Sustainability & Technology

A truck load of cell phones
A truck load of old cell phones being dumped.

I have been hooked on computers ever since Apple released the Apple I, the first consumer-market computer sold. My stepfather owned a chain of Team Electronics stores and sold some of the very first Apples ever made. A little more than 10 years later I wrote my first commercial software application. Of course, since one of my other passions in life is animals, it was a wildlife rehabilitation center patient tracking system that helped manage intake, outcomes and treatments for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife in their care. It is a software system that I have modified and supported and updated ever since, now using it to help animal shelters and rescue groups do all of that and more with rescued domestic animals. I wrote my first artificial intelligence application (AI) in 1993, back before AI was an actual thing. I'm enough of a software geek to have experienced having conceived of and led a team to develop a ground-breaking internet technology, only to have the code for it stolen by Adobe. Stolen, outright.

Technology has been such a part of my life that in 1999 I became the Director of Internet Technologies for a Fortune 500 company located in the Twin Cities, Minnesota that had more than 20,000 employees in subsidiaries scattered all over the globe.

I say all of that only to emphasize exactly how much I really love technology. And, I emphasize it to highlight how meaningful it is when I say this: I hate what technology has become in our society. I really do. It has become a disposable commodity to the point where more than 150 million smart phones are thrown away each year, which equates to more than 350,000 per day. And, those figures are from 2010. Since then the situation has only gotten worse. Also worse are the big technology companies, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple and others: all are using technology in ways that are harmful to technology itself. For example: In order to line their pockets with more cash, commercial operating system developers like Microsoft and Apple pack their systems with all kinds of commercial crap that takes up space, uses memory and bandwidth and makes our devices run slower, need more power and worse.

It is a destructive form of planned obsolescence, a way of making our old stuff as obsolete as quickly as possible so that we need to go out and get more stuff. Operating system and software upgrades keep consuming more of everything: memory, disk space, bandwidth and other resources, without really providing much more in terms of important new features/functions. Sometimes, they even consume these things so that the software sellers can bundle commercial junk we don't want or need into their systems. The good news is that there is a way out.

Ditch Microsoft & Apple

Microsoft has really been a junk system since it first tried (and failed) to rip off the Macintosh graphical user interface (GUI) decades ago. They have been playing a technology catch-up game ever since. But, they made up for the lack of quality through what I would argue often predatory business practices. It was aggression rather than technical expertise that brought them to the top of the OS pack. For years, Apple fought the battle by continuing to put out dramatically better, faster and more streamlined technology. Unfortunately, they gave that up years ago and have taken on the Microsoft business model. Mac users have been suffering from the same issues that used to only affect owners of Windows computers. Both companies have prioritized excessive profit over product quality for too long and all you have to do to understand how much that is true is switch to the top non-commercial competitor for a spin. That competitor is Linux.

Linux desktop
The Linux operating system is attractive, easy-to-use and blazing fast. It can breathe new life into older computers.

Linux is a full-featured computer operating system that is free, open-source and 100% non-commercial. Because it is open-source, many companies have produced their own, unique implementations of it. So, a Linux user can pick from a variety of different looks and feels. All of them are faster and more reliable than their commercial counterparts, because once all the nonsensical commercial crap is removed and the focus is on making the best operating system possible, you end up with, well, the best operating system possible.

Linux will run on even older slower computers that used to run either Mac OS or Windows, and it will run faster and more efficiently.

Because of my work, I used to *have to* keep a Windows computer around for development and testing purposes. Because I didn't use it very often, I always had a low-end and slow Windows PC sitting around. I recently made changes to my business technologies that meant I no longer needed to have Windows around. So, on a whim, I converted a really old, slow Windows PC to Linux. It is such a low-end machine that it does not meet the minimum recommended requirements for any of the current operating systems. But, lo and behold, Linux installed on it just fine. And, it runs like a dream. I am writing this blog on it now.

By installing Linux, I was able to take a computer that would otherwise have been destined for a recycling center and give it years worth of new life. I'm guessing it can do the same for most older computers. So impressed am I with it that I HAD planned to spend a couple thousand dollars on a new Mac in the spring. I'm ditching that idea in favor of buying a used, higher-end PC from Free Geek (a local business here in my south Minneapolis neighborhood) on which to run Linux. Doing that will save me more than $1,000 and I will have a better, faster computer in the end. That will be good for the environment, my pocketbook and my sanity.

Cellphones Are Worse

The problems with computers are bad. But cellphone manufacturers and operating systems have taken the predatory practices of the desktop systems to new levels, which is one of the reasons we are constantly ditching our phones.

But, the market for used phones is growing and at least one manufacturer, LG, has decided to go in a bit of a different direction. More than a year ago, I needed to replace my phone, but I refused to spend $1,000 on a product that would be obsolete in no time. So, I did a lot of digging and came upon the LG v20 model. I bought mine used, more than a year ago. It is loaded with memory and storage and is built to last. I got a used one for under $200. More than a year later, I have tons of spare memory and storage.

By making some careful choices, we can enjoy our technology in a more sustainable way.