletion, damage and upgrading due to slowing speed. Accessing replacements were a phone call away. Not having this insurance would cause anxiety, I wish to fully acknowledge my own dependency and involvement within
2 I am critiquing a system of which I am a part of. Frustration mounts as I am writing this on a 2015 ‘MacBook Pro’ with an ‘iPad Air’ to my left and an iPhone 6 in my pocket; all these devices cause environmental damage. Within a 24-month contract, this device was replaced twice due to battery depletion, damage and upgrading due to slowing speed. Accessing replacements were a phone call away. Not having this insurance would cause anxiety, I wish to fully acknowledge my own dependency and involvement within capitalist infrastructure.
3 Commodity fetishism is linked with a detachment or denial from production processes or material value. Consumers willingly purchase these products without little consideration of production processes such as of physical labour; without this detachment, capitalism would fail.
4 I have reflected deeply on my own relationships with technology and consumption patterns, when purchasing a product I rarely consider the disposal of them due to the grim nature disposal; I don’t want to be bombarded with the prospect of degradation or damage to my shiny new commodity. When I discard of possessions, I try to not consider how they are now destined for landfill; ultimately contributing to our growing waste issues; it’s depressing. If we were to reflect or consider these processes, commodity consumption would lose its lustre and gratification, purchasing good are pleasurable; I don’t want this to be tarnished by the inevitable sense of guilt and regret associated with waste.
Word Count – 2206
Almafarag (2011). man & technics: Bernard Stiegler (1). YouTube. 16 February. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymtnUDAOEWc [Accessed 11 October 2016]
Akbar, J. (2015) ‘Where your computer goes to die: Shocking pictures of the toxic ‘electronic graveyards’ in Africa where the West dumps its old PCs, laptops, microwaves, fridges and phones’. The Guardian [Online] 23 April. Available from:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3049457/Where-computer-goes-die-Shocking-pictures-toxic-electronic-graveyards-Africa-West-dumps-old-PCs-laptops-microwaves-fridges-phones.html [Accessed 24 November 2016]
Apple (2016) iPhone 7. Available from: http://www.apple.com/uk/shop/buy-iphone/iphone-7#00 [Accessed 26 November 2016]
Blake, C., Molloy, C., Shakespeare, S. (2012) ‘Beyond Human – From Animality To Transhumanism’ [Online]. London: Continuum. [Accessed 23 November 2016]
BBC (2016) Nature PREHISTORIC LIFE – Mass extinction theories. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/extinction_causes [Accessed 26 November 2016]
Chatfield, T. (2016) ‘What does it mean to be human in the age of technology?’. The Guardian (online) 20 January. Available from:https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jan/20/humans-machines-technology-digital-age [Accessed 22 November 2016]
Carnett, J. (2008) Building the Real Iron Man. Available from: http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2008-04/building-real-iron-man?image=10 [Accessed 6 December 2016]
Dant, T. (1996) Fetishism and the social value of objects. To be published in Sociological Review [preprint]. Available from: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/68098.pdf [Accessed 24 November 2016]
EveryAppleAd (2015). Apple iPhone 6s ad – The Only Thing That’s Changed Is…. YouTube [Video]. 10 September. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvdC3nnt7tQ [Accessed 26 November 2016]
EveryAppleAd (2015). Apple iPhone 6s ad – The Camera. YouTube [Video]. 25 October. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exlQ6X-hRVQ [Accessed 26 November 2016]
Hughes, M. (2014) How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution. Available from: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/technology-may-influencing-human-evolution/ [Accessed 22 November 2016]
Green Peace (2009) Where does e-waste end up? Available from:http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/detox/electronics/the-e-waste-problem/where-does-e-waste-end-up/ [Accessed 24 November 2016]
Hawkins, G. (2006) The Ethics of Waste – How We Relate to Rubbish [Online]. 1st Ed. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield. [Accessed 24 November 2016]
Kahney, L. (2011) ‘Is Apple Guilty of Planned Obsolescence?’. Cult of Mac [Online] 20 January. Available from: http://www.cultofmac.com/77814/is-apple-guilty-of-planned-obsolescence/ [Accessed 23 November 2016]
Zylinska, J. (2014) ‘Poetics’ from Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene, Michigan: Open Humanities Press, 105-121
LeBel, S. (2015) ‘Fast Machines, Slow Violence: ICTs Planned Obsolescence, and E-waste’. Globalizations [Online] 13 (3) pp.300-309. [Accessed 23 November 2016]
Lister, M., Dovey, J., Giddings, S., Grant, I. H. and Kelly, K. (2009) New Media – A Critical Introduction. [Online]. Abingdon: Routledge. [Accessed 23 November 2016]
Lui, K. (2016) ‘You’ll Never Believe Where Your Old Computer Could End Up After You Hand It In for Recycling’. Time [Online] 11 November. Available from: http://time.com/4567397/recycling-electronic-e-waste-us-hong-kong-ban/ [Accessed 24 November 2016]
Morris, D. Z. (2013) Cancer Survivor Gets 3D-Printed Jaw. Available from: http://fortune.com/2016/07/03/cancer-survivor-3d-printed-jaw/ [Accessed 26 November 2016]
Martin Lister et al (2008) ‘The subject of technology’ in New Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge pp. 277-286.
Noble, T. (2016) Interview with Thomas Noble. Interviewed by Charlotte Simpson. Extended Essay, 02 December [In person].
Santillo, D., Walters, A., Brigden, K., Labunska, I., (2007) Missed Call: iPhone’s hazardous chemicals. [Online]. The Netherlands: Greenpeace International. Available from: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/PageFiles/25275/iPhones-hazardous-chemicals.pdf [Accessed 26 November 2016]
Stibel, J. (2015) The Coming Merge of Human and Machine Intelligence. TuftsNow [Online] 22 May. Available from:http://now.tufts.edu/articles/coming-merge-human-and-machine-intelligence [Accessed 11 October 2016]
Steffen, W., Crutzen, P., McNeill, J., (2007) The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?. The Journal of the Human Environment. 36 (8) pp. 614-620.
Talbot, D. (2013) An Artificial Hand with Real Feelings. MIT Technology Review [online] 5 December. Available from: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/522086/an-artificial-hand-with-real-feelings/ [Accessed 26 November 2016]
The Guardian (2014) ‘Agbogbloshie: the world’s largest e-waste dump – in pictures’. The Guardian [Online] 27 February. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/feb/27/agbogbloshie-worlds-largest-e-waste-dump-in-pictures [Accessed 24 November 2016]
Vaughan, A. (2016) Human impact has pushed Earth into Anthropocene, scientists say. The Guardian (Online) 7 January. Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/07/human-impact-has-pushed-earth-into-the-anthropocene-scientists-say [Accessed 26 November 2016]
Wiens, K. (2011) Apple’s Latest ‘Innovation’ Is Turning Planned Obsolescence Into Planned Failure. iFixit [Blog]. 20 January. Available from: http://www.ifixit.com/blog/2011/01/20/apples-latest-innovation-is-turning-planned-obsolescence-into-planned-failure/ [Accessed 23 November 2016]
WorstPolluted.org (2013) Top Ten Toxic Threats -Agbogbloshie, Ghana. Available from: http://www.worstpolluted.org/projects_reports/display/107 [Accesed 26 November 2015]