While we at Mediolana have extensively documented how global society is in thrall to all things mobile and telephonic, as a company we find it hard to get excited by the actual processes that go into making smartphones: it is more than a little dispiriting to reflect on the fact that a device which helps define one’s life is more often than not enabled by murky resource wars and sub-slave labour.
However, recently this changed when our Creative Director & CSO – himself on the search for a new smartphone – stumbled across Fairphone, a social enterprise company headquartered in Amsterdam which produces self-styled ethical smartphones. Through respective agreements with suppliers and contractors in the Democratic Republic of Congo and China, Fairphone promises to deliver to consumers a handset free of conflict minerals and blood-stained factory walls. Fairphone have candidly stated that while it is not yet possible to produce a smartphone which is 100% ‘clean’, this is very much a key objective of the project.
In a world flooded with noble initiatives, Fairphone stands out for three key reasons:
- Spotting the Ethical Chasm. Fairphone have recognised that there is a vast ethical hole in the operations of most major smartphone manufacturers – not a small issue given the increasing global ubiquity of these devices. Acting on this observation clearly has the potential to strike a huge chord.
- Making it Sexy. Most social enterprises fail for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them is the lack of investment in design and branding. All too often, social enterprises rely on the push of goodwill while almost totally neglecting the pull of allure. Conversely, the Fairphone star logo is a genuinely good marque – rebellious for all the right reasons – which one can imagine actively wanting to be associated with.
- Making Small Plausible. While a surprising number of countries have their own successful smartphone brands – think Xiaomi in China, Casper in Turkey, Yotaphone of Russia – producing cutting-edge electronics is largely the preserve of corporate giants in service-dominated economies. But Fairphone has shown that a social enterprise in a smallish European territory can make its mark in a notoriously competitive sector: the tens of thousands of Fairphone 1.0 handsets have sold out, and 2.0 is in the pipeline.
A recently-released report from the esteemed UK medical journal The Lancet (The Third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, ‘TTNSSAL’) has set our Creative Director & CSO thinking about a trend he observed back in 2006 when he was a Featured Writer for Seoul-based digital newspaper OhmyNews: that of sex being supplanted by technology. According to TTNSSAL, there has been a 20% decline in the amount of sexual intercourse in the United Kingdom since the year 2000, with a reported frequency rate – which in reality is almost certainly lower because of the nature of the subject – of just three times per month for the entire adult population.
Given the brevity of the time period over which this change has been observed, this is an astonishing transformation. A 20% contraction in an activity which, ceteris paribus, should be broadly constant is so statistically significant that it immediately leads one to speculate as to what the causes of this might be. After some contemplation, we at Mediolana think we might have some answers:
1. Economics. The first thirteen years of the new century have seen the economy of the United Kingdom turned upside down, with the inflation and subsequent popping of the biggest credit bubble in recorded history engendering serious economic instability – and massive amounts of desire-destroying stress.
2. Dystopia. The late 1990s and 2000s saw an unprecedented shift in sexual mores, with millennia-old rules being cast aside and every kind of lust legitimised. This promised a sort of utopia – but as with most utopias, it may have ended up subverting the very thing it purported to act in the name of.
3. Technology. The near-silent invasion of laptops, smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices into bedrooms the length and breadth of the country has given people a stark choice: the intimate company of another human being, or clicking on another round of new tweets. Evidently, the tweets are winning; the experience of tech-saturated societies such as Japan points to a post-sexual future.