Technology

Open source technology offers businesses, third sector bodies and local authorities a route to social and technological autonomy; increasing their resilience while ensuring they are no longer beholden to corporations. Resilience can also be improved by challenging the inbuilt obsolesence of many technologies with greater investment in and encouragement of repair and maintenance skills within the bioregion.

The problem

Modern technologies, particularly personal computers and mobile phones, have many benefits to society; particularly in giving us instant access to a wide base of information and knowledge, and in the way they have helped us to forge new social networks. For instance, this website wouldn't exist without technology!

However, there is a huge environmental and humanitarian cost that comes with its production. Natural resources such as crude oil, copper, gold, palladium, and silicon are required to produce a mobile phone. The production process also requires considerable amounts of energy and water, while generating pollution and waste. The Greeniacs website reports that over 220 pounds of mine waste is generated to extract the gold for a circuit board of just one cell phone. At the same time, factory workers are often exposed to toxic metals and chemicals.

A lack of economic incentives and methods means that, globally, only 12% of smartphone upgrades involve older devices being sold or traded for a new one. This means environmentally damaging devices often end up in landfill.

The worst thing about all of it is the fact that both mobile phones and laptops have such short lifespans. The cycle of planned obsolescence, which keeps corporations rich while damaging the planet, means the average laptop has a high likelihood of breaking within just 3-4 years. Meanwhile, armed militias earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by trading the "conflict minerals" required to build this technology. Locals in mining communities are forced to take part in the illicit mining economy while any money earned from sales of conflict minerals is used for personal profit and to further violent causes.

As well as individuals, the profit driven world of corporate technology can hold small businesses and institutions to ransom via licensed proprietary software packages. Microsoft's Windows is an obvious example of this monopoly. Customers of such vendors are inevitably at the mercy of their requirements, dictates, prices, priorities and timetables, ultimately limiting what they can do with the products they're paying for. In the current climate of public sector cuts and struggling business, costs could be significantly reduced by using free and open source software (FOSS), while fundamentally changing the dynamic of technological control in society.

The solution

Unless the purchasing habits of citizens change, nothing will change fundamentally. Citizens can empower themselves by seeking out technology that is more ethically produced in the first place. Conflict free electronics can be sought out with a little research.

But a more profound change will see regions such as Birmingham embracing the repair and maintenance of technologies such as mobile phones and computers, in a bid to prolong their shelf life. At a strategic level, this would see local planners facilitating a less wasteful and more resourceful society by evolving both school and adult education - investing in a future generation with the skills to produce, repair and maintain technology, as well as to write code, and develop software.

FOSS already gives individuals and businesses control to make their own decisions and to do what they want with software. Code for open source software is available for modification or enhancement by anyone. This means "source code" can be used by computer programmers to manipulate and change how a piece of software—a "program" or "application"—works. Programmers who have access to a computer program's source code can improve that program by adding features to it or fixing parts that don't always work correctly.

Open source software gives us access to a worldwide community of developers and users for help. In principle, it reduces costs for businesses and gives them technological autonomy; as well as greater security, quality, support and freedom. This fundamentally takes control away from corporations and into the hands of the people.

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