I love my Treo. And even though I know I only want it because it's cool, I'm dying for an iPhone. But in this great article on the Movement Vision Lab blog, two grassroots activists push us to examine the social, economic and political context behind cell phones...
This piecereally made me think.
Colby Lenz and Dean Spade from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project argued that cell phones have lots of problematic consequences.
Cell phones are just a new consumer luxury item masquerading as a need. A little over a decade ago we all lived life without them. We survived flat tires, street protests, non-profit jobs, family illness and our social lives without Blackberries and Razrs. Cell phones represent a new level of privatization of phone service. Along with other ways we have punished the poor, pay phones are now on the decline, making access to phones more difficult for people without cash or credit. We have moved from sharing phones (party-lines), to household lines, to individual lines. This means more money for big business. What does it mean that so many people committed to a more socialized politics are giving so much money to the telecommunications industry? What else might we do with that money if we let go of these private status symbols and shared phones like we used to?
True. Like I said, I only want the iPhone because it's cool and, by extension, transfers some of its cool onto me...
If everyone else held a piece of plastic filled with cancer-causing chips next to their head all day long would you? Our friends who use cell phones tell us their ears hurt. Studies worldwide suggest cell phones are linked to brain cancer, research that the phone industry works its magic to quiet or stop. We know very well that we cannot trust big business with our health and the health of our loved ones. What’s convenient now might be very painful later. We want you to live and be well.
I have worried about those Bluetooth things and whether we're all going to have ear cancer in a few years...
Cell phones don’t grow on trees. They are made of plastic, are “disposable” (meaning made to break and be lost) and millions of them are thrown into landfills every week. Coltan, a key material that makes them work, is mined in the Congo under horrendous conditions, resulting in an estimated 3.2 million deaths since 1998, deforestation of the region and birth defects from water contamination. Like all other consumer goods, the people who use and enjoy this luxury are mostly clueless about the extreme exploitation and violence required to create them.
This is really, really bad. Yet another disposible product, this one made from Coltan which might as well make them called "blood phones". Really awful mining practices and devastation.
Bees are the key to our food and our survival. Recent studies found that commercial bee populations suddenly declined 60-70% in the US and scientists theorize cell phone signals as a very possible cause. Scientists have proven that power lines can affect bee behavior and destroy hives and the sudden increase in hive death from cell phone signals may seriously endanger plant life and food sources for bees. While mass-produced crops like wheat and corn are pollinated by wind, some 90 cultivated flowering crops rely mostly on honeybees. According to a Cornell University study, honeybees pollinate every third bite of food ingested by Americans.
Something like one out of every four bites of our food is thanks to bees and all the bees are dying, possibly thanks to cell phones. So soon we'll all be very cool --- and very, very thin...
Cell phones are recording devices used to criminalize people. Buying and using cell phones supports surveillance culture and promotes state violence. Not only can every one of your conversations (whether your phone is next to your ear or off in your bag) be heard and recorded by the telecommunications industry and the state, it can also be used as evidence against you and anyone you speak to. And even if you personally are not targeted, your cell phone dollars support policing, surveillance and imprisonment of criminalized classes of poor people and people of color.
I honestly never thought about this great point before. Anyone seen a payphone lately? That works? If we all need expensive phones to participate in discourse in society, then what happens to those who can't afford them? Are they even further cut off?
Scarcity and insecurity starts at home. The emotional economy of cell phones also concerns us. Capitalism makes us feel insecure and competitive for seemingly scarce resources. The same drive to consumerism and buying cell phones is the same emotional context of fear that drives war. This national-personal insecurity matrix is visible when people buy cell phones because they’re afraid of getting in an accident or being a crime victim and needing to reach the police. It is visible when people feel they have to have a cell phone for their job, to feel professionally important. It is visible when people fear that if they don’t have one, then their friends will stop calling them and they will be disconnected from social life. It feeds capitalist imperatives: every desire must be met immediately and we must always be working and striving and climbing (socially, professionally, etc.) without rest. The mindset of the cell phone is part of our brutal economy.
And a last, final, great point! We buy cell phones to mask our insecurity with consumer goods, rather than confronting and resolving that insecurity. Instead, that insecurity still festers and is exploited by politicians who are telling us to fear Iran more than the lack of Social Security. Insecurity begets insecurity. And shallow consumer goods are a link in the chain.
Okay, so I might not ditch my cell phone tomorrow. But the piece did give me pause. And a lot to think about. I've thought of calling my friends to discuss this but I have to find a pay phone first...
Sally Kohn is the Director of the Movement Vision Lab.