Screw smart phone; Help me choose an ethical phone!

Via Ari Setsudo Pliskin
on Jul 21, 2010
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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.


About Ari Setsudo Pliskin

Ari Setsudo Pliskin is Zen Yogi who works to actualize the interconnectedness of life online and on the streets. While once addicted to school, Ari has balanced his geekiness with spiritual practice and time spent on society’s margins. As a staff member of the Zen Peacemakers, Ari assisted Zen Master Bernie Glassman in his teaching around the world. Ari studies Zen at the Green River Zen Center in Greenfield, MA and is an Iyengar-style yoga teacher. Ari loves comic books as well. Ari currently serves as the Executive Director of the Stone Soup Café . Connect with Ari on Facebook or Twitter: @AriPliskin.


14 Responses to “Screw smart phone; Help me choose an ethical phone!”

  1. njanowitz says:

    If you're serious about boycotting conflict minerals your best bet is to buy a used phone off Ebay and not encourage increased consumption of new products. Currently no major cell phone companies are conflict free. For more information on where your cell phone parts come from read this article.

    You may also want to consider doing research not only on what happens in the making of a cell phone but also afterwords. The waste created from cell phones is often sent back to countries like India and China and causes immense ecological and humanitarian issues.

    Landlines are the way to go.

  2. my bank – a swiss bank – organized a discourse about ethical companies. they said that they have less than two dozens companies worldwide which they consider to be really ethical, social and ecological. that's their pool where the money goes and works if you leave it on the bank. the bank:

    three other banks recently just were written about to invest in companies producing cluster bombs. that's just ONE example of non-transparency.

    wanna have another example? swiss chocolate – in the cacao production involved are children!

    what can we do? if you wanna boycott everything, good luck man! but spread the message if you know a really »better« company for mobiles or computers!

    in my opinion, we have to be much more politically active, writing protest-letters etc.

  3. Susan says:

    I agree with Marx and Rousseau about property but I take it a step further; I think there is no way to have an ethical monetary system. I think we should start making the slow transition to a Resource-based Economy.

  4. Anzhr says:

    Buy an Android phone off eBay. It's Linux, and Open Source.

  5. Ari Pliskin says:

    @Anzhr: I'm still not convinced open-source is the way to go

  6. Greg Houston says:

    Something to keep in mind, a clarification of sorts, "illegally reproducing digital versions of music albums" is not stealing, but rather copyright infringement. The RIAA has done a good job of associating the two, yet stealing is taking something from someone against their will with the end result being they no longer have it. If you copy something, there is no direct loss to anyone. There is merely the abstract notion that maybe you would have given them money for it if you had not copied it. Copyright infringement is basically breaking an agreement you didn't actually make.

  7. We've published two articles on the "conflict minerals" in our phones issue:

  8. Their phones, physically, are no better. Great company, though, I worked with them for 7.5 years before leaving for iPhone.

  9. jolinda Van Haren says:

    I need a cell phone. I'm hoping that the one I have now will last until a company comes out with one that does not use conflict materials. Am I dreaming? I will be interested in your research.

  10. Ari Pliskin says:

    I'll try to remember to research previous posts better in the future!

  11. Ari Pliskin says:

    But I'm eager to explore the question.

  12. Ari Pliskin says:

    Maybe I'm being lazy by trying to crowd-source my research and inquiry, but it also feels good to get more voices in!

  13. omiya says:

    Social factors such as how the workers are treated treatment of workers is a major ethical consideration also, case in point, the iPhone:
    Google searches can identify phones (or laptops) that have better ethical ratings, whether by environmental or social factors.