Bananaphone Founder Challenges InfoTech To Grow Up

October 8th, 2013

Sustainability, Intelligence, & Safety chart the path from the Darkweb to the Lightweb

Review of Raffi Cavoukian’s book,  “Lightweb Darkweb” 

In his new book "Lightweb Darkweb, Raffi

Many people know the author as “Raffi” – a beloved childrens performer behind the classic songs, “Baby Beluga,” and “Bananaphone.” In his new book “Lightweb Darkweb,” Raffi Cavoukian challenges the technology industry to make social media safer for kids, and to make the products safer and more sustainable for all.

I just finished the excellent new book by Raffi (the popular children’s troubadour and author) entitled Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons to Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us.  I found this book to be inspired and very relevant for anyone working in technology, who’s thinking about the role of technology in our culture, and/or who’s concerned about the impact of technology on our kids.  (In fact, I used a yellow marker to highlight the “important parts” and there is a whole lotta yellow in my book now!)

Lightweb Darkweb is a 21st century manifesto and call to action that presents critical information about our Internet culture in a vibrant and clear manner. While the internet and social media have made amazing things possible and accessible (the Lightweb), they also have a profound downside (the Darkweb), particularly for kids, that we must address.

The book is built around three compelling and urgent reasons to reform social media and issues a resounding call for a thorough “mid-course correction” before it is too late.

Reason 1: Safety

Raffi points out that social media (as well as the internet) were not designed for children, which is why we need to protect them from on-line predators (including bullies as well as advertisers).  He takes on Mark Zuckerberg directly for wanting to market Facebook to kids. In the words of Jim Steyer of Commom Sense Media:

What Facebook is proposing is similar to the strategies used by Big Tobacco in appealing to young people—try to hook kids early, build your brand, and you have a customer for life…..”

Raffi adds:

Luring younger and younger kids into using FB without any indication it would be good for them is a brazen attempt to increase FB’s profitability. Is this not using the young for your corporate ends? Is this not violating childhood innocence for advertising profits? Is FB turning into a platform for colonizing the child psyche and spirit?”

Instead, he asserts, we need “privacy by design.”   Also, Raffi brings to light the latest research on electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency radiation, pointing out the dangers, especially for young children.

 Reason 2:  Intelligence

“A vast sociological experiment is under way” that is teaching kids to value “artificial reality” over actual reality and real time play (and nature!).

 “There are many signs of unhealthy culture in a civilization that currently seems stuck in short-termism, like a juvenile refusing to grow up, needing intervention. One clear sign is a predatory commercial culture and its willful exploitation of the young. Culture as bully. It’s our duty to resist it, to change it, to orient societal priorities towards life-affirming values and to oppose life-destroying practices.  Resistance to unhealthy culture is not an option, it’s our duty.” (Emphasis mine.)

 I know that things were difficult enough monitoring TV when my wife and I were raising our kids – it is now WAY more difficult with the emergence of social media.  And it not just a dilemma for parents – teachers are also under heavy pressure – and Raffi speaks to them directly.  He reminds us that the moral imperative is “first do no harm” and reminds us that “there is no app for wisdom – If you’re not grounded in the real world, if you can’t face the complexity of being fully human, how can you possibly thrive in navigating virtuality—or even tell the difference?

Reason 3:   Sustainability

The third pillar is the ecology of InfoTech:  its manufacture, marketing and life cycle.  This is what brings Social Media “to our fingertips….It’s not just about conserving the life-giving qualities of air, water and soil. It’s about a way of living ethically, a code of conduct for our relations with the Earth, with each other and with the future.”

He shines a bright light on the hidden hazards throughout the life cycle of electronics production which fuels our addiction to our gadgets and social media: “all our high-tech gadgets come from a very dirty industry in which rich nations extract the good stuff from the earth—and leave poor countries to clean up the mess.”  Our reliance on “cheaply priced goods… have a big ecological footprint” all around the world.  He correctly notes that none of  us would like to see our own children working 12 hour days around hazardous chemicals to turn out “shiny-tech devices”, and that none of us wants to be on the receiving end of the tons of e-waste generated by planned obsolescence and our throw-away culture.  He quotes from “The story of electronics” and “Challenging the chip: Labor rights and environmental justice in the global electronics industry”:

Challenging the Chip is about challenging the industry to use its incredible ingenuity to dazzle the world all over again with cleaner, greener technologies, products, and components that are free of toxics, easy to recycle, and produced without harm to those manufacturing, assembling, and disassembling them…. the planned obsolescence of electronic devices, which become outdated very quickly, virtually rules out repairing or upgrading existing ones, and that forces consumers to buy new devices and throw out the old.  The rapid pace of change is a real double-edged sword because new chemicals are being incorporated before adequate health testing is done, and we are also consuming faster than we can recycle….. An industry that’s been able to put thousands of songs, photos, and videos on a tiny chip has the capacity to pave the way towards a sustainable future.”

In conclusion, Raffi calls out industry leaders to accept responsibility for what they have created, to overcome their “tech hubris”, and to start investing some of their vast wealth into creating solutions:

”What if Bill Gates were to have an epiphany, realizing that the future health of his family—and indeed the global human family— depends on the deep greening of InfoTech? What if he were to commit himself to the thorough detoxification of the electronics industry by bringing his influence to bear on leaders in InfoTech and beyond?

What if he and other industry leaders were to publicly declare that InfoTech must prioritize the next generation of children the way it currently prioritizes the next generation of chips? What a lasting legacy that would be!

The “Lightweb” needs to be guided by the principles of “benign by design” and Raffi cites leading sustainability thinkers and practitioners.  He cites at length the “Vision for sustainable electronics” being developed by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (of which I am the Chair), which envisions a future world where:  materials and processes cause no harm; activities enrich communities; natural resources are protected; inputs and outputs of the manufacturing process are sustainable;  working conditions are safe and healthy;  and new business models prioritize sustainability and embrace lifecycle goals.   In order to navigate this new path to sustainability, Raffi invites us all to participate in creating the new “Lightweb”.

Thank goodness for Raffi and hallelujah for “Lightweb Darkweb” – this new book is a beacon of light to lead us out of the current wilderness of the Dark Web and into a sustainable future. Citing Gandhi, he points us to a future where everyone has enough for their needs (but not their greed.  Sometime it takes a troubadour to show us which way the wind is blowing.

Ted Smith has worked to promote sustainable electronics for over 30 years, as founder of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Chair of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, and Coordinator of the International Campaign for Responsible Technology.  He is co-author and co-editor of “Challenging the chip” and lives in San Jose, California, which calls itself the “Capitol of Silicon Valley”.