- Agriculture is honorable, but hard work, and they die old before 60.
- Government work is comfortable, but they are cogs in corruption they cannot change and survive.
- Multinational corporations hire a few good high school students to extract raw materials or to make a mono-crop of textiles. Better than not having the option, but not a very exciting prospect either.
The smartest kid in your Peace Corps class, the one who says with every gesture that he/she knows what their parents have sacrificed by letting them go to school, when there are cassavas to dig or coffee beans to pinch off... hey you know the ones I mean. The ones who read and re-read every lesson on "technologie", who stare at the dog eared textbooks of 15 year old inventions, and who dream of places they have heard of... like MIT... where they could pursue their dreams next to other hard working cross cultured geeks... Knowing they will never, ever, ever have that access to an opportunity to apply.
You know the kids I mean. The kids I mean are not refined. The ones who aren't real cool, who don't skip school. Many become doctors and work in third world hospitals with white coats, amputating legs and delivering babies without a blood bank or, for that matter, a clean neeedle, the ones who work despite the AIDS in the blood on their coats. In the home village, they are the Obama, the one who made good.
Many also learn to repair electronics. They set up thousands of businesses, on Alibaba and recycleinme and exportersid and exporters.com.sg and recycle.net Actually, there's one in the Frontline PBS episode on Ghana, who is showing the filmmakers how to search hard drives for data. I will bet he did not learn this from MIT.
When I visit Cairo, I ask my Good Point Recycling techs to give me a couple of newer laptops that they cannot fix. I meet Hamdy at his shop, and while we talking he has one of his 25 employees take the two laptops to a back room. Before we leave for lunch, I will have two working laptops, one of which I will give to Hamdy as a gift, and the other of which I will work on for the rest of my visit.
SEVEN GHANA MEXICO KIDS AT THE FRONTERAS CAIRO INTERNET CAFE
We aren't cool. We
go to school. We
walk ten miles. We
are technophiles. We
test old parts. We
make things start. We
make good grades. We
dig dads graves. We
yearn for more. We
grow up poor.
We know more than you.
We aren't Guiyu.
They say we don't.
We say we can.
You call me boy.
We call me man.
The Product Stewardship advocates and the E-Steward activists and the Greenpeace volunteers and the green bloggers, they all mean well. And in their way, they are improving lives overseas, by holding companies like mine to the standard we want to be held to, and the standard we want to compete in against other companies.
But the ecosystem of trade in repair and reuse of second-hand goods, whether it's rebuilt turbos and trannies for trucks, or scavenged DDRAM, or counterfeit or warranty repairs, it is a complex, complicated ecosystem. WEEE systems have no bad intentions and may work well with many waste products. But they are a non-native species in the secondary market, and in a world of "planned obsolescence" or "obsolescence in hindsight", they need to be studied carefully.
The people in the product stewardship field want change, and people who yearn for change get frustrated by finger wag warnings of unintended consequences. I am just suggesting that if stewardship is to work well, we need real geeks from developing countries, the african engineers, to meet with and influence USA's and Europe's social engineers. I am alarmed and saddened by friends who are basically accusing my blog of obfuscation and raising an impossible number of questions when something, something, has to be done now, when all I am saying is "meet the export market", shake hands, and don't draw your conclusions from a poster.
This generation of stewardship advocates has put 4 years into the legislation. The legislation itself is THEIR effort, and effort is supposed to produce CHANGE. They want to celebrate becoming the 2Xth state. Groupthink is when you meet with so many people of such similar views that you begin to think of yourselves in some kind of majority. I don't know if engineers, geeks, techies succumb to group thinking. Enviros of my generation do.
Professional environmentalists in their 20s should take heart. Not everything has been written, thought, or said. My generation of environmentalists, truth be told, were not of the same patient scholarly caliber as the student in Africa without a scholarship to MIT. We developed policy without the patience demanded of real engineers.
My dream is for a dozen other documentary filmmakers to come to Ghana and Egypt and Mexico and Peru and Senegal, and to visit people still alive who witnessed Singapore and South Korea leapfrog from poor as China to better than USA in technology. Get your youutube wiki on. It is a more difficult story to tell than Scott Pelley at CBS 60 Minutes or PBS Frontline have told. If a MacArthur genius grant is ever given to a kid from Ghana, that kid will be one like the top of the page... or one who discovered something on the laptop repaired by the kid at the top of the page.
"All right, then I'll go to hell".