Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this. However, if you do not have time, then please maybe just skip to the videos or turn on your sound and click listen at the bottom, to hear the song I made using only (E)waste products for a recent tangential task. It’s a taster of my progress with Ableton, Cubase and Reaper so far. You’ll probably either find it funny, catchy or super annoying- if so, sorry! I hope you enjoy the videos as well/instead.
My journey so far:
September 2019, and the start of the part-time Sustainable Design MA course, seems an awful long time ago now, but I remember the first few sessions vividly: mostly the overwhelming, weekly feeling of being lost in a sea of ideas, concepts and new ways of thinking.
I sailed into the course on a comfortable yacht, as a teacher of Design and Technology for twelve years. By October, it felt like I had jumped overboard and no land was in sight. With no flotation device, I was treading water, which I suspected to be very, very deep.
Gradually, time and tides passed and waves from fellow students and tutors washed me in a direction. I came to the shores of a land I had heard about- the “island of waste”; electronic waste, specifically. My degree in industrial design had had me looking at materials and products closely, indeed I felt I had drifted by this island many times in the past, but with the freedom and encouragement to explore, it started to occur to me just how massive it was.
Skimming the surface, I knew I would need further direction or forever be breached on the beach. Each conversation was a pebble, each comment a grain of sand which, to understand, would require further research. I began working with new tools to help me survive my new environment, tools I had always wanted to learn and improve my proficiency with: music and video production, website development, modelling in different and new media, etc.
By the turn of the year, it was dawning on me that the course wasn’t telling me what to learn or do, but that I was empowered to chose; I wasn’t in competition with anyone but myself. The toughest challenge was learning to accept that it was OK not to know something, it was alright to be unsure and it was good to consider uncertainties. After so long in the educational industry, where colleagues, parents and of course children want or need you to know what you are doing and saying, letting go of confidence ironically shook my confidence, a lot.
Each time I tried to delve beyond the beach and into the island issue of electric and electronic waste, I became troubled and tangled. The jungle of existing work was dense, the problems very real and pressing. Making videos and models and songs became new methods of communicating I had not tried before. They showcased what I had discovered better than the essay writing I have previously learnt and currently teach in schools.
The mountain of waste on this island is well known. You have all probably thought about it or seen it as you too sail by. We have generated over 25,000,000 tons of E-waste in 2020 already; fewer than 12% gets recycled; one billion cell phones are produced each year and they now outnumber humans, each with their own rare, toxic and heavy metals; third world workers are paid a pittance to scrape more from rapidly depleting and increasingly coveted mines and so on. The facts are easy to find. My voice is puny compared to the hundreds of other captains and sailors who have found themselves castaway on a similar shore, beheld the island, raised awareness and suggested solutions. I now have my own, gleaned from the last six months. With the blessing and curse of education, you may already have yours. It is simple to search up startling statements for yourself and it is easy to shut down as this is only one problem the human race has recently caused and is now facing, daily. Trust me, I understand how overwhelming it can seem and instead of screaming out to sea, I knew I had to try a different angle: the ramifications of the right to repair, the make do and mend mentality, the conflict between circular economy and built in obsolescence, cradle to cradle concepts and my personal frustration can be too much at first. However, I’m not on this course just to learn, I want to see our world as a whole improve. I now had to get off the beach.
Only recently did it occur to me that I already had access to people who can make the change. Instead of trying to convince hundreds of tired friends, strangers and members of generations who (inadvertently) caused, or were encouraged to create, the waste over the last 50 years, I should use my resources and privileges to reach hundreds of young minds I work with every school day. They can accept or challenge my opinions, we can learn and progress together and they are more likely to react and try to make the impact we all want to see, because tomorrow’s world is theirs. New boats can float with the buoyancy of youth. Instead of using this course to try to get away from teaching and into something else, I should make the logical first step of using the course to make me a better teacher. By knowing more and being able to present it in a greater range of media, I can reach my audience with a better, positive message.
This is the trail of thought behind my next project, called Studio, where I will use my new found skills to collaborate with as many experts as possible in an entertaining and educational pod-jam format (podcast with music, because songs and varied media help us learn). I have also created a website, to host this collection of work, for my GCSE and A Level students, and anyone else who is interested.
This is what my second year of this course will focus on, so watch this space. It is going well so far and I very much hope you enjoy the finished product this time next year. Below are some tasters and creations from the last academic year which give you a sample of where I have come from and where I am heading. It won’t be all about E-waste – far from it! So there is a terrific amount of work and research I have to do. If you are interested in collaborating and creating an education ‘podjam’, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I am going to combine tools and knowledge with a variety of professionals from my educational spheres to create something which is hopefully educational, interesting and maybe even funny. The goal is to engage an audience of pupils and anyone who has the time to be entertained and still wants to learn. Hopefully this different media can help us start to make the changes we would like to see, before the ship has sailed.
Please turn on your sound, and click listen below, to hear the song I made using only (E)waste products for a recent tangental task. It’s a taster of my progress and focus for my future.
In A right ol’ fix (a lockdown limmerick beat poem).
You would regret asking me why
But I’ve been doing DIY
and took some hours off my life
to make an office, for the wife
And time was in great supply.
We have a rather small spare room
full of wasted space, dust and gloom
so using some craft and knowledge
I built a bed, desk and storage.
It could be our conference centre on Zoom/somewhere for my snow stuff and her costumes
Feel free to ask me for photos
I kept it cheap, met all quotas
It is all re-used and reclaimed,
even the rungs and the bed frame.
It’s effective, with a cost efficient focus.
I have this old set of speakers:
a phat bass amp and two tweeters,
Which I once thought were really good
and you’ve probably understood
I wanted them in the room as a feature.
Yeah, include the speakers, you know
make an office /studio.
They’d fit nicely, it won’t take much
for the perfect finishing touch-
I love it when a plan comes together….. but no!
No bass! What’s up? Here’s is the issue
(get small violin or tissues)
Arggh I want to yell, curse and sob
because I can’t finish the job,
and another bolt in my brain remains loose.
Of sweet satisfaction, I’m robbed!
The potentiometer knob
had broken off inside the case
because the unit had been placed
Sometime during the home improvement job,
and moved on its front, not the base
snapping the dial, scratching the face
Of course you know full well, in fact,
there’s no point questioning this act
no one knows who did it, there’s no trace
because they are always bloody
Deeds done by Mr Nobody!
And you would be wasting your time
To find who committed the crime
So most people would just move on….but not me.
Now, I’m personally a lover
of reduce, reuse, recover
yes when it comes to the 4 Rs,
and challenging practical task,
I’m quick to reach for the screwdriver.
Yeah I like to make do and mend
When a useful life need not end
And I’ve been taught many old tricks,
So I’d say most things I can fix
And Covid’s given me spare hours to spend.
The amp can be disassembled
but the part is proper mangled
and the old solder, in my hands
turns into grains of silver sand.
And I realize I’m now entangled.
Now, you might think I’m going mad
Or sound a bit like your Granddad
but all those years with Lego bricks
have taught me most things can be fixed
I’m that subtle mix of handy, bored and sad.
But, of course, that’s not how it works.
If you’re wanting something to work
Buy new, my friend, that’s your best bet
that’s the developed world’s mindset
“Don’t be a belligerent berk!”
A friend says; I’m ‘dyed in the wool’
and that “Amazon Prime is full
of products delivered next day-
you can throw the old one away”.
And that’s a red rag to a bull!
Like a programmed machine reacts,
soon I’m quoting these random facts
About obsolescence, design,
The Anthropocene we could mine
Like a broken record player and all that.
Which, I point out, is ironic,
as my voice gets super sonic,
I turn around with more to say
To see the friend has walked away
And I realise I’m being moronic.
So I’m muttering to myself
About mine and others health
“Though to most, waste may have no worth
We should respect our mother earth
And if not her, then for yourself!”
“Because these products in landfill
are like giant cyanide pills
with radioactive structures
And endocrine disruptors
And I can hear myself talking, still!
I’ve said this so often before,
I’m not surprised that she gets bored.
She’s right- it’s easier to buy new
It is what they want us to do
And It’s not like it’s something we can’t afford.
But I’ve decided I’ll resist.
Here’s the clearing of the red mist,
Except I’m stuck before I start
because I cannot name the part,
And the fixer’s story takes another twist.
Remember Maplins? I’ve missed them.
They’d help fix my sound system,
but they have gone online,
As is normal, in these times.
We have the collective, world wide wisdom.
So if I go to the high street
there’s a hundred places to eat,
get a tan and get my hair cut,
oh but here is the big but
There is nowhere to fix, nowhere, I repeat.
If I want replacement parts,
well, that’s a dying art
and it is not so easy a task,
because there is no-one real to ask
And now I feel foolish to have made a start.
But it’s naive now just to stop
and think there should be a shop.
The way the economy thrives
means such a place would not survive
Things get bought, broken and dropped.
It’s disgusting, but it’s true-
as our wants just grew and grew.
Whats £50 for a new amp?
20 for fridges, 5 for lamps?
You might as well just go buy new.
Don’t fight system, it’ll win it!
Don’t try and fix stuff, just bin it!
Just be torn between fly tipping,
ordering, waiting for shipping,
This is system, and you are complicit in it.
So online I go to search,
pages of electronic merch
And I learn the broken thing
is a type 10k, 3 pin
(and they are easily besmirched)
for old speakers and monitors,
And of course you can’t buy one
You must get 20+ or none,
Wrapped in plastic packaging by the metre
Call me pedantic, maybe I am,
but this thing must weight half a gram
and you simply can’t get one
because they ship them from Hong Kong
Via New Delhi and Amsterdam.
What’s the freakin’ use?
we’re English! We don’t produce!
We don’t fix, we just consume.
So I have an unfinished room,
In a country so profuse.
If my order gets placed,
in 8 weeks-ish, post haste,
The parts come my door.
I’ll be back where I was before,
With a box of 19 dials to waste!
Or sell them on, individual,
But I’m stubborn, I’m a fool-
That’s not the point of my despair
We should have the right to repair!
We have the hands, we have the tools.
So here I am, writing this prose:
These privileged modern blues solos.
It isn’t perfect, it needs a few tweaks,
but I have another 8 weeks
To not record or listen to it or anything, oh…
Oh yeah I got the E-waste blues!
Deep down, I know there is no use.
Like Schrodinger’s amp, it conflicts,
‘Cause it both can and can’t be fixed.
Why can’t you make all parts replaceable, like a fuse?