How many hackers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Social Innovation Camp was at Open City Docs this weekend to see The Lightbulb Conspiracy, a brilliant documentary charting the history of planned obsolescence from the beginning of the 20th Century when a cartel of manufacturers decided to limit the life of the average lightbulb in order to sell more. From lightbulbs in the twenties, to cars in the thirties, nylon tights in the fifties and the printers and iPods of today, planned obsolescence has become endemic throughout the west in the way products are manufactured and sold.
The film highlighted the way in which ‘death dating’ technology has enabled massive economic growth by creating jobs and a consumer society that keeps money circulating. But, we were also shown how planned obsolescence creates a vast aray of social and environmental problems. In one example the filmakers travel to Ghana where environmental activists are fighting a losing battle against western companies illegally dumping millions of tons of broken electronics: destroying landscapes, polluting waterways and creating massive health problems among local populations.
After the film, we ran an ideas generation workshop with the audience, many of whom were shocked by the footage they had just seen.
Asked to tell us about their ‘itches’ on the topic, people voiced anger about dying batteries, quickly wearing jeans, the impossibility of recycling hardware, the difficulty of finding ethical electronics with a transparent supply chain and the lack of people with the knowhow to repair things once broken.
A couple of venture ideas that came out of the session:
- Cradle2Cradle or Baby Steps - use a freecycle model to recycle baby gear among new parents. The website would also have a forum for parents to share advice and tips.
- Trackback.com – a website to track where the stuff you have comes from, complete with interactive map.
Thank you to everyone who participated and to Open City Docs for hosting us at a fantastic festival!
Photo credit: Still from the movie by Cosima Dannoritzer