Check out the demo here: Techcrumbs.org

Problem: This past weekend, the UN reported the 7 billionth person was born on earth. In about 200 years, we went from having 1 billion people on our planet to 7 billion. You might think that space is a problem, but you would be wrong. We have plenty of space, especially since the current human migration trend is toward super dense cities. The greater issue with so many people living on this planet is resources and demands on them. South Asia, South America, and Africa are all enjoying varying degrees of growth. This need for resources puts disastrous pressure on the environment and availability of water and food.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc4HxPxNrZ0[/youtube]

America’s role in resource usage and waste is vast. It is easy to see this culturally without ever knowing how the rest of the world lives. Right now, there are THREE reality shows that feature the subculture of storage locker auctions. If you watch any of these shows, the thing that is so startling is how much useless garbage that is shoved into compartments all over the country. This is not even including the psychological phenomenon of hoarding. The question has to be asked: do we need all of these things?

We are a country that has too many things. If you live in the suburbs, you are familiar with 2 car garages that can’t fit cars because they are full of unused items. Thanks to the internet and a growing culture of recycling and reuse, there have been more tools to save some these items from filling up landfills; craigs list and ebay to consignment stores and goodwill.

[flickr-gallery mode="photoset" photoset="72157627936743643"]

Some of the pillars that support this problem are: parents, tech enthusiasts, general consumers, students, corporations, governments, youth, schools, small children, military/law enforcement, as seen on tv junkies (ever hear of a slanket?), professional shoppers, marketers, salesmen, unions.

From these many pillars, I have chosen to focus on Tech Enthusiasts (TE), because it is a community I feel is progressive and tends to be honest when presented with enough data. They also use smartphones and devices constantly. TE also are integral members of the consumption cycle by being de facto experts in the evaluation of many products. Their frenzy contributes to the spin of a product. The media plays off of them. It stops being about the usefulness or need of a product, and more about being right finding the next it item, or winning the  prestige of owning that item.

Why do TE’s buy these items? productivity improvement, creation, industry support, entertainment, communication, commerce, the endorphin rush of owning the it item or a piece of magic, societal pressure, geek culture, attractiveness, tribalism, upgrading, brand loyalty, identity. 

Goal: create a mobile tool that gives a TE consumer a better understanding of their buying habits by putting the product in context of who builds these items and where they come from.

This tool does not want to shame users, but coax them into understanding unknown aspects of their technology purchases. It will do that by respecting the community, and using the social aspect of it. It will focus on how identity plays a big part in the technology that enthusiasts choose to purchase. How would a TE feel that their prized possession is linked to suffering, exploitation or the deterioration of the environment? The second part of the tool is to provide an opportunity to divert the need/want of the consumer to more DIY, or reusable solutions.
Here are some case stories:

story1: John loves technology. A graduate of Cal tech in 1979 from their computer science department, he began his career in an industry on the cusp of explosive generalization and popularization. In a perfect mix of bad and good luck, he worked for many companies that would later contribute (through corporate acquisition) to wonderful devices like the original macintosh, the VCR, the ibm thinkpad and ipod. He has always said that he was one step from having small talk at the urinal with Steve Jobs in the work washroom.

He has been a big fan of Steve Jobs. An avid theater goer, and someone with an open mind, he attended the premiere of the one man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” The play, in case you do not know, chronicles the contradiction that is Steve Jobs and our current electronic age: that the wonderful machines we need daily to operate like the iphone, are produced under conditions that abuse workers, complicate politics of countries that do not rank human rights highly,  and seriously affect the environment. Being a techie, John has been victim to the electronic cycle bug, where he replaces a totally functional piece of equipment because it is no longer the it device. Manufacturers’ goal for a fatter bottom line creates stress on our planet and the people who produce these products. John wonders, how can he improve this situation as a consumer, a person who ultimately has power to change the market. He searches in the app store and online for tools to understand better his role in this supply chain ecosystem. He finds techcrumbs.  Now when he shops for a device, he consults techcrumbs to find out if it fits into his goals of contributing less to the worst parts of the supply chain.

story 2:  a parent, who is a 1st generation immigrant from south asia and the children of factory workers, is sensitive to the people who create these devices. Her experience with how the production affected her family makes her sensitive to the plight of the low wage worker. She wants to encourage an understanding of where the things they enjoy in america comes from to her children. A friend suggests techcrumbs and sourcemaps.com.

story 3: a teacher of introduction economic theory at  progressive school wants to illustrate how to measure and understand  macro and micro economics and how issues on the ground, can affect supply chains and how products can be affected by them.

story 4: a student who is concerned with environmental issues and leans left wants to learn more about how the items she wants to buy support corporations whose ideology she disagrees with or hurt the environment.

story 5:  A businessman wants to learn more about a potential product market

Hitting further on mobile design tactics discussed in ITP2800, the mobile solution would be an HTML5 app, that connects to resources and information real time via wifi or mobile network and uses mapping information from the sourcemap.org database. As of this writing, it would be a universal web app. It would also balance capturing vs consuming behavior, by being a tool to learn more about products and how to document one’s possessions. There would be little video or audio media.

There are a handful of resources that would play a part in this experience. First, and most important, are the user generated interactive  maps and supplychain data  available from sourcemap.com.  These will be the starting point of the search process. The search process can be triggered by either a word based search or (in the future) a upc bar code scan of the item. Sourcemap location data would be linked to corresponding country information via globalvoicesonline.org, which provides RSS feeds of citizen journalism from a variety of countries. From this, a user can see what the current news coming out of a part’s origin. It puts the material in a human context.

Techcrumbs would also lean on the data produced by the UN and wikipedia to give a more fact based understanding of an area and the people who make the devices we love.

The next aspect of techcrumbs stems from the growing community of DIY and gadget love, cultural traits familiar to members of ifixit.com and gdgt.com. Ifixit, with its very detailed, very helpful library of repair documentation, helps a user extend the life of their gadgets. Gdgt provides an opportunity to list all of the gadgets a user owns currently, has owned in the past, and wants to own in the future. At all these intersections of ownership are fellow gadget lovers who provide their own feelings on these gadgets, giving a more nuanced and honest assessment of these products.

From this thinking, here is a a possible slogan: Cut through the spin, and follow the techcrumbs.

Here are some great feature suggestions from my class, and suggestions from my professor Nanthan Freitas:

  • scoring of the tech devices you own, to see how “conflicted” your device is. criteria could include if it is made with conflict materials, the quality of working and living standards of the workers who make the device , the strain on the environment these materials produce
  • for a 60 second experience example, when the user begins the app, they would receive scoring and mapping of the device they are currently using.

Here is a list of resources needed to make this app a reality:

  •  jquery mobile
  • database calls/searches to sourcemap, ifixit, gdgt, global voices, wikipedia, un data
  •  phonegap to use native utilities like a bar code scanner
  • to spread the message that this app strives to popularize, social hooks to facebook, twitter and google plus may be useful