A visit to the warehouse in which gadgets donated to Cell Phones for Soliders and other charity programs get a second life.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped into Recellular's Ann Arbor warehouse was the flags. From the rafters, the flags of the world oversee the processing of more than four million cell phones each year. Algeria and Mali keep watch as donated phones are sorted by make and model into row after row of labeled plastic trays. Brazil and Poland command dozens of test benches, where workers inspect, clean, and repair used phones for resale. Puerto Rico and Great Britain hang over the upstream holding area, where hundreds of used and refurbished phones wait in addressed boxes to be shipped out to customers. Each flag represents an employee--they add a new flag every time they hire someone from another country.
The flags also emphasize the company's global impact: when you donate a phone to Cell Phones for Soldiers, or Sprint Project Connect, or The March of Dimes, it will end up here. Lots of people think that when they donate to Cell Phones for Soldiers, the phone is actually mailed to Iraq. That wouldn't work very well--our locked down handsets would be rather worthless on Iraq's cell networks. Instead, Recellular resells or recycles the phone and uses some of the profits to buy calling cards for soldiers. The man behind Recellular is the inimitable Chuck Newman. Chuck and his Recellular team recycle over ten thousand used phones every day, which they claim is more than any other cell phone recycler in the world.
Chuck and his brother Allan founded Recellular in 1991, the same year that cell phones switched from analog 1G signals to the digital 2G network. The Newman brothers recognized a trend--people were beginning to upgrade to new cell phones not because their old phones were broken, but because advances in technology had made them obsolete. In this high tech trash, Chuck and Allan saw an opportunity to start a business and to protect the environment--by refurbishing, reusing, and recycling the millions of phones that would have otherwise sat in drawers for years.
The business model proved highly successful. It's news to nobody that the vast majority (83%) of American adults have some sort of cell phone. Worldwide, 1.6 billion cell phones were sold last year. Although people are hanging onto their phones for slightly longer today than they were a few years ago--Americans reported keeping their phones an average of 20.5 months in 2010, up 17% from 2009--most people still upgrade their phone more than once every two years.
I sat down with Chuck this week to discuss some of the larger issues surrounding cell phones. I've been studying the sources and consequences of electronics manufacturing for years and have traveled all around the world, visiting repair shops and e-waste sites. My company, iFixit, is dedicated to increasing the lifespan of our devices, and I value Chuck's perspective on the issue.
Where does this growth stop, I asked? How many phones should we be making each year for a population of 7 billion people? Chuck isn't sure that growth can or should be stopped:
In the capitalistic system, in the marketplace, the people decide what they need or want. It's awfully hard to impose upon them, saying, "You don't really need that." We have the right to get a phone that's smaller and a prettier color if we want. And I think it's pretty clear that there are enormous economic and health benefits to populations having access to communications.
I am also a technology evangelist. The productivity benefits technology brings make our lives easier--but they can also lift someone out of poverty by making a fledgling business profitable. We're just starting to see how pervasive communications are changing lives: it's now possible for a fisherman in Mombasa to check from the docks which market will give him a better price and for a farmer in Haryana to receive life-altering weather updates via SMS.
It's doesn't do any good to have the capacity to manufacture a cell phone for every person in the world if they can't afford it. The real way we to make affordable phones available to the masses is to get phones from people that are done with them to the people that need them.
Every day a phone sits in a drawer is a day it's not being used by someone--and a day closer to compatible cell networks shutting off forever. We need to get the used phones from the drawers of Americans into the hands of people in the developing world. And Recellular is more effective at that than just about any other organization.
There's a market for used phones in America, too. Many customers want nothing more than the ability to make calls and send text messages. Recellular's biggest seller is still the original RAZR, which Motorola stopped manufacturing in 2007. AT&T, and perhaps some other manufacturers, have marketed their refurbished phones as "the eco-conscious choice." "And that is just right," Chuck emphasizes, "they are green phones." Apple's recently updated environmental site supports this claim; manufacturing accounts for 61% of electronics' carbon footprint. That's the same reason a used car is more environmentally friendly along some vectors than a Prius. Reuse is the simplest way to mitigate the environmental impact of manufacturing.
Many large cell phone manufacturers have placed Recellular collection bins in their retail stores to support their cell phone refurbishment programs. Yet only about 10% of defunct phones are recycled, and most people have at least a couple of old cell phones sitting around.
Why? Chuck boils it down to three major reasons ("this is part of my stump speech," he quips with a laugh): first, people need to be aware that they have options for disposing their phone properly. Second, people need to be motivated to recycle. Third, recycling needs to be "really, really easy. Even when people have the best intentions," he explains, "if it requires an action on their part, it's pretty easy to forget."
Even though it's the reason they got into the business, ReCellular has learned that the environmental message isn't very effective. Instead, they distribute postage-paid envelopes for people to send in old phones, donating them to some cause or another. When the envelope says the phone will be donated to charity, 50-80% more phones come in than when it bears a strong environmental message. Through their more than 2,000 charitable and environmental partnerships, they donated more than $3 million to charity in 2009.
The jobs Recellular has created in cell phone repair and reuse are a positive data point in an otherwise flagging Michigan economy. Much of the manufacturing that made the Rust Belt famous has moved overseas, but there's still lots of money to be made--and jobs to be created--remanufacturing electronics. And through reuse and remanufacturing, Recellular makes the world a better place, getting phones to people who need them and helping charities such as Cell Phones for Soldiers reap the rewards.
The Fixers is a documentary project about e-waste in Africa, and the repair technicians who turn our unwanted junk into coveted treasures. Produced by Kyle Wiens, screenplay by Brian X. Chen, and photography by Jon Snyder and Justin Fantl.
With Donald Trump its presumptive nominee after his win in the Indiana primary, the GOP will never be the same.
NEW YORK—Where were you the night Donald Trump killed the Republican Party as we knew it? Trump was right where he belonged: in the gilt-draped skyscraper with his name on it, Trump Tower in Manhattan, basking in the glory of his final, definitive victory.
“I have to tell you, I’ve competed all my life,” Trump said, his golden face somber, his gravity-defying pouf of hair seeming to hover above his brow. “All my life I’ve been in different competitions—in sports, or in business, or now, for 10 months, in politics. I have met some of the most incredible competitors that I’ve ever competed against right here in the Republican Party.”
The combined might of the Republican Party’s best and brightest—16 of them at the outset—proved, in the end, helpless against Trump’s unorthodox, muscular appeal to the party’s voting base. With his sweeping, 16-point victory in Tuesday’s Indiana primary, and the surrender of his major remaining rival, Ted Cruz, Trump was pronounced the presumptive nominee by the chair of the Republican National Committee. The primary was over—but for the GOP, the reckoning was only beginning.
A person’s age plays a role in when they think United States was at its peak—and Baby Boomers have a particularly dim view of the present.
Of all the themes powering Donald Trump's rhetoric, nostalgia is the strongest. Make America great again. We used to win. We're going to bring jobs back.
Republicans love a good bout of rocking-chair reminiscing. Others have noted the party's preoccupation with the word "restore," citing, among other things, Marco Rubio's newest book (American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone), Mitt Romney's super PAC ("Restoring Our Future"), and Glenn Beck's 2010 rally on the National Mall ("Restoring Honor"). When a party's central tenets include a strict interpretation of the Constitution and a commitment to traditional values, it can't avoid an existential yearning for days gone by. Trump has merely put a more populist spin on a longstanding impulse.
A new partnership between Google and Chrysler is a reminder that self-driving cars won’t go anywhere until the public trusts they’re safe.
Google is more than doubling its fleet of self-driving vehicles this year. But instead of adding more of its own cute bubble-shaped vehicles, or another batch of Audis, Lexus SUVs, or Toyotas like those it currently uses to test its technology, Google is working with Chrysler to build 100 driverless minivans.
In one respect, this is straight out of the so-not-flashy-it’s-actually-flashy Silicon Valley playbook. (See also: Black turtlenecks.) But it’s actually a brilliant move on the part of Google. (And Chrysler, for that matter, but that’s another story.)
For one thing, self-driving cars, when they become available for purchase, are likely to crop up first in certain kinds of environments, like small cities or large corporate campuses. A vehicle that seats eight will be attractive for businesses and institutions that might want to snap up mini-fleets of driverless cars for ridesharing.
The odds of defeating the billionaire depend in part on whether Americans who oppose him do what’s effective—or what feels emotionally satisfying.
Tens of millions of Americans want to deny Donald Trump the presidency. How best to do it? Many who oppose the billionaire will be tempted to echo Bret Stephens: “If by now you don’t find Donald Trump appalling,” the Wall Street Journal columnist told the Republican frontrunner’s supporters, “you’re appalling.”
Some will be tempted to respond like anti-Trump protesters in Costa Mesa, California. Violent elements in that crowd threw rocks at a passing pickup truck, smashed the window of a police cruiser, and bloodied at least one Trump supporter. Others in the crowd waved Mexican flags. “I knew this was going to happen,” a 19-year-old told the L.A. Times. “It was going to be a riot. He deserves what he gets.”
Rampant drug use in Austin, Indiana—coupled with unemployment and poor living conditions—brought on a public-health crisis that some are calling a “syndemic.”
Jessica and Darren McIntosh were too busy to see me when I arrived at their house one Sunday morning. When I returned later, I learned what they’d been busy with: arguing with a family member, also an addict, about a single pill of prescription painkiller she’d lost, and injecting meth to get by in its absence. Jessica, 30, and Darren, 24, were children when they started using drugs. Darren smoked his first joint when he was 12 and quickly moved on to snorting pills. “By the time I was 13, I was a full-blown pill addict, and I have been ever since,” he said. By age 14, he’d quit school. When I asked where his caregivers were when he started using drugs, he laughed. “They’re the ones that was giving them to me,” he alleged. “They’re pill addicts, too.”
Does the presumptive Republican nominee see African Americans and Hispanics as part of the American “we”?
Celebrating his big win in Indiana—and his elevation to presumptive nominee of the Republican Party—Tuesday night, Donald Trump spoke at Trump Tower in New York City, where he delivered a promise to heal the deep fractures in his party.
“We want to bring unity to the Republican Party,” he said. “We have to bring unity. It's so much easier if we have it.”
That will be a tall order. But as a general-election candidate, Trump will need to win over more than just Republicans. In his inimitable way, he pledged to bring together the rest of the nation as well.
“We're going to bring back our jobs, and we're going to save our jobs, and people are going to have great jobs again, and this country, which is very, very divided in so many different ways, is going to become one beautiful loving country, and we're going to love each other, we're going to cherish each other and take care of each other, and we're going to have great economic development and we're not going to let other countries take it away from us, because that's what's been happening for far too many years and we're not going to do it anymore,” he said. (That’s a single sentence, if you’re keeping track at home.)
A new study suggests teens who vow to be sexually abstinent until marriage—and then break that vow—are more likely to wind up pregnant than those who never took the pledge to begin with.
Teen birth and pregnancy rates have been in a free fall, and there are a few commonly held explanations why. One is that more teens are using the morning-after pill and long-acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCs. The economy might have played a role, since the decline in teen births accelerated during the the recession. Finally, only 44 percent of unmarried teen girls now say they’ve had sex, down from 51 percent in 1988.
Teens are having less sex, and that’s good news for pregnancy-and STD-prevention. But paradoxically, while it’s good for teens not to have sex, new research suggests it might be bad for them to promise not to.
As of 2002, about one in eight teens, or 12 percent, pledged to be sexually abstinent until marriage. Some studies have found that taking virginity pledges does indeed lead teens to delay sex and have fewer overall sex partners. But since just 3 percent of Americans wait until marriage to have sex, the majority of these “pledge takers” become “pledge breakers,” as Anthony Paik, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, explains in his new study, which was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
Having friends is good for you, science confirms, but not all friendships are unequivocally good. They can be imbalanced, codependent, destructive, exclusionary. “Frenemies” was a buzzword there for a while (and apparently a Disney Channel Original Movie in 2012), but even friends who truly care about each other can hurt each other.
And still, “without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods,” as Aristotle wrote. For Aristotle, true friendship was a virtue, and a flawless force for good in the world. In his new book On Friendship, Alexander Nehamas, a professor in the humanities at Princeton University, questions that idea. He thinks that friendship is not about morality at all, and that we value it not because it is always good, but because it is beautiful.
Historical precedents augur against Donald Trump—but perhaps the old rules no longer apply.
Historical context is a great asset. But is history always an accurate guide? Does past performance always give us the best predictor of future outcomes?
This election season provides a fascinating frame to see if the polarization in politics, from Washington to the states to the public, is no different than what we have seen in the past; if the angry populism evident especially on the right but also to some degree on the left, is no different from the populism that has emerged following every economic setback; if the surge for an insurgent, non-establishment candidate that has always petered out well before the primary process is over will follow the same arc; if the Republican Party will once again flirt with outside-the-box candidates before settling on an establishment figure; if the fact that every major-party convention since 1952 has been over before a ballot is cast will hold true again. Or, perhaps, if this time might be different.