We are presented with easy choices every day. They often appear in a dualistic lens – this one thing is good, and that other thing is bad.
If you look at Shift Sight today, it is not clear that it was formed from easy choices. It took a long time to develop the vision against the challenges. For a long time, I was working in a dualistic frame of mind. Recycling is good, disposal is bad. Who needs a third option?
The first blips in the company’s timeline can be found in a notebook from 2007. I was frustrated that market products and curriculums did not seem to be teaching practical skills in programming: practical is good, superficial is bad.
It was not until 2016 that I was able to fully put my finger on where the company should go. There was no single epiphany. No moment where it all clicked. Just this or that, ad nauseum.
Please study this chart. It mostly disgusts me. Every consumer electronics company today is racing toward the bottom. Electronic waste increases every year. Shift Sight stands alone with “repair” and “reduce.”
Consumerism for the sake of consumerism is fueling “smart” devices without considering the ramifications to human health, environment, or future dependency. A company is even pushing for product labels to contain electronics, since a QR code printed on a label is apparently insufficient.
The challenge is tremendous. There is no single, easy choice that will fix this trajectory. But one thing is clear: the vision must match the size of the challenge. And with a challenge like this, it must be extraordinary.
Changing the paradigm for an entire industry is only going to happen one way: build stuff that people want that also displaces the problem.
I stumbled upon my notebook from 2007 one day and reflected on my past frustration. I decided that it should be possible to create a product or service that teaches practical skills. I realized that education is the foundation of all change. If we are not teaching practical skills, what are kids learning? It occurred to me that “practical” must also include teaching skills about sustainability to ensure that children are able to build their own future.
But I realized: what good can come from teaching about sustainability if the product ends up in the trash right away? As I came to understand and loathe the geopolitical drivers behind electronic waste, “reduce” became unquestionable. Durable parts are a must even if they suffer from performance limitations. There are no compromises when the entire industry is on the wrong trajectory.
I read story after story about children that are addicted to their gadgets. I knew there had to be a better way; a way that places the well-being of a child first. After a lot of books and papers, I started by developing the concepts for a fun-but-not-addicting product.
As the concepts progressed, I questioned what it meant for something to be fun. An excellent book on neuroscience provided the clarity that I needed. To remain relevant through its long lifetime, the product must be perceived as a tool by its owner. A piano is a great example of this archetype: it is practical, durable, fun, and an MRI would show that a person believes that it is a physical extension of their fingers.
With a product under development, I began to think about its cradle and the grave. What is wrong and what can be done differently?
At the cradle, a significant number of electronics products have a beginning in Conflict Minerals. Grey markets launder the raw materials and fuel the bloodiest war since World War II. If not Conflict Minerals, electronics products are stained in blood from improperly treated workers abroad.
A full ESG policy is required to minimize Business and Human Rights (BHR) violations. Local manufacturing is not just good for a local community, but is the best way to ensure workers are treated properly.
What about the grave? Even with durable parts, the product will eventually succumb to stress and break. Recycling requires energy and is imperfect, so the product must be Designed for Repairability (DfR – an acronym missing from industry).
The planet must come first. There is no alternative. Our monetary system is not tied to natural resources. Financial growth for the sake of financial growth is comparable to cancer. Shift Sight is a vehicle to a sustainable future.
“If you think the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while counting your money.” – Professor Guy McPherson
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.