How to fix e-waste: a repair manual?

What happens to your old electronics once you’re finished with them? Most of us don’t really like to think about it.

We know it’s not pretty. We know ‘recycling’ is probably not exactly what happens.

If you watch the news, you may have heard of Agbogbloshie, or any of the many other e-waste dumps around the world.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution, because this is what ‘recycling’ really means:

Even when a phone is recycled through more ‘official’ means, up to 40% of the metals are lost during the smelting process. So recycling is hardly the solution.

So what is the solution? Well, there are so many problems on so many levels of the entire international electronics industry it’s overwhelming. But the most practical initiative I’ve found so far is iFixit.

iFixit’s purpose is to help people repair their electronics, rather than throwing them away. If you visit their website, you’ll find that they have lots of facts on figures about e-waste, but also lots of manuals on how to repair various electronic devices yourself. They believe that repairing and reusing/passing on electronics is not only sustainable, it’s cheaper and creates jobs. They believe recycling should be a ‘last resort’.

And when you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense. Planned obsolescence is a problem not just with electronics, but a problem with lots of consumer products. So if we know how to repair/make our products last longer, isn’t this a good thing?

I would say ‘yes’.

Unfortunately, companies like Apple (surprise, surprise) disagree.

Take this example: iFixit publishes many manuals detailing how to repair various Apple products. However, in 2011, Apple began releasing products with brand new ‘pentalobe’ screws, which, naturally, could not be unscrewed using traditional screwdrivers.

In effect, they were purposefully making it difficult for people to repair their products, encouraging them to instead buy a brand new product when their original one could just have needed a part swap. Some companies have even gone so far as to sue and shutdown small businesses and individuals that offer repair manuals

Typical.

Lots of companies believe that repair information is ‘proprietry’ and therefore owned by the company.

This type of mindset is just unsustainable. It should not be more expensive for me to buy new ink than replace the printer altogether!

This is not ok!

Ultimately, if a company sets up an affordable, convenient parts replacement and repair system, doesn’t it mean increased chance of loyalty to the brand over a longer period of time? Companies like Dell and Lenovo are already on board.

But in the end, it’s really up to us. 

So next time your laptop starts to run a little slow, maybe take it to a repair shop, or have a look online for repair tips. It’s cheaper for you, and better for the environment.

It’s only baby steps, but it’s a start.

What Makes a Good Princess

Recently, I’ve become interested in the debate surrounding whether Disney is seriously impacting the self-esteem and self-image of young girls. (The Trouble with Disney’s Teeny Tiny Princesses, Merida from ‘Brave’ Gets an Unnecessary Makeover).

When I was little, all I ever wanted in life was to become a princess. I wanted to be beautiful and have beautiful dresses and live in an enormous castle and have everything I ever wanted.

Was this dream heavily inspired by Disney princesses?

Yes.

Did I grow up into a perfectly normal human being with reasonable levels of self-esteem.

Also yes.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a little imagination, but is it ok to be telling millions of little girls around the world that they should want to be princesses?

Well I don’t think it’s fair to dump Disney with the sole perpetuation of gender stereotypes, particularly with their most recent releases of Frozen and Princess and the Frog, which both put a different twist on what it means to be a ‘princess’.

But even in the earlier, perhaps more ‘sexist’ Disney princess films, I would argue that many, whilst restricted to the gender norms of the times, promote bravery, courage and initiative as ‘princess’ qualities to aspire to.

But let’s take a look at some other strong female characters inspiring children these days.

Astrid (How to Train Your Dragon– aka my favourite movie ever)

Astrid is the ultimate viking: strong, brave and tiny bit bloodthirsty. She wears skulls on her belt and wields an axe which is easily heavier than anything I could lift. She’s also smart, regularly outwitting the boys. A role model? I think so.

Merida (Brave)

She’s Scottish, rides a horse, is awesome with a bow and arrow and refuses to marry any of the hopeless fellows offered to her, instead ‘claiming her own hand in marriage’.

Rapunzel (Tangled)

Not only does she chop off her traditional, princessy ‘long blonde hair’ at the end of the movie, she also proposes to her man, rather than the other way round. Gender stereotypes mashed up? I think so.

Now, I want to make it clear that I don’t think all the Disney films are perfect. There’s definitely still a loooonnnnggg way to go. The fact of the matter is, all the characters are still very disproportionate, with large eyes and tiny waists (see ‘if Disney Princesses had realistic waistlines).

But I don’t think anyone can reasonably blame Disney alone for poisoning young girls’ perceptions of what it means to be female. Disney, as we have seen, is trying very hard to keep up with the times by trying to empower young girls whilst still maintaining that ‘princess mystique’ that’s been capturing audiences for decades.

Let’s not forget that gender stereotypes come from all sorts of places.

There’s still plenty wrong with how media portrays women, but I think we have definitely come a long way from Snow White cleaning up after seven dwarves with the help of magical woodland creatures.

A 5 Step Guide on Piracy for Media Corporations Everywhere

So if you’re Australian, and you illegally downloaded the film Dallas Buyers Club, you could be feeling pretty worried right about now. That’s because Dallas Buyers Club just won a case against iiNet and some other smaller providers, forcing them to give the personal details of people who were caught downloading their film. This Guardian article gives a good summary of the situation.

I have a few issues with this case, such as:

How is it fair for a multinational company to go after smaller Australian providers like iiNet? Obviously the bigger company will have superior legal advice. They quite purposefully didn’t target Telstra or Optus.

And following that, targeting individuals who did download the film, regardless of personal circumstances, also seems more than a little dodgy.

FBI's priorities (GIF from The Simpsons S25E09 Steal This Episode) - Imgur
FBI’s priorities (GIF from The Simpsons S25E09 Steal This Episode) – Imgur

Australia is well known for its piracy rates. But it is also well known that there are so many barriers to access in this country that its hard to count them. For example, geoblocking, price discrimination, staggered release and just generally being downright unavailable for legal purchase.

Now, I’m not saying that everything should be free. I’m more than happy to pay a reasonable price for a good product. That’s not the issue. The issue is that downloading illegally is just much more convenient and user-oriented than pretty much anything else available at the moment.

About now is probably when you’re asking “what about Netflix? Didn’t it just get released in Australia?

Why yes, yes it did. 

But there’s a few problems with it as well, such as a significantly smaller catalogue.

Of course, there are plenty of Australians using a VPN to use and pay for the far-superior American Netflix. But an email leaked by WikiLeaks revealed that Sony tried to lobby Netflix into cracking down on these users. Apparently Australians are not paying for the material using the desired method. How ironic.

Truly, the lengths these industries go to never ceases to amaze me!
They are presented with an enormous opportunity (the arrival of a way to spread their products all around the world at minimal cost ie the internet), and they get bogged down with unproductive law suits and rights bargaining?

It seems a little bit childish and just a tiny bit greedy.

So, if I could get all the heads of these corporations in one room and try and talk some sense into them, this is what I’d say:

1. This is a compliment! People all around the world love your product so much that they are willing to go out of their way to view it. You have something that people want.

2. Accept the arrival of the internet. Seriously, it’s here, it’s not going away. There will always be ways for people to get your material without paying: that’s just the nature of the internet. The old methods of distribution just don’t cut it anymore. And if you don’t keep up (which you haven’t) then people will continue on without you (which they have).

3. If you provide something that’s better than illegally downloading, people will go for it. It’s not that we want everything for free, we just don’t appreciate being treated as second-rate customers. Why should we pay higher prices for things provided for us later than the rest of the world for something we may only watch once? Pirating has its issues too (viruses, mis-named material). Give us something better!

Credit: Bizmac Flickr

4. Stop giving Netflix (and the other up-and-coming streaming sites) such a hard time. They’re out there trying to save the industry and undermining them by refusing to provide rights will only hurt everyone in the end. This is the future! Embrace it! Just imagine if you made a dollar off every Australian for every Game of Thrones episode they would have otherwise pirated? That’s a lot of money.

5. Please, please, stop treating the whole situation like it’s just ‘those darn young people breaking the law again’. It’s not. It’s an access problem and always has been. The sooner you recognise the problem for what it is, the sooner you can set about rectifying it.

So, in a nutshell, we are at a turning point. If we keep going down this road of prosecuting the little guys, a whole industry is at risk. I’ve talked about this plenty of times before (I’ll list the links at the bottom), there’s not a lot of independent research out there on why people pirate. Isn’t it about time we do some?

This whole situation is quickly spiralling out of control, and we will all be watching with bated breath to see how the next few months progress.

Past blog links (for those interested)

Baby Steps for the Music Industry

An Outdated Way of Thinking

Web of Lies

Learning the language

You may or may not have seen Black Fish, a documentary that looks at the serious issues surrounding training killer whales at Sea World.

If you haven’t, you should.

In a nutshell, the documentary follows the tragic life story of Tilikum, a whale captive since youth, all the way to the point where he killed a trainer.

Interestingly, the documentary does not label Tilikum as inherently dangerous, but rather warped by years in tough, constrained environments. It is equally interesting that the trainers are depicted as caring, and having deep emotional connections with their whales. This is not a documentary about placing blame, but about giving facts, even when not everyone wants them to be spread about.

Two killer whales jump above the sea surface, showing their black, white and grey coloration. The closer whale is upright and viewed from the side, while the other whale is arching backward to display its underside.
Killer whales jumping

I agree with the message of the documentary; keeping such large animals captive in those conditions is detrimental to everyone involved. As we see, multiple trainers have been injured or killed and the pods from which the whales are taken mourn the loss of their young ones.The whales themselves suffer because we still do not understand them completely.

This is the aspect I’m most interested in: understanding the whales.

In one part, the documentary talks about how each whale pod uses an entirely separate language to communicate with others in the pod. It also speculates that this might be the reason whales in captivity do not get along so well, often physically harming one another. If they cannot understand each other, they cannot get along.

I tried to do my own research on killer whales, and to my surprise, there isn’t actually a whole lot to be found. They are still relatively unknown creatures, particularly in the wild. So how could it ever be assumed safe to take such a large, mysterious animal out of its natural environment and put it under high amounts of stress?

Unfortunately, our lack of understanding of animals is not restricted to killer whales. If you look hard enough, almost all our interactions with animals are plagued with incidences of harm caused by our inability to understand them, even though we think we are showing care. Examples include race-horse whipping and poorly equipped zoos with good intentions.

What’s the solution?

More research. Lots and lots of research. The more we know, the better we can interact. As much as Black Fish shows us a terrible situation, it does also represent progress. Our understanding is ever increasing. We have higher standards for abattoirs, an emphasis on free-range foods and wildlife parks whose emphasis is solely on conservation and research. Much of the world is against whaling.

The more we understand, the better we can treat the animals in our world. And the fact that we are starting to realise that is a very good sign. 

Reflection on Media, Audience and Place

I’ve been using my blog for more than a year now. My writing style has changed a lot, and the way I organise my information and resources has become more sophisticated. It’s been an interesting semester, with lots of interesting topics to write about. I’ve learnt a lot, and discovered some really important issues I didn’t even know existed.

One of my favourite blogs to write was ‘An outdated way of thinking’, which I wrote about differing opinions on music piracy. This is a subject I was already very interested in, so the opportunity to investigate further was very welcome.

I tried to make the blog holistic, offering both sides of the topic, but also pointing out the flaws. I also tried to offer a solution to the problem, by outlining some of the benefits of services like Spotify in combatting music piracy.

I soon discovered that the topic for the following week was very similar to what I’d already written about, so I decided to take a closer look at some of the existing research in ‘Baby Steps for the Music Industry’. I made a point of linking the two blogs, so readers could easily navigate between the two. I had to restrict the amount of research I included in the second blog, because I wanted to avoid making it too long for readers to bother with.

Some of the other highlights of blogging for BCM240 include ‘Texting during class: another moral panic?’. This particular week of blogging made me particularly realise just how many mainstream opinions are based on unreliable or questionable research. It was quite shocking to realise that most research was based on the existing opinion that multi-tasking did, in fact, impact on classroom achievement. I also noticed the connection between the discourses on the topic, and other moral panics. All in all, it was a blogging week that impacted the way I researched and wrote about the rest of the semester.

Another highlight for me was ‘Left Behind’, which explored the complications of rural internet connections. This is a subject very close to my heart, as I am from a rural area and related very strongly to Elizabeth, my interviewee. The complete disconnect, quite literally, between those in rural and city areas is a huge disadvantage for the country. It was enlightening to be able to interview my subject and write about her experiences. Combining it with other research to create a holistic piece was an interesting experience for me.

One of my main focuses when writing all my blogs was making them reader-friendly. To do this, I use a combination of writing and visual techniques. In terms of my writing, I try and make my sentences short and without too many complicated words. My writing is conversational, rather than in an essay structure. All this is done to make my blogs as inviting as possible. I try to make my headings catchy and straightforward, so readers can instantly evaluate and hopefully continue reading.

In terms of visual elements, I redesigned my blog to reflect its overall tone. This involved choosing a theme with a left-hand sidebar, a gravatar icon and a banner. Though the background is black, the actual text of my blog is on a white background, making it easier to read. The banner is designed to add colour and liveliness to the blog, but not distract the reader’s attention from the text.

The side-bar contains a Twitter feed and categories for my blog. I also have a short and sharp ‘About’ page, which describes a few of my interests and goals, and my purpose in writing. If I was to make improvements, I would retitle my categories from codes to names, which I have so far kept for assessment purposes. I would also see if I could connect more widely to other materials and blogs, and curate resources within my blog. My readership is not very wide, and I would like to actively work to improve this.

In my actual blog, I try to keep paragraphs short, with no more than a few sentences in each. I occasionally employ lists as well, to maximise white space and readability. I like to include pictures and YouTube clips in all of my blogs. They break up the writing, and the clips in particular usually help explain my points in ways that would not be possible or interesting with words.

I also make portions of my text bold type or italicised, to highlight important points in my writing. In this way, my blog is more ‘skimmable’, with readers able to decide how much and what to read.

I also include multiple links in all of my posts, to help readers to material that well help explain points I don’t have space to go in to and provide extra information for them to explore on their own. The links are all in-text rather than in a list at the end, so that readers have context for where the links will led them.

These visual and writing techniques all combine to create an overall professional, but engaging blog design, that provide extra resources to readers.

My blogging experience has been challenging. Blogging is a unique form of writing, with its own language and style. I had to adjust my usual essay style to a more conversational style, making a conscious effort to include visual elements to attract readers. I also struggled keeping to the shorter word limit each week. It really made me think about how I best wanted to represent my information and opinion.

I really enjoyed the content I was writing about, however. It gave me the opportunity to write about issues I already cared about, like internet piracy and internet access, and the opportunity to learn about issues I didn’t know anything about, like audience measurement and behaviour in public.

All in all, blogging about media, audience and place has seen me writing some of my best blog posts so far. The topics have been really inspiring, and helped me to set myself up for the final assessment. Though it’s been challenging at times, I’ve ultimately created nine blog posts that I’m very proud of. I look forward to improving my blogging skills even more in the future.

Baby Steps for the Music Industry

If you read last week’s post, you’ll know that music piracy is a highly controversial issue. However, while reading up on the topic, I found it very difficult to find any actual research on the topic. Particularly in Australia.

For a brief history of online piracy, watch here:

So I decided to investigate where some of the information on the issue is coming from.

I typed ‘music piracy’ into the Google Search bar and the top non-Wikipedia entry was from the Recording Industry Association of America. The title of the page was Who Music Theft Hurts.

As you can imagine, their view on the subject concurred with dominant discourses on the subject. They maintained that music piracy was the cause of $12.5 billion dollars worth of harm, and they had a ‘credible study’ to prove it.

I took a look at the study, The True Cost of Sound Recording Piracy to the U.S Economy, and discovered that, for starters, the study had been published in 2007. This would seem to be a problem, especially because it is referred to as being factual seven years on. Further reading uncovered the fact that CD sale losses were factored into the concluding figures, because: “U.S. retailers of compact disks face reduced sales and lower profits as a result of pirate activities that occur in the United States”.

Now, declining CD sales can be attributed to many things rather than just piracy. Perhaps a general, globe-wide Digital Revolution could also be to blame?

Regardless, the study, and indeed the figures it supplies, are hopelessly out of touch with the times. Maybe, at their time of publication, these findings may have been more applicable. However, a lot has changed since 2007, and so there really should be some more frequent research on such a prominent website.

At the end of the study(p. 27), the author, Stephen Siwek, is also reported to be heavily involved in publishing pieces that defend intellectual property rights and the industries who rely on them. So it is little wonder that his study concludes what it does.

That’s just one study. But if you do a little research, you’ll find that it’s very typical of the type of ‘information’ that’s available.

Where are the qualitative studies?

Who is looking at how and why Australians access music?

Why is there so little information exploring alternative views?

Australians world’s worst for illegal music downloads is a Sydney Morning Herald article that looks at Music Metric data (the methodology of which has not been revealed). The data is from 2011-2012, which is not particularly recent, but is some of the most recent data I could locate on Australian piracy.

Apparently, Australians are the sixth highest for illegal downloads, but download the highest number of files per capita.

Our top music download in 2011-2012 was the Hilltop Hoods.

Photo Credit: Michael Spencer. Hilltop Hoods @ One Movement Music Festival

So how do we fix the problem? There’s all sorts of information, little of which seems very credible, on the issue of piracy.

To correct the balance, we need to look into why people are turning away from legal purchase of songs, instead of assuming it is because of criminal tendencies.

So that means qualitative studies, interviewing people, and seeing what’s really going on. 

These kind of studies benefit everyone: music listeners, music producers and even other media industries.

This is the first step in improving the relationship between music listeners and music producers.

References:

Siwek, S 2007, ‘The True Cost of Sound Recording Piracy to the U.S Economy’, Institute for Policy Innovation, accessed 24 September 2014, no. 188, pp. 1-28.

An outdated way of thinking

I love music. I love listening to it, dancing to it, and sharing it.

However, gone are the days when I would  save up my pocket money to spend on a CD. As you all well know, these days, we download.

Is this way of thinking outdated?
Is this way of thinking outdated?

Obviously, this has caused uproar within the recording industry. Now that it’s both cheaper and more convenient to just download music off a torrenting site, people aren’t paying for their music anymore. But is downloading a song for free really the same as stealing a CD from a shop?

Panic within the recording industry over loss of revenue has caused incidents such as this, where a 29 year old man was fined $675 000 for illegally downloading and sharing 30 tracks. That’s the equivalent of $22 500 a song.

This seems ridiculous.

To be fair, industry revenue has been falling throughout the 21st century (Bestinza et al. 2013, p. 5). However, while some of this may very well be attributed to illegal downloading, there are other flaws in the current business model of the recording system.

Sure, I liked that song on the radio. But I didn’t love it. I’m not willing to pay $1.69 for it on iTunes. But, if I can download it for free, maybe I’ll get the whole album, and listen to some new songs. Maybe I’ll really like it .  Maybe I’ll even buy concert tickets or merchandise later on.

A lot of musicians these days have recognised pirating as a very effective form of promotion. Amanda Palmer is one of them (skip to halfway through the clip if you don’t want the back story):

Lots of up-and-coming bands have started releasing their music for free on line, hoping to pique curiosity and create a following for themselves.

So is it really reasonable to sue for suspected damages when, in reality, they may not have purchased the song  anyway?

Particularly for young people with fairly low disposable income, paying $1.69 for every single track becomes very expensive very quickly, and encourages the purchase of only the best songs (at least in my experience).

Thankfully, there are other options for the music industry, rather than just suing random, everyday people.

Spotify, for instance, provides a subscription service.  You pay about $11 a month for unlimited access to their vast music libraries. This is what I use. I like the extra features I get that I wouldn’t get if I just torrented, like top tracks, related artists and artist radio. It feels like iTunes, but I can try as much music as I want for a comparatively small amount compared to when I used iTunes.

But that’s just me. There are still problems with the service, such as the micro-payment system.

The point is, services like Spotify, that provide convenient and cheap options are the way of the future. Expectations of media access have changed dramatically during the rise of the internet.

It’s about time the music industry kept with the times.

References:

Bustinza, O.F,  Vendrell-Herrero, F,  Parry, G & Myrthianos, V 2013,”Music business models and piracy”, Industrial Management & Data Systems, vol. 113, no. 1 pp. 4 – 22.

Everything and anything about all types of media.