Moving Closer to Ethical Mobile Phones

by bicyclemark 0 Comments

photo courtesy of

In the summer of 2011 we learned of the fairphone mission; to make the world’s first ethically responsible mobile phone. We spoke about the challenges, the steps, the people and places in the world that would be involved. Now, many months later, we revisit fairphone to get an update and hear about the interesting developments and ongoing initiatives. My guest and guide on this podcast is Bas van Abel of the Waag Society, who has been part of the fairphone initiative since the early days.

We get into:

  • Battery
  • Miners
  • Congo
  • Open Design
  • Urban Mining

Our Gadgets, Our Planet

by bicyclemark 1 Comment



Photo by David in China

This week I will meet up with David Kousemaker of TechTravels to interview him about his work on the issue of where our old gadgets end up. More specifically we will delve into a topic that the mainstream world only occasionally alludes to when they mention how “somewhere in China” our old computers and phones are painstakingly recycled in the most horrendous of conditions.  Amazingly such an alarming statement is taken as almost cliché when you look at how rarely media outlets get deeper into this issue.


But over the past few years, David Kousemaker has done just that. In fact, he has gone beyond what most any other newspaper or reporter has ever uncovered in places like China, Indonesia, and Brazil, delving into not only what gets recycled but who does the recycling, how they live, where different phases of the process take place and so on.  His findings have been documented in text and photos on his website, Techtravels.

The idea behind meeting David, besides learning first hand details about these people, places, and activities, is to also get a better picture of the global game of electronics disposal. With all the devices we have gone through and will go through as we upgrade, replace, and go for the next thing, what happens to all these gadgets? What impact are we who buy these devices and later get rid of them, having on society and the planet?  This week, we get more answers to these and other questions…

Getting to know Fairphone

by bicyclemark 0 Comments


Showing copper

Showing Copper after cleaning

For the past few months I have been watching online and listening to conversations offline about the initiative by a group of people here in Amsterdam which looks at how mobile phones are made and how their production effects people and the environment around the world.  It is one of those difficult to address issues, because we are talking about a device that is so essential and so present in everyone’s life in almost every corner of the planet. And while we can be critical, perhaps, of the companies that produce them, we still need the device so sometimes the questions aren’t asked and the practices aren’t closely scrutinized.


Until now.

The concerned group of people involved in Fairphone have decided to build the world’s first ethically produced phone, as they explain it:

Our aim of fairness is simple: to not harm man or nature in creating our phone. Not in transporting or producing it. And not in acquiring the raw materials for it.

As their first step in researching and beginning on the production process of the phone, they recently went to Congo (DRC) to meet with artisanal miners and learn about their working conditions, as well as what they would want in terms of fair treatment and payment as the source of the raw materials that eventually make the devices function.  In the process they also purchased raw cobalt and brought it back to the Netherlands to be used in their first prototype phones.  Thus completing the very basic but very little known step one of building our mobile phones, the mining of raw materials.

After having learned all about their initial efforts to both build a phone and shed light on an issue with global impact, I decided to get involved as a journalist and a concerned citizen/phone user. My aim is to follow this process and pass on information to the public, to stimulate conversations that could help on the road to more ethical production of the devices we love and use so much.

More information and reporting to come. This was only my own journalistic step 1 towards getting to know fairphone and an industry that could use a good kick in the pants.

Hacker Camp 2009 Impressions

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

In many ways it is as if we never left. 2 years ago I sat at a picnic table under a tarp on the Polish-German border on the site of a former East German military base with a couple of thousand hackers and general purpose nerds.  2 years later here I sit, this time somewhere in the Netherlands, in the infamous Metalab tent filled with Vienna’s creative and hilarious geek crew.  To my left and right, tiny laptops connected to several layers of wires. In front of me, beyond a few more piles of wires and what looks like a virtual reality unit from the 80’s, several pale and half-asleep campers are tending to the Austrian breakfast.  It’s 12:36pm. 2007, 2009, its as if we just unpaused after the last camp.

It is always difficult to properly describe the scale and degree of amazing these gatherings are. I’ve only been a member of the community since 2005, but in these few years I’ve fallen in love with the attitude, atmosphere, and insanity of hacker camp and hacker gatherings in general. Yet when it comes up in conversation with those who have never experienced it, my words are met with giggles and eyes rolling, again- how to explain what happens here?

Last night as I stopped by the Italian embassy tent, I was greeted, as per tradition, by Italian hackers with grappa and cookies. Earlier they were surely cooking pasta in huge vats right next to their own huge pile of wires and laptops.  As I attempted to drink the powerful drink, cheering from the Austrian village caught my attention. Overhead, some kind of balloon creation consisting of mass quantities of glow sticks and a well designed frame powerful by 3 oversized helium balloons.  2 members of the lab climb atop the circa 1980’s Austria Telecom phonebooth to get a better vantage point for holding the rope the balloons are tethered to. In the semi-dark, hordes of hackers stop to cheer on the flying contraption, some calling on the rope holders to “set it free!”  Eventually nature takes control and the cord snaps, the flying spaghetti monster fights its way through a line of trees and floats up into the night sky like some kind of rainbow creature heading towards the moon. More cheers, campers move on to the next big tent and whatever project those people are working on.

Blinking lights, house music, machines copying themselves, French hackers making crepes, and the last remaining imaginary soviet republic with its own tent embassy, the list of creative or uncreative ideas is neverending here.  I spent much of my second day walking from tent to tent asking different groups about their healthcare system.  I ran into enthusiastic Scandinavians, a Brazilian sitting between tents on his laptop, a Slovak on his way to the bar, and a friendly Romanian gentleman who has found the perfect shade trees under which to position his tents.  As he and I discuss the healthcare system in Romania, hacker children splash around in the small lake around which the camp is set up.  Just behind us is the rather un-camp-like American house, where a group of American hackers are housed, I can hear their loud conversations about some technical topics I don’t understand.  I’m told the American hacker house makes good breakfasts, something to keep in mind for my last few days here.

It is now 1pm. The sun is blazing and even more people are filing into this tent. They’re coming to watch the replicator machine replicate itself. It is behind me and the constant buzz buzz sound of plastic being cut or drilled or whatever that thing does, it provides great writing music.  Time to load up on water, grab my mobile internet device and camera, and head out to see how camp looks after yet another night of beautiful madness.