Film lays bare toxic impact of our dependence on tech gadgets


Film lays bare ‘toxic’ impact of our dependence on tech gadgets

Undercover footage of factory workers in China from the film Death by Design. Photo: Ambrica Productions

A new documentary from American filmmaker Sue Williams, Death by Design, holds up a mirror to modern consumers, exposing the environmental and health costs of our reliance on devices that have depressingly short lifespans

“I could have made it (the film) about plastic bottles or blue jeans, but I wanted to take something that everybody feels really attached to.” Williams tells Asia Times. “I think it’s a powerful way to make people think about how they consume.”

death by design homepage

A screenshot of the Death by Design website homepage. Photo: Ambrica Productions

Documentaries about the environment and technology are not new. But Williams’ 73-minute production takes things up a notch, tying up multi-faceted concerns with its focus on indispensable gadgets in our modern lives such as smartphones and computers.

The project started off as a profile of Ma Jun, a Chinese environmentalist and one of the main characters in the film. He has done groundbreaking work on electronics companies’ environmental violations in China.

“I actually never even thought about [electronics being unclean],” says Williams, who after some research and trips to Silicon Valley and China realized the subject lent itself to much more than a story about one person or community. “It became very clear that as I learnt more about it that [Ma] is one valuable part of a very big global problem.”

Referring to the industrial transfer from the US to China that began in the late 1970s and 80s, William says: “It’s very important to know what the industry knew before they went to China.”

The film first takes us inside US factories back in the 1980s. A former IBM employee who worked on a US semiconductor production line at the time, while pregnant, later gave birth to a brain-damaged son. She had not been informed about the toxicity of the materials with which she worked every day.

Inside IBM death by design

IBM workers in purportedly ‘protective’ clothing. Photo: Ambrica Productions

Workers were provided with protective clothing, but “that was to protect the products, not the people”, says the woman in the film.

The film uncovers an internal IBM database that shows extremely high incidence of cancer among retirees.

From there, Williams’ lens shifts to the Taiwanese manufacturer, and Apple’s biggest supplier, Foxconn, whose workers have also suffered health problems.

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Low-paid Chinese workers on a production line. Photo: Ambrica Productions/ Death by Design’s Facebook page

In 2010, more than a dozen Foxconn workers, mostly in their early 20s or younger, chose to end their own lives in desperation. Hundreds of thousands of its workers still work more than 80 hours a week, enduring enormous strain and boredom, and astonishingly low pay.

Best known for her proclaimed trilogy about China for PBS, Williams started Ambrica Productions in 1986, with an objective of looking at issues “with an international scope and interest.” Such a focus, along with her knowledge of both Chinese and American history, is fundamental to this film, as she traces how the industry evolved and traveled across borders.

The tech industry also brought to China, and other developing countries, the problem of electronic waste pollution. The film reveals that when tech companies found out that chemical waste from their products had started contaminating the soil and water around Silicon Valley, they began to look for new dumping grounds to get around their legal and environmental obligations.

“The industry was clear about what they were doing when they moved to China,” says Williams. “I was struck by the fact that the industry really took off after moving to China.”

death by design guizhou e waste site

An electronic-waste site in Guizhou, China. Photo: Ambrica Productions / Death by Design

The film suggests, however, that this “exporting” of the problem is an illusion at the end of the day. In an experiment where a team of University of California, San Diego researchers flew over the US to measure and trace chemicals in the clouds, they claimed to find solid evidence that “exported” toxic pollution eventually finds its way around the globe.

The point Williams forcefully makes is that environmental problems tend to come full circle.

Polluted water death by design

Ma Jun’s Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs discovered severe water pollution caused by electronic companies’ violations. Photo: Ambrica Productions / Death by Design

The film had its international debut at last year’s Seattle International Film Festival, a cinematic jubilee right at the heart of the city that is home to Microsoft, Amazon and countless other tech giants and start-ups. The director felt herself “at the belly of the bees” and worried about how the film would be received.

“We did a Q&A, and asked how many people worked in the electronics industry. Two-thirds of the audience put their hands up but they all responded like people did at other screenings – ‘What can we do?’ ‘We had no idea.’ ‘How can we do better?’ ”

Williams takes a short pause, her eyes widening. “[They were] asking me what to do.”

She says: “They haven’t seen this, haven’t been to Foxconn to see these factories,” said Williams. “They sit in their desks in Seattle with lattes and micro breweries and food delivery services and they just see the good that the tech industry has brought them.”

So, what can one do? Williams offers some ideas in the film.

One of these comes from the story of an Irish startup, IFixit, which sells repair parts and provides online repair guides. Founded by two young creative engineers, the company challenges excessive consumption by helping people to adopt the habit of fixing things as a way to regain autonomy over their products.

iFixit death by design

Kyle Wiens shows how tech companies make today’s devices harder to repair. Photo: Ambrica Productions / Death by Design

“They (the tech companies) give you this (a device) and say don’t worry about it if you break it, get a new one,” says Kyle Wiens, co-founder of IFixit, in the film. “You don’t really own it, in a way.”

“It’s quite a sobering film, not easy to watch for some people. So I tried to be solution-oriented,” says Williams. “We will have to find other ways to make things and we have to do a better job. That’s why I made the film.”

death by design homepage

I invite you all to watch this doicumentary at:

At a screening in Hong Kong, one businesswoman in the audience expressed her desire to take the film to mainland to initiate discussions with local governments about the issues raised.

“I so hope that happens,” says Williams. “I hope it goes viral in china. Because we really need to think about the ways we consume.”


Something Extraordinary Is Happening in the World, And Most People Haven’t Noticed

Source: | Original Post Date: December 16, 2015 –

Most of us haven’t quite realized there is something extraordinary happening.

A few months ago, I freed myself from standard-procedure society. I broke the chains of fear that kept me locked up into the system. Since then, I see the world from a different perspective: the one that everything is going through change and that most of us are unaware of that.

Why is the world changing? In this post, I’ll point out the eight reasons that lead me to believe it.

1. No one can stand the employment model any longer.

We are reaching our limits. People working with big corporations can’t stand their jobs. The lack of purpose knocks on your door as if it came from inside you like a yell of despair.

People want out. They want to drop everything. Take a look on how many people are willing to risk entrepreneurship, people leaving on sabbaticals, people with work-related depression, people in burnout.

2. The entrepreneurship model is also changing.

Over the past few years, with the explosion of startups, thousands of entrepreneurs turned their garages into offices to bring their billion-dollar ideas to life. The vortex of entrepreneurship was to find an investor and get funded — to be funded was like winning the World Cup or the Super Bowl.

But what happens after you get funded?

“Isn’t it absurd that we, 7 billion of us living in the same planet, have grown further apart from each other?”

You get back to being an employee. You may have brought in people not sharing your dream, not in agreement with your purpose, and soon it’s all about the money. The financial end becomes the main driver of your business.

People are suffering with it. Excellent startups began to tumble because the money-seeking model is endless.

A new way to endeavor is needed. Good people are doing it already.

3. The rise of collaboration.

Many people have figured out that it doesn’t make any sense to go on by yourself. Many people have awakened from the “each man for himself” mad mentality.

Stop, take a step back, and think. Isn’t it absurd that we, 7 billion of us living in the same planet, have grown further apart from each other? What sense does it make to turn your back on the thousands, maybe millions, of people living around you in the same city? Every time it crosses my mind, I feel blue.

Fortunately, things are changing. Sharing, collaborative economy concepts are being implemented, and it points towards a new direction. The direction of collaborating, of sharing, of helping, of togetherness.

This is beautiful to watch. It touches me.

4. We are finally figuring out what the Internet is.

The Internet is an incredibly spectacular thing, and only now — after so many years — we are understanding its power. With the Internet, the world is opened, the barriers fall, the separation ends, the togetherness starts, the collaboration explodes, the help emerges.

Some nations saw true revolutions that used the Internet as the primary catalyst, such as the Arab Spring. Here in Brazil, we are just starting to make a better use out of this amazing tool.

Internet is taking down mass control. The big media groups controlling news by how it suits best what they want the message to be and what they want us to read are no longer the sole owners of information. You go after what you want. You bond to whomever you want. You explore whatever you may want to.

With the advent of the Internet, the small are no longer speechless. There is a voice. The anonymous become acknowledged. The world comes together. And then the system may fall.

5. The fall of exaggerated consumerism.

For too long, we’ve been manipulated to consume as much as we possibly can, to buy every new product launched — the newest car, the latest iPhone, the top brands, lots of clothes, shoes, lots and lots and lots of pretty much anything we could our hands on.

Going against the crowd, many people have understood that this is way off. Lowsumerism, slow life and slow food are a few types of action being taken as we speak, pointing out the contradiction of how absurdly we have come to organize ourselves.

“With the advent of the Internet, the small are no longer speechless. There is a voice. The anonymous become acknowledged. The world comes together.

Fewer people are using cars. Fewer people are overspending. And more people are swapping clothes, buying used goods, sharing assets, cars, apartments, offices.

We don’t need all of that they told us we needed. And this consciousness of new consumerism can take down any company living on the exaggerated end of it.

6. Healthy and organic eating.

We were so crazy we even accepted eating anything! It only needed to taste good, and everything would be alright.

We were so disconnected that companies started to practically poison our food, and we didn’t say anything!

But then some people started waking up, enabling and strengthening healthy and organic eating.

This is only going to get stronger.

But what has this got to do with economy and work? Just about everything, I’d say.

Food production is one of the basic fundamentals of our society. If we change our mindset, our eating habit and our way of consuming, corporations will have to respond and adapt to a new market.

The small farmer is getting back to being relevant to the whole chain of production. People are even growing plants and seeds inside their homes as well.

And that reshapes the whole economy.

7. The awakening of spirituality.

How many friends do you have who practice yoga? What about meditation? Now think back, 10 years ago. How many people did you know by then who practiced these activities?

Spirituality, for too long, was for esoteric folks — those weird-like and mystic people.

But fortunately, this is also changing. We’ve come to the edge of reason and rationality. We were able to realize that, with only our conscious mind, we can’t figure out everything that goes on here. There is something else going on, and I’m sure you want to get hold of that as well.

You want to understand how these things work — how life operates, what happens after death, what is this energy thing people talk about so much, what is quantum physics, how thoughts can be materialized and create our sense of reality, what is coincidence and synchronicity, why meditation works, how it’s possible to cure some ailments using nothing but bare hands, how those alternative therapies not always approved by regular medicine can actually work sometimes.

Companies are providing meditation to their employees. Even schools are teaching the young how to meditate. Think about it.

8 . Un-schooling trends.

Who created this teaching model? Who chose the classes you have to take? Who chose the lessons we learn in history classes? Why didn’t they teach us the truth about other ancient civilizations?
Why should kids follow a certain set of rules? Why should they watch everything in silence? Why should they wear a uniform? What about taking a test to prove what you actually learned?

We developed a model that perpetuates and replicates followers of the system, that breed people into ordinary human beings.

Fortunately, a lot of people are working to rethink that through concepts such as un-schooling, hack-schooling and homeschooling.

Maybe you’ve never thought of that and even may be in shock. But it’s happening.

Silently, people are being woken up and are realizing how crazy it is to live in this society.
Look at all these new actions and try to think everything we were taught so far is normal. I don’t think it is.

There is something extraordinary happening.

Written by Gustavo Tanaka of