The Digital Dump

From today’s NYT:

Much of the used computer equipment sent from the United States to developing countries for use in homes, schools and businesses is often neither usable nor repairable, creating enormous environmental problems in some of the world’s poorest places, according to a report to be issued today by an environmental organization.

The report, titled "The Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa," says that the unusable equipment is being donated or sold to developing nations by recycling businesses in the United States as a way to dodge the expense of having to recycle it properly. While the report, written by the Basel Action Network, based in Seattle, focuses on Nigeria, in western Africa, it says the situation is similar throughout much of the developing world.

"Too often, justifications of ‘building bridges over the digital divide’ are used as excuses to obscure and ignore the fact that these bridges double as toxic waste pipelines," says the report. As a result, Nigeria and other developing nations are carrying a disproportionate burden of the world’s toxic waste from technology products, according to Jim Puckett, coordinator of the group.

Link to full article: Poor Nations Are Littered With Old PC’s, Report Says – New York Times.

Read the report here: Basel Action Network

Beyond Human (NYT)

In an article about a forthcoming novel by Michel Houellebecq, Christopher Caldwell talks about our posthuman future…

Abandoning your own world for a made-up one is an ever larger part of adult life. For the futurist Ray Kurzweil, this is only the beginning. According to his new book "The Singularity Is Near," we are approaching the age of "full-immersion virtual-reality." Thanks to innovations in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics, you’ll be able to design your own mental habitat. You’ll be able to sleep with your favorite movie star – in your head. (It is not lost on Kurzweil that you can already do that, but he insists it will be really, really realistic.) Those same technologies will help us "overcome our genetic heritage," live longer and become smarter. We’ll learn how brains operate and devise computers that function like them. Then the barrier between our minds and our computers will disappear. The part of our memory that is literally downloaded will grow until "the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will predominate."

But this raises questions: What will then be the point of unenhanced human beings? And what will become of our relations to one another?

Link: Beyond Human – New York Times.

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

Joshua Sowin at Fire and Knowledge recently posted a good review of Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende:

What would it be like if a young couple left modern technological life for an 18 month experiment without electricity? In Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, Eric Brende shares his story of living with the “Minimites” (a fictional name for a real community).

Mr. Brende—a former graduate of M.I.T.—gradually became disillusioned with the way technology has taken over all facets of our lives. We work long hours so we can pay for our transportation to our job, purchase groceries and obtain “time-saving” devices. However, these “time-saving” devices do not seem to actually give us any more time. We are still rushing, always too busy to talk to neighbors, pray, cook a meal from scratch, or settle down with a good book. […]

Link: Fire and Knowledge – Book Review of Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology.

I picked up this book a while back and read most of it, but I got distracted by other books and haven’t finished it.  It’s an interesting book but I didn’t find it overwhelmingly new and compelling, probably through no fault of the author.  I’ve already read a lot of stuff like this and I have a habit of not finishing books because I buy too many…

A Luddite at Wired

I’ve been vacationing from the blogosphere for a while so I didn’t notice it when Wired launched a new column called "The Luddite", written by Tony Long.  From the intro:

[…] the reason for this column: to lend a contrarian perspective to a world besotted with technology and all its bright, glittery appeal. This is not, as some of my colleagues have characterized it, an "anti-technology" column. I’m not, strictly speaking, anti-technology. I just don’t treat it like a freaking religion. So this is a "perspective" column.

Link: Wired News: Dark Underbelly of Technology.

Sounds like a good idea.

Slate Apple iRony

You know, I’d be more inclined to take this Slate article about "the press corps’ crush on Steve Jobs and company" seriously if it wasn’t headed up with this:

Download the iPod-ready audio version of this story here, or sign up to get all of Slate’s free daily podcasts.

Link: The Apple Polishers – Explaining the press corps’ crush on Steve Jobs and company. By Jack Shafer.

Kurzweil & Joy: Recipe for Destruction

In a New York Times op-ed, odd couple Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy tell us it’s extremely dangerous to have published the genome for the 1918 flu virus:

AFTER a decade of painstaking research, federal and university scientists have reconstructed the 1918 influenza virus that killed 50 million people worldwide. Like the flu viruses now raising alarm bells in Asia, the 1918 virus was a bird flu that jumped directly to humans, the scientists reported. To shed light on how the virus evolved, the United States Department of Health and Human Services published the full genome of the 1918 influenza virus on the Internet in the GenBank database.

This is extremely foolish. The genome is essentially the design of a weapon of mass destruction. No responsible scientist would advocate publishing precise designs for an atomic bomb, and in two ways revealing the sequence for the flu virus is even more dangerous.

Link: Recipe for Destruction – New York Times.