Mobile consumerism: Pixel by pixel

Despite the many incredible things happening around the world with mobile phones, one thing continues to trouble me – the sheer numbers of these things being manufactured, consumed and, in some cases, spat out (dumped, stuffed in drawers, or whatever). Okay, many are finding their way into new homes and markets – developing world or otherwise – which is a good thing all round. But we’ve been fed news for so long about “several million new subscribers here” and “another few million there” that we’ve almost become numb to the massive scale of the whole thing. What on earth do several million handsets look like?

I never really thought about it until now. The photo above is from “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait“, a series of prints by photographer Chris Jordan that aims to examine modern American culture through the “austere lens of statistics”. What you’re seeing up there is a photograph of 500,000 mobile phones all piled up. This represents the number of mobiles ditched daily in the United States.

In India alone over 5 million new connections – ten times this number – are made every month. Now, maybe not all come with a new handset, but the manufacturers are doing their utmost to make sure they do. That’s where the battle is right now, and it’s only going to hot up. After all, on a global level more people still don’t have phones than do.

The sheer environmental cost of producing such a massive number of devices can’t be underestimated. Quite frankly, it’s huge. I don’t have any answers right now – I wish I did – and sometimes during my various talks I get asked about this. But despite that, I think it’s important that we are at least aware of the issues and don’t just stick our heads in the sand. Our love affair with the mobile phone is just one of many ‘consumptions’ taking hold in the world, as Chris Jordan’s exhibition so vividly shows. Curbing our demand for newer and newer handsets is just a small part of a much wider problem.

And, right now, no-one has any answers to that either.