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Resurrected tech: How discarded devices are recycled across the globe | Ramesh Srinivasan |Big Think

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Resurrected tech: How discarded devices are recycled across the globe | Ramesh Srinivasan |Big Think

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Resurrected tech: How discarded devices are recycled across the globe
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How are global innovators overcoming the inequality that is forged in the technologies of Silicon Valley?

Ramesh Srinivasan, a professor at UCLA, points to examples of indigenous communities in Mexico that have created their own cell phone networks, as well as groups in Ghana and Nairobi that recycle discarded devices from the West to make entirely new technologies.

These groups have successfully decentralized technology governance by using their resources and upping the ante on creativity and innovation.

Ramesh Srinivasan is Professor of Information Studies and Design Media Arts at UCLA. He makes regular appearances on NPR, The Young Turks, MSNBC, and Public Radio International, and his writings have been published in the Washington Post, Quartz, Huffington Post, CNN, and elsewhere.

Read Ramesh Srinivasan's book Beyond the Valley: How Innovators around the World are Overcoming Inequality and Creating the Technologies of Tomorrow


RAMESH SRINIVASAN: We are at an incredible moment right now where billions of people across the world have access to the internet in very different ways. In many cases more different than similar, often through their mobile phones. A couple billion people or so have access to Google and Facebook services as well. So that kind of perpetuates the myth that spreading internet access is somehow evangelizing or emancipatory. All we need to do is get everybody connected to our services, right? And that's a myth and sort of a corporate branding strategy that is pushed out of Silicon Valley but it's also pushed out of Chinese technology companies, as well. And what that does is actually flatten and objectify the vast majority of people who are internet users, which is astonishing because if you actually experience the joys that I have in Beyond the Valley to actually go to these different parts of the world and look at what people are actually doing with technology, you see so much creativity.

You actually see innovation in action. Innovation from this perspective isn't about just blindly using some technology that was introduced in Silicon Valley that in many cases was introduced to die. Like Apple introduces phones with planned obsolescence, with an expiration date so they go into landfills and potentially cause cancer. Much like Monsanto introduces seeds to die. So what is happening across the world? This is an example of innovation in the bottom up sense. It's actually the idea of doing more with less which is actually like being resourceful. It's a whole other model of thinking what innovation is. Innovation with constraint. Innovation with scarcity. So let me give you a couple of quick examples of this.

Probably my favorite chapter of Beyond the Valley is the story of these indigenous peoples in communities that I've been working with the last few years. Mainly just writing about and learning from in the Oaxaca region of southern Mexico. These are Zapotec, Mixtec and Mixe communities. And they want cell phone service and, of course, they're not worth the investment to not only internet service providers but also mobile service providers like Carlos Slim from Telcel, one of the wealthiest men in the world. So they said hey, we want these mobile phones for various reasons and I can elaborate on that. But we want it on our terms rather than being dependent on the terms of these large distant corporations that don't even see us as worth the investment. So what did they do? They built it themselves. Community-owned cell phone networks. So what's occurring across this region - dozens of communities have built the largest community-owned cell phone set of federated networks, autonomous networks, in the world.

Thousands of users. And here's the key point. These networks are built collectively by these indigenous communities. These networks are designed based on values, even cosmologies and political philosophies of commonality. Everybody doing it together. They call it ""comunalidad"" or ""dequio,"" which means good work. These are sort of concepts of collectivity which we all have as humans, the love of collectivity. But sometimes we ignore that and we get stuck in individualistic like silos. So they're building it together. They own the...

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