The digital cycle – Discovery to recovery

<a name=""> Visa Pour L'Image, Perpignan FranceTwo things struck me at the 24th International Festival of Photojournalism this year.
The Visa Pour L’Image is the annual forum where photojournalists from around the world meet, it’s held in Perpignan, France.

Visa Pour L'image FNAC Perpignan France

Of the exhibitions, two in particular have stayed in consciousness.

The first entitled “Fearless Genius” by Doug Menuez was a collection of images that documented the daily lives of technology innovators during the heydays of digital revolution, 1985 – 2000.

Visa Pour L'image Doug Menuez Perpignan France

Steve Jobs is a centre-piece. The images relay times of extreme intensity and duress, of programmers working through weekends to develop code for the latest computer products and software. There are images of personal melt-downs, office-desks sunk under reams of paper, computer monitors piled atop each other for maximum productivity. On the flip-side there are images of celebration, excess, relief, product-launches, parties and absolute exuberance.

There are wretched images of key personnel that are tasked with attempting to recover functionality of the prototype moments before it’s meant to go on stage for launch. It’s clearly a heady time, capturing an industry in full-flight, of unconstrained growth and opportunity. Today we see the impact that time has had on daily life. Laptops, smart-phones, tablet devices, incredible levels of adoption across business and consumer industries. The line between personal device and business device unequivocally blurred.

Visa Pour L'image Doug Menuez Perpignan France
Location: Couvent Sainte Claire

In contrast to these lively images of burgeoning success was another exhibition, “Standing at the Graveyards of E-waste” by Stanley Greene.

Visa Pour L'image Stanley Greene Perpignan France

The raft of images show another side to the technology race, perhaps showcasing the end-of-life as opposed to Mr Menuez’s start-of-life. No less arduous is the worker’s task depicted in Mr Greene’s images. Workers are shown dismantling various technology items, separating wiring, taking apart computer boards surrounded by mounds of discarded devices and products. The USD$4 pay per day that these workers in Nigeria and India receive seems a long way away from the first turnover created by those technology organisations driving through the ’80s.

Visa Pour L'image Stanley Greene Perpignan France
Location: Eglise des Dominicains

These two exhibitions book-end the life-cycle of technology products that perhaps we use everyday oblivious to their creation and subsequent demise.

It’s not that technology products are invalid or the success of those driving technology enhancement is unwarranted, as each actor in the life-cycle is making a living in one way or another. The question emerging is how do we connect at the time of creation the way that product will be handled at end of life? With the pace of change can we adequately balance the inputs today against the total cost of life (including scrapping and/or re-birth) for some point in the future?

Could Steve Jobs have known during the 80s that workers in India in 2012 would be separating cables and circuit-boards from smart-phones developed in 2008? There’s a quote that goes something like, “20 years from now we’ll be using technology developed in 15 years time” (*attribution unknown currently, please advise if known), if that’s the case, what can we do today to put in place adequate measures to support the future state?

Is it fanciful to think that as or before a new market product alternative is embarked upon the actors and stakeholders of the entire cycle can be engaged, or at least considered?

[Edit 26/10/2012: As a postscript, it’s great to see that Apple has joined the IDH Electronics Program where the aim is to work collaboratively with key stakeholders to improve the social and environmental performance of its supplying factories in China.]

Visa Pour L'image Perpignan France
The Visa Pour L’Image is every bit worth a visit. Get down to ground level.

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