May 20 - Book Review: Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America

In his latest book, Made to Break:Technology and Obsolescence in America, Giles Slade focuses his attention on the environmental consequences of throw away electronics:

At least 90 percent of the 315 million still-functional personal computers discarded in North America in 2004 were trashed (it was 63 million just a year before), and more than 100 million cell phones -- 200,000 tons worth -- were thrown away in 2005. Cell phones are especially dangerous, because their toxic components are too small to disassemble and recycle. They are also being trashed with amazing speed, with the shortest life span of any electronic product.

William Kowinski, author of 'The Malling of America', reviewed Made to Break in the San Francisco Chronicle this week. Kowinski observes that, more than griping about the ills of modern technology, Slade provides an 'informative history of 20th century technologies, often through the life stories of the people involved in creating, producing and disseminating them.

The book ends where it began, with concise warnings about the perils of e-waste, and a call for "technological literacy." Just because cyberspace is invisible, and few people know or care how cell phones work, doesn't mean these new devices are as ethereal as magic. They have costs. We're paying in fuel and air pollution to power them (George Gilder projects that Internet computing will soon require as much power as the entire U.S. economy did in 2001), and to make them (author Hunter Lovins estimates the manufacture of a laptop computer creates 4,000 times its weight in waste.) Now toxic e-waste joins the mountain range of rubble from our throw-away economy. In the 21st century, garbage is becoming our most important product.

What you can do: