Connecting Traffic in Los Angeles, EWaste in Agbogbloshie

There are two really good things about Twitter.  The First One is the "search" box on the top right.  It allows you to research an obscure topic (like "Why is Taney County Missouri named after the Dred Scott Case Supreme Court justice Roger B. Taney, and why are they pronounced differently?") and meet someone across the globe who is also tweeting about the subject.  You might have found the same article through a Google search, but it is very hard for a recent article to move up Google's ranking, and virtually impossible to pass Wikipedia etc.  But enter "Roger Taney County Missouri" in Twitter search, and you'll get some very recent and current insight and thinking on the matter.

The second good thing about Twitter is it forces you to be brief.  It rewards "pithy"

(Blogger does not, evidently).

So most of the "facts" about African e-waste and Agbogbloshie that you find on Twitter are just retweeted BS.  But add some other key words, like "Dagbani", and you can meet someone through the smoke and fog who also sees what you know about the place.

Most of the photos on the web of traffic in Los Angeles are actors in colorful wardrobe, dancing on the tops of their cars in @LaLaLand.

If you actually want to study traffic congestion in major cities, you don't passively watch the twitter feed if you hope to learn anything.   You use the search box.  "Traffic in Lagos"...

Daily traffic in Lagos, Nigeria

Copernicus and Galileo were both on the opposite side of the Powers That Be and conventional wisdom and the apparently obvious "fact" that the sun rotated around the earth.  Today, they could have met each other very quickly.

And so I'm blogging less and Tweeting more this past year.  And I can thank Twitter for relieving some of the psychological pressure of being surrounded by people listening to a moronic theory about "primitive" Asian and African recycling practices.

A pal who I met when he was a writer for Resource Recycling (EScrap News) told me, about Agbogbloshie, that "I've seen the pictures".  A young, bright, liberal guy.  He didn't have a racist bone in his body, his evolved social instinct for nurture and outrage over 80% e-waste dumping baloney statistics was attractive.  My point, that the math on the subject should be obvious to a moron, was a tough sell.  He had seen the pictures.

Pictures of poor black slum dwellers with hammers, and a single junk TV on a barren, polluted landscape... Those are the pictures you find on Twitter, but the more we see that image, the more it distracts us from the math problem.

Nothing here adds up to a sea container of 80% e-waste.

- How many African households had TVs 20 years ago?
- How did they afford them?
- What do you suppose happens to that TV 20 years later?
- If you walk through the scrapyard, and count tires on one hand, and electronics on the other, which hand runs out of fingers before the other points a digit?

Most of the scrappers in Agbogbloshie are actually managing automobile scrap.  There are more coconut husks and scrap bicycle wheels than computers.  Most of the wire is auto harness (wiring inside a car console).   Most of the smoke is from tires.  But nobody is taking pictures of traffic jams in the City of Accra.... Because those aren't exotic.

You can't get a Hollywood Movie contract by filming actual Los Angeles traffic jams, dummy.

The pictures of African Children posed inside a (1970s era) junk TV plastic frame, or standing forlornly on the top of an early 1990s office computer monitor, are directed and produced by people who are there to tell a story, one that pushes your emotional buttons, and gets you involved in a story. That's what Hollywood does.

So try this.  Enter into the Twitter search box "Traffic in Africa".  I just did so, and the most recent tweet is from a guy Kevin Lings, who reports on an interesting statistic.

So I click on Kevin Lings on Twitter, find he's an economist, and that he's also followed by two people whom I follow but rarely read the tweets from.... because no sane person uses twitter by staring at a rolling feed.  You have to tighten the circle on Twitter with the search box.  (Sorry for being what my kid calls a "rando" Kevin).

And this is how many of us are developing a lot of relationships with a lot of people who don't believe things they read in the news (Agbogbloshie being one of the world's largest e-waste dumps, filled by 500 sea containers per month of 80-90% junk shipped to Africa to avoid recycling costs in developed countries).  You meet people who are economists, talking to people who live in Africa.

And it is a source of enormous optimism to me that my blog is now read on virtually every continent, and that the people accessing it are at universities, colleges, and research institutes.  And we are meeting each other through the search function on Twitter.  Three times this week I've been contacted for an interview - by someone from Poland, someone from Africa (referred to me by a follower and fellow blogger from Mexico), and someone from San Francisco.

Everyone who knows about automobile traffic congestion in African cities knows that the tires at the Agbogbloshie dump are generated by African cars, not Euro Trafigura Trash Boats.  Everyone who knows about African traffic congestion knows that Africa's middle class affords those cars by importing them used, and that the cars on the road were mostly imported several years ago.  Like the opening scene in LaLa Land, there is nothing exotic or evil about being stuck in traffic, no evil StoryOfStuff fat cat made the traffic jam as part of an evil plan to externalize his own traffic. And the "circular economy" is a nice idea, but it isn't going to reduce traffic congestion or remove the incentive to burn the tires in cities still struggling with malaria (mosquitos breed in tires).

The fact is that the Stuff in African scrapyards are pretty similar to the stuff Chinese and Indian and Texas scrapyards.  But if you aren't familiar with it, you can get distracted by a bunch of bigoted language about "primitives".  The trade in used goods is the same as it is in Massachusetts... poorer people are more likely to buy used stuff, news at 11.

The traffic jams we experience in every major city should give photojournalists a hint.  Always ask what is the financial incentive of the person showing you the picture.  Is it a non-profit agency seeking funding? Is it the owner of a shredding machine in London, who complains about not enough scrap metal revenue?   Is it the manufacturer of a brand new product, with an incentive in obsolescence? Is it a testosterone filled dude trying to pick up chicks by putting his compassion on display?

And feel free to ask me my motives.  I'm told some people say I'm doing Retroworks de Mexico and working with Africa's Tech Sector because I avoid paying the recycling costs.  To do that I'd have to export 80% of the material that comes in.  I don't.  We export about 5%, and far less than that to Africa.  I shipped a total of 1 sea container to Africa in the past year, about one day's worth of material, all tested by the African Technician who purchased them.

And calling him "primitive" and suggesting that he's probably dumping the material really pisses me off.  He could be the next profiled #HurricaneJoeBenson.

That's right.  I'm proud of my exports, and ashamed of those of us who are afraid to.

But because of our mutual communication, I could show my business partner in Ghana the pictures and false news about Agbogbloshie.  He had never been there, but spoke Dagbani and took me there (with reporters on a couple of occasions), via a criss-cross of back roads "corner by corner" to avoid the traffic jams on the major routes.  And now I have personal friends among the wire burners, who tell me on Whatsapp when a journalist is there taking pictures.

This rapid communication about the CircularEconomy not revolving around white nations is a source of great optimism about Globalization.  There are unwitting racists on both the left and right, and the fact you are certain you aren't racist doesn't protect you from confirmation bias.  Africa sure isn't perfect.  Neither is Los Angeles.  Just stop with the exoticism already.

It doesn't take a genius to see the world has problems.  But it takes a twitterfeed full of morons to think Hollywood can solve them.

(I like Hollywood btw... I like compassionate, nurturing people.  FightThePower grows on you there.  We just need to be mindful of the 'friendly fire' and 'collateral damage' to geeksofcolor)

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