Sunday, 10 August 2008

Green Gadgetry

Today is a bit of a milestone for me - I have finally got my laptop to go wireless, so I will be writing this post not just from my front room, but also from my kitchen and the bedroom - but not the bathroom, I promise.

(Starting off in the front room, in front of the Olympics on the telly)

I'm soooo behind when it comes to gadgetry. Years ago, I was a relatively early adopter - although this is as much down to my gadget-mad dad (and the radio station I worked as a breakfast weather and traffic girl which gave me a mobile phone when nobody rang in to enter the competition I'd organised - the BBC had nothing on us!). But then, I got a job as staff writer at a desperately dull trade journal for the microchip manufacture industry, and it really changed my mind about things.

(Right, now typing as I sit on the bed, can hear the pigeons roosting in the eaves outside the window gently coo-ing, aaah)

The turning point was a conference in San Francisco I was lucky enough to go to. This was a couple of months before 9/11, after which everything collapsed, and the industry was still convinced it could keep the massive production lines going - if only it could generate demand for chips by coming up with ideas for gadgets nobody needed. One speaker was questioning whether anyone would want a video phone watch, a la Dick Tracey - and concluded no, but people would still probably buy it.

Also, the biggest story I covered there was over some scandal about Chinese factory workers' health being put at risk by the nasty chemicals used in the production process. And we also covered stories about the pollution aspects. So, the impression I took away was of an industry desperately trying to push useless gadgets to make money while destroying the environment and its employees' health. Nice.

(Now in the kitchen, have just put a chicken in to roast, but have thoroughly washed my hands, I promise)

For the next seven years, I eschewed all gadgetry. I only upgraded my phone when it broke. I laboured away with the laptop, modem and printer my dad had given me in 1996 as an undergraduate (and even then they were about three years old). I refused ipods, DVD players, Sky boxes, Sat Nav, the lot.

So, what's changed? Well, finally having to get a new laptop when the old one died was a big eye-opener. But I think more than that, there's many more gadgets out there which aren't gimmicky, and which are genuinely transforming everyday life - mobile internet, for instance, could well transform my profession, for starters, in the same way downloading has transformed the music industry.

But I'm still uneasy - is it possible to reconcile a green lifestyle with cutting edge technology?

It's even up for debate whether replacing newpapers with websites is greener or not. So I think I will be very careful when selecting which gadgets to betray my green credentials for. But if anyone can recommend one it's worth ruining the environment for, please let me know

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