Responsible computing

An article over on WorldChanging discusses whether purchasing “green” options can help us stem the current global waste crisis. It points out the necessity to develop environmentally responsible computers and other electronics.

But another thing to consider is whether the latest and greatest is really what we need at all, and even whether alternate economic models may encourage us along greener paths.

Bringing up the prospect of a green laptop is an important one and also a worthy goal. But how many people make anywhere close to full use of the power of a modern computer? Watching the steady flow of computers and other electronics through supposed obsolescence is a depressing sight, especially when much of it is still highly useful and would suit the needs of the vast majority of people.

Free Geek, an organisation in Vancouver, BC, based on a model from Portland, OR, is doing ethical computer recycling and reuse. For 24 hours of volunteer labour, helping to sort used computers and parts into the reusable and the recyclable, you can walk out the door with a complete computer system, easily capable of handling the most common tasks. Along the way, you’ll learn as much about computers and how they work to keep your system running until it actually breaks down.

No time to volunteer? They’ll even sell you one of these rebuilt and fully tested machines… cheap.

All of the Free Geek computers go out the door with the Ubuntu Linux operating system installed, along with all of the Free and Open Source software most people will need to perform any task they need. Not sure whether Linux would work for you? The CBC thinks it will.

The fact that these computers are still useful is constantly undermined by an underlying societal mantra, consistently droning about the speedy obsolescence of electronics. Contributing factors aside, this belief is at least partly driven by our dependence on proprietary operating systems like Microsoft Windows and Mac OS, a key example being the resulting upgrade requirement that Windows Vista imposes.

But Linux will still run these old computers and run them well, extending their lives well beyond the currently accepted ‘best-by’ date. Just by choosing the right operating system you can help to reduce the level of e-waste while encouraging the creation of community around the development of software tools.

That’s leverage.

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