Category: Conflict-free

Guest post: when you read everything on the followthethings.com website

For the past six weeks, Exeter Geography graduate Natalie Cleverly has been working as a nicely paid intern on the ‘follow the things’ project. She took the Geographies of Material Culture module that’s generated our site since 2008, but in its new 2020-21 online iteration. And, this summer, she read every ‘compilation’ page on our website, looking for timely events about each page to post on our Twitter and Instagram because they happened ‘on this day’. As Natalie was finishing up, we asked her what it had been like to read the whole site. We don’t know anyone else who has done this! What do you learn? What’s been happening to ‘follow the things’ activism since we first opened our store ten years ago? Here are her thoughts.


Last September, I began the Material Cultures module at Exeter University. Since I’d chosen the module five months prior, the world had turned so upside down and inside out that I’d forgotten what I’d even signed up for. But I was fascinated. Particularly by followthethings.com itself. It wasn’t like any research project I had seen before. I reached out to Ian – who ran the module and the website – ‘Is there any way I can help?’.

And here we are. I’m not a followthethings.com expert, but after reading through 70+ pages of the website (almost the whole thing!) I’ve gained a good insight. So, what did I take away from sifting through all these years of content around activism / filmmaking / grassroots organising / following-the-thing?

A lot.

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Fairphone: ‘an object to start conversations’.

Having become fascinated by the spoof ‘conflict free’ iPhone 4CF created by the Yes Men and students at the Parsons New School for Design in 2010, we have been following with fascination the creation of the Fairphone: a ‘real’ conflict free smartphone which will be out very soon.

Recently the Fairphone opened a ‘Pop-up Space’ in London, where they discussed this phone with people who dropped by. This short film about these pop-up discussions is well worth watching.

What was a ‘design fiction’ is now a reality… so what does that mean for the designers, makers, traders and users of smart phones?

Commodity activism & making things: the Fairphone.

Earlier this year, journalist George Monbiot wrote about the next mobile phone he was going to buy. It was a difficult decision:

If you are too well connected, you stop thinking. The clamour, the immediacy, the tendency to absorb other people’s thoughts, interrupt the deep abstraction required to find your own way. This is one of the reasons why I have not yet bought a smartphone. But the technology is becoming ever harder to resist. Perhaps this year I will have to succumb. So I have asked a simple question: can I buy an ethical smartphone? … I haven’t yet made a decision. There are all the other issues to investigate, including the remarkably short life of these phones … Perhaps I will wait until FairPhone manufactures a handset. Or perhaps I won’t bother. I might resign myself to less immediacy, less accessibility and a little more space in which to think. George Monbiot 2013 [link]

This is the ad for the Fairphone he was talking about. It’s just been posted online. Please press play.

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We love this project. It starts with the argument that we start with. But they’re not exposing exploitation (see here). They’re not making a banned smartphone game that shows how it’s made (see here). They’re not spoofing the existence of a conflict free phone (see here).

Like these other examples, however, they are putting pressure on manufacturers. By showing that conflict free phones can be made. By making and marketing one. That’s cool and affordable as other smartphones. €325. That you can buy and use (in Europe first). They need 5,000 orders. Here.

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