When we drop our old computers off to be recycled we assume this will be done in an appropriate and environmentally safe manner, but e-waste is expensive to recycle and a shadow trade has developed around it. Computers, monitors, and cell phones are dumped by the millions of tons and shipped around the globe by numerous middlemen. The Guardian published a photo essay on e-waste dumping in Ghana.
“Photographer Kevin McElvaney documents Agbogbloshie, a former wetland in Accra, Ghana, which is home to the world’s largest e-waste dumping site. Boys and young men smash devices to get to the metals, especially copper. Injuries, such as burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Most workers die from cancer in their 20s”
When I was three, my family moved to an affluent suburb on the north shore of Lake Michigan. It was not an indication of affluence attained or even a quickening inevitability, it was just an accident. My earliest memories are good ones, climbing trees with the boy next door. Then I started kindergarten and found out that something was deeply wrong. The other kids had things I didn’t. Their socks matched and their clothes were new. I couldn’t figure out how Diane Delaney’s hair could be in two such perfect pig tails day after day or how her hair ribbons happened to match her bell bottoms. I thought she was from another planet. Mornings at my house were a chaotic race to get out of the house with any clothes on at all. I knew that I wasn’t like those other kids, but I didn’t know what was missing at my house. If I had the clothes they had I would have that thing they had that I didn’t. I never bothered to examine the shortcomings of my logic. I knew that money can’t buy happiness, but I didn’t believe it.
I don’t think my story is all that different from anyone else’s. At some point most of us feel that other people have something we don’t and it is much easier to attribute that feeling to some tangible material thing than to something more elusive and upsetting. This is how advertising works.
I still get a little buzz from buying something new. I like it when someone compliments me on my clothing or the way my apartment looks. I like walking into expensive boutiques and having the sales people smile at me like I belong. I’m not saying it’s not messed up, I’m just saying it’s true. Why do I think that a pair of hand-stitched German shoes will change my life? Because the advertisers, who have massive budgets and access to every form of media known to man, want me to think that.
It’s all about control. I can’t control my relationships or what happens at work tomorrow or the stock market, but I have the power to snap that little slab of plastic on to the counter of any store and acquire new stuff. It’s sad, I know.