Some time ago I read an article in Time magazine by Bill Gates singing the praises of the market model. He gave an example of how the free market and technological gizmos had improved the lives of people in the third world, stating how companies had made cell phones cheaply available to people in the slums of Nairobl, for example. This didn’t quite ring true with me but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why this was so.

I’m presently reading Crazy River by Richard Grant. Part of the blurb on the back cover of the book says, ‘No one travels like Richard Grant and, really, no one should.’ I would tend to agree. His restless plunge into the seedier side of life in Zanzibar makes for entertaining reading while simultaneously reminding me of why I’d rather he be here than there. But I love the way he dives fervently and ever so personally into the milieu of the present in East Africa while sharing his reading and the research of others, particularly early African explorers like the enigmatic and controversial Victorian savant, Richard Burton.

Here’s what Richard Grant has to say about cell phones in Africa (page 10 of Crazy River):

In our technology worshipping societies, the fact that one in three Africans now had access to a mobile phone was being taken as a wonderful sign of progress. I had a file of glowing reports about this phenomenon, collected from the British and American media, and not one of them had asked the obvious question: how are so many of the world’s poorest people able to pay for a handset, air-time and the fees to charge their phones at the local electricity shacks? Now, finally, some studies had been completed. Mobile phone users in the slums of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were, on average, spending a third of their income on this vital new tool and status symbol, and to pay their bills they were cutting back on food for themselves and their children.

Somehow, this doesn’t quite sound like progress to me. There is an allure to technology that is almost as addictive as nicotine. I still don’t have a cell phone. I don’t need one. But the words of Bill Gates are probably sincere. He wants to help. However, I sometimes wonder if there are mixed motives in this sort of altruism. The global market model is a thin veneer of righteousness really making excuses for how to find innovative ways to sell more stuff to more people. Is this really improving quality of life for consumers? For that matter, is it helping the environment? (See my earlier post How Many Cell Phones is a Gorilla Worth?) Here in New Zealand, Telecom recently made a cyber-change forcing its mobile phone users to buy new phones. The old ones no longer worked. That is planned obsolescence to the extreme. People rush and scurry about, working long hours to buy the latest technological ‘life-improver’. In places like Africa people reduce their food to afford their new ‘status symbol’ or they turn to crime to raise the necessary funds.

Please note I use the phrase ‘quality of life for consumers.’ Maybe this is the crux of the issue. Have we forgotten we are human ‘beings’? ‘Being’ implies a state of presence out of which arises qualities such as giving and serving, attention and spontaneity. I’ll leave it to you to consider what consuming implies.

Years ago I wrote a song, Lookin’ which included the lines: Do you need a cell phone, computer and a car? Does it really matter if you don’t know who you are? Do you know who you are? (hear the song here)

Technology has a place. But let us not forget why we are here. At the very least, regularly ask the question of yourself: Why am I here? I dare say the answer will have little, if anything, to do with consumption or cell phones or computers.

Related post: What Would I Do Without Modern Technology?

 
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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com

“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

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Today is a good friend’s birthday. She came over to receive a gift from Lucia: a foot massage. This friend returned last week from a silent retreat in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. It was her second such retreat in two years and she loved it.

Cell Phones: Who’s in Charge?

Her only complaint was the cell phones. Even though it was made clear at the beginning of the retreat that cell phones were to be turned off in the meditation hall, as soon as people left the hall their mobile phones came on and they checked for messages and started texting. This strikes me as being addictive behaviour. Our friend’s roommate for the retreat was making calls throughout their so-called time of silence.

What Has Happened to Us?

This was much worse than it had been the year before. Is this a worldwide trend? Are we more plugged in than ever before? Do we need to be? Is there a delusional feeling of self importance in being available at all times? Do we need to be?

Do We Really Need Mobile Phones?

I don’t own a mobile phone. I never have. I don’t see the point. This same friend of ours has people ask, “Did you receive my text?” She hasn’t responded and there is an expectation that you must respond (soon)? Must you?

Emails are Similar and Come With Expectations

There is so much spam today that many are becoming disillusioned with even the thought of opening their inbox. A friend sent an email yesterday asking me to be part of a group exchanging recipes. I don’t cook, thriving on raw food. I don’t need any more recipes. I ignored the email. The intention behind it was good. The medium leaves something to be desired.

Is There Quality of Relationship in Our Cyber-Communication?

Do we need to be instantly available for others? I thoroughly enjoy computer-free Sundays. I’m considering extending them to computer-free weekends once my current Saturday work in the library finishes. You could call these cyber-free days since I don’t use technology on these days save for the occasional phone call. I write by hand, work in the garden, enjoy long walks with Lucia and play games (of the old sort like backgammon) with our daughter. Perhaps you too should consider cyber-free days. You might just rediscover something beautiful about the way we used to live. I’m not suggesting we move backwards. I am suggesting we re-examine our behaviour and ask a simple question, “Who’s in charge, us or technology?” the next time we reach for the mobile phone.

You may wish to read my earlier post: How Many Cell Phones is a Gorilla Worth?

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John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

 

Eastern Lowland Gorillas

Eastern Lowland Gorillas

 

 

 

 

In the November, 2001 National Geographic Magazine I read the following words:

 

How many cell phones is a gorilla worth? In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, eastern lowland gorillas are being killed for food by miners searching for coltan, a mineral in demand for making capacitors used in high-tech electronics. Each gorilla lost diminishes the country’s potential to attract ecotourists.

 

The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to 80% of the world’s coltan reserves.

 

Here’s whatHelen Vesperini reported for the BBC a few months earlier in 2001:

 

 

In the yard of the Shenimed sorting house, young men are busy sorting and cleaning colombo-tantalite ore, or coltan, as it is known in this part of the world.

Regional analysts say the international demand for coltan is one of the driving forces behind the war in the DRC, and the presence of rival militias in the country.

First the young men toss it up into the air as if they were winnowing rice.

Then they sort it with magnetic tweezers to eliminate any particles of iron ore.

It is then washed, crushed manually in a big pestle and mortar and tested again for iron ore before being fed into a photospectrometer to test its tantalum content.

The men concentrate calmly on their work or joke among themselves.

 

Blood tantalum

It is a far cry from the drama of the “No blood on my cell phone” campaign that a group of NGOs and religious communities have launched in Europe to lobby for an embargo on so called “blood tantalum”, the colombo-tantalite ore that comes from the war zones in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tantalum is essential in the manufacture of electrical components known as pinhead capacitors. cell-phone

These regulate voltage and store energy in mobile phones, tens of millions of which have been sold in the past few years.

The European lobby groups, like the regional analysts, say that coltan production is fuelling the war in Congo.

 

 

I was so touched by this story, with its shades of ‘Blood Diamonds’ that I wrote a song questioning our relentless need for more and better high-tech goods like cell phones. Once again, it is worth being aware of the implications of every purchase we make. By the way, I still don’t own a cell phone and I don’t feel I’m missing a thing.

 

 

The song is called Lookin’ and if you click here you’ll get to a page where there’s a link to it.

 

John

 

 

Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com

“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

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