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July 22, 2010

Screw smart phone; Help me choose an ethical phone!

I’ve got 24 days to decide whether I’m going to keep my i-phone and I’m also exploring whether to switch towards an open-source Content Management System to manage our website.  I received the phone as an unexpected gift and if I return it within 30 days from purchase (by August 15), I get 90% of the cost back and can end my contract with AT&T at no fee.

At our reflection of precepts discussion in the Zendo last Sunday, we focused on the precept of non-stealing.  One thing that came up for me was the pervasive habit of illegally reproducing digital versions of music albums.  The literal interpretation is that this would violate the Buddhist precept of non-stealing, but maybe it isn’t that simple.

Each in their own way, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx after him said that private property itself is theft.  And Henry David Thoreau taught me that its actually my duty to disobey unjust laws. In Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Wired editor Chris Anderson echoes the hacker credo: information wants to be free.  He mocks groups like Metallica who waste energy protecting their digital content.

The anti-corporate attitudes of my teenage years have been nuanced by an appreciation of various shades of social enterprise.  Its not just profit vs. non-profit or bottom line vs. human welfare.  It is possible to keep a triple bottom-line in site including profit, social benefit and environmental sustainability.  So, we might say that some companies or products are more ethical choices then others.

I chose the i-phone because it just seems like the popular option.  Before our precepts discussion, the thought of researching how different cell phone manufacturers get their raw materials and treat their workers etc. crossed my mind.  A friend of mine raised this question at the Wisdom 2.0 conference.  I didn’t do the research and now I’m second-guessing myself.

I’m hoping that the Elephant Journal readers could share some insight that will help me along with my process.  I promise to report back when the process is over, even if I find no ethical case compelling enough to convince me to not simply get the coolest gadget.

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