The Too Big Technological Background

I needed a new phone and in the process changed carriers which means I needed my number ported from the old to the new. A process which normally takes no more than 3 hours and can often be done in minutes took  72 hours over four days, from Sunday afternoon until Wednesday 3pm. I dealt with several people at the store and each were trying to do their job, each was trying to deal with a situation they couldn’t understand along with a customer who kept asking where was the problem and pressuring them to resolve it. Each day brought a new crop of people, each with their own way of dealing with the issue. But none seemed aware of the huge background of technical inputs, processes and technicalities involved. They said first they didn’t have my correct zip code,  when they did, but as I discovered it was probably entered incorrectly. Then they said there was 2 port requests, while the original carrier said there was not. At a loss for what was causing the  delays they blamed the original carrier meaning it was out of their hands, they could do nothing. The point of all this is that whether with phones, or so many other daily necessities, cable, streaming, utilities, banking, all involve a technical backdrop which may be becoming too complex, certainly too complicated for the average person or the average worker. The people I dealt with were good with people, but unaware of potential issues behind the  parameters of their jobs, not out of ineptitude or laziness, and I am not sure due to  poor and inadequate training. They were knowledgeable within the confines of  their very small sphere.  

It’s easy to berate the tech support people we speak to on the phone, to get angry at those who are helping us when they give what looks like wrong answers, it’s easy to be angry at not being helped and be frustrated by the consequences, but the problem, I believe,  is not the workers but the immensity of the technological grid. Each worker is tasked with the equivalent of a piece of the puzzle, and they do what they are  to do, but there seems to be few who can see the whole picture. And as the picture continues to get bigger and bigger, it becomes an issue of concern. It is a concern that includes a lot more than  the smooth functioning of our individual lives, but the functioning of a nation, its national security and relations with its allies.  Several international issues relying on technology and its increasing ability to link, connect, compute, track… reveal the inherent complexities. Human trafficking is one where the technology can help but also add to the difficulties. It all points to the old issue inherent in the phrase too big to fail.  Increasingly we need to keep asking when is big too big for our own good?

The Right to Repair

The European Commission is presenting a set of rules that rightly applied are meant to make the movement called “the Right To Repair” come alive. As we all know there tends to be a built-in obsolescence to the electronics and other products we buy. These rules are meant to combat this by making products easier to repair. So often glue is used when screws could make the repair doable. We all have the experience of problems with printers, computers, phones, and the like and it is cheaper to buy a new one rather than have the old fixed. But so much waste is not good for the environment nor for the use of the earth’s resources. The European Commission is mainly concerned with the European Union, but manufacturers will not be making products for the EU alone, so despite Brexit  the regulations will have to also apply to products bought in the UK. Indeed the BBC reports many repair workshops springing up in several UK cities. While the repair movement may not be as visible in the US, it is gaining momentum since the same logic applies, manufacturers will not be making one product for the EU and one for the US. The regulations go further than certain guidelines for manufacturing products, they include packaging in a more environmentally friendly way and  in one that can also eliminate waste. And to all this we can all say Yeah!!

Cashmere and Climate Change

Mongolia has a problem, partly due to our increased demand for cashmere and partly due to climate change. Since it became a democracy in 1990 the number of  cashmere producing goats has soared from 9000 in 1999 to 27,000 in 2020. These goats need grazing and certain climactic conditions have affected how much land  there is to graze on to the point where 70% of the  land  is now overgrazed. The goats are taken care of by 1.2 million nomadic herders which make up 40% of the nation’s population and not only is their livelihood in danger as a result so is the economy of the country. Mongolia is the world’s second producer of  cashmere after China, representing a fifth of global supply and it is the country’s third largest export after copper and gold. Now as the world’s demand for cashmere keeps rising, climate change is accelerating the need for more land to graze on. Temperatures in Mongolia have risen 2 degrees Celsius, more than the world’s average, turning a quarter of the country’s lands into desert, obviously exacerbating the problem with  grazing .

What touches me about this story is how our actions, our needs, our preferences, have an effect on the nomadic herders of Mongolia.   You can say it’s oblique, indirect, that other  factors may be more relevant, marketing, or modern transportation systems, to name but two,  but it still comes down to our penchant for the softness of cashmere. And as I think about it, it reminds me of the interconnectedness of the human family and the oneness of humanity. I hope it will for you too.

About Displaced Persons

Being a displaced person must be a bit easier than being stateless but is nevertheless one of the most difficult positions in the world to be in. If they’re lucky displaced persons end up in camps, themselves difficult places to be. Now the government of Iraq has ordered several camps to close which means some 100,000 displaced persons will now also be homeless. Winter being near and  coronavirus make the situation even worse. At least a million people were displaced when the Islamic State lost control of  its Iraqi territories some 3 years ago. These are the people who ended up in the camps now being closed. They’re expected to return to their former homes whether or not they want to or those homes still exist. In addition, some may be penalized for having a family member suspected of being affiliated with the Islamic State or having a name similar to one who is on the Islamic State members list. Some refugee organizations have objected to the camps’ closing but the Iraqi government has not responded. And what makes this story even more notable is how little coverage it has received.

Two new books have recently come out about the difficulties endured by displaced persons after WWII, including those who were rescued from concentration camps, in finding a country that would have them. Then it was mainly Jews. Now it is mainly Moslems whether in the Middle East or the Uighurs in China, the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Add too the recent fleeing of some 200,000 Ethiopians to nearby Sudan. But no matter where it happens, the story is the same, unwanted people being driven out  or needing to flee because of politics and religion. Even the countries willing to accept some  displaced persons only accept very few. In the post war case, many ended up in the then Palestine, fighting for what became the state of Israel. There is no Palestine equivalent today, which does not lessen the problem and certainly not the moral issue underlying it.  It’s time we begin asking, what do we—as members of humanity—owe displaced persons?