Smartphones’ Unintended Consequences

A new smartphone app highlights societal and environmental impact of smartphones.

Foxconn Electronics factory in Shenzhen, China
Yellow suits are managers, QC is in pink. The glasses are eye protection from the bright light used to photo-cure the epoxy that holds the fiber optic components in place.
photo & description: Steve Jurvetson

Phone Story, an unusual app that was added and then almost immediately deleted from Apple’s App Store today, attempts, in the form of a game, to educate smartphone users about the environmental and societal impacts of their high-tech toys and their planned obsolescence.

Apple uses Foxconn, a very large and controversial China-based consumer electronics assembler, to assemble its iPhone and other Apple products. Foxconn has been accused of near- slave labor practices. Worker suicides are so frequent that the company erected nets around its worker dormitories to arrest suicidal jumping workers. In March, the article Apple’s Foxconn Predicament by Justin Rohrlich described other serious problems with Foxconn.

“You were looking for something that could signal your status, your dynamic lifestyle, your unique personality. Just like everyone else.”

Fritz Lang, in his 1926 silent film masterpiece Metropolis, had his vision of the future almost right. We do have the idle yuppies frittering away their time in garden spots, and we do have the masses of subjugated workers, but the workers aren’t underground (yet), and they’re not shoveling coal. They’re in China, assembling our toys.

Phone Story also illuminates raw materials mining and toxic waste disposal problems that are caused by mass fabrication of consumer electronic gadgets.

In the hilarious 1979 movie The In-Laws, Peter Falk’s character, absent-mindedly watching The Price Is Right TV game show, asks, “Do you mean that they do this just so that they can win all that crap?” I share his amazement.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

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