Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You are Not a Gadget, but Recycle Yours!

We are in the midst of the EPA's National Cell Phone Recycling Week (April 5-11). Estimates are that only 1% of the four billion cell phones in use worldwide get recycled after their users move on to brighter shinier toys (or in my case, after I've dropped it on the floor or in water one too many times). In the United States that percentage is higher -- of the roughly 130 million phones replaced each year, about 10% are recycled.

You can click here for a list of national cell phone recycling programs. AT&T announced last week that it will offer three simple ways to donate and recycle phones: Wireless customers of any carrier can drop off used cell phones and accessories at any of the 2,000-plus AT&T stores across the U.S.; go to to download free shipping labels and mail them in for recycling or request that a free shipping envelope be mailed to them for recycling. Part of the proceeds from these efforts benefits Cell Phones for Soldiers (CPFS), a charity that recycles cell phones and uses the proceeds to buy free phone cards for troops overseas.

A relatively new company, eRecyclingCorps, is partnering with a variety of retail outlets to offer trade-in value when you return a phone and upgrade to a new one.

Now how, Sally, you might ask, are you going to connect this posting to the book world?? That's an easy one. Here's a book we should all read: You are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, by Javon Lanier, published by Knopf in January. Lanier, a Silicon Valley visionary since the '80s and the man who coined the term "virtual reality," based on his early work in computing, has written a provocative and cautionary look at the way the World Wide Web -- in particuar Web 2.0 -- is transforming our lives for better and for worse.

The supposedly democratic "open culture" of Web 2.0 is actually elevating the "wisdom" of mobs and computer algorithms over the intelligence and judgment of individuals -- say, for example, online sites that recommend books or music based on previous purchases. The Web can be a better place, Lanier argues, if we work toward a "new digital humanism," rather than continuing in the current direction, which "undervalues humans" in favor of "anonymity and crowd identity." This book is a fascinating and important exploration of both the problems and the potential that the Internet -- which many people now access through their cell phones -- offers our society. Check it out!

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