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Habits, Death, and E-waste
Jan 31, 2023

I like eating fruit before my meal. Not after or in between. Is there any scientific evidence to say this is a better dietary practice? Probably not. It’s just a habit now. Would I suggest to other people to do the same? Probably now, they have started spreading the idea. Some years down the lane, it might become a rule, and doing anything otherwise would seem like a crime.

Activities that we do overtime become habits. We also advise other people to do the same. These activities are more relevant when we are entering new fields. Older activities and things already have their habits associated with them, then you hear about them and follow them. Whereas, in new areas of life, things are gray. Electronics products are a recently developed area. Laptops, phones, and tablets were born a few decades back. Slowly, one starts forming habits around them like charging them every night and waking up seeing them first thing in the morning. Any break from these habits would require a conscious effort.

Throwing away electronic devices is a big question. They either exist in your drawer till the end of time or you probably exchange them for a newer device. You don’t see them again. Their existence doesn’t matter anymore. It sounds like death. Every region and religion has its own customs for death. Some prefer to cremate the bodies, and some prefer to bury them. Sometimes, they are buried with their worldly belongings. Death is the only thing constant since the start of life and it is bound to have its beliefs and rituals around it.

People who prefer to cremate the body have specific processes for it. Particular people have to lift the body from the house to the crematorium, a crying scene around it, family members not taking worldly pleasures for 14 days and feeding rice to crows. So, these things probably just started as a practice by someone and their close ones probably just took it up. Or are these rituals set in stone by a learned person? Any deviation from these practices is believed to have ramifications. The soul roams for eternity if the previous body is not disposed of correctly. The person can come back to haunt people for their worldly goals and doesn't stop till someone fulfills them.

Some people prefer to bury the bodies with personal belongings. This seems reasonable as they would want them to have these possessions in their next life. There’s a chance that it might work and a chance that it might not work. If it works then voila! But if it doesn’t then it's probably a loss to the next of their kin. The only person to set to gain from this practice is the person who died. But do you really want a possession that keeps reminding you of someone’s absence? It might seem reasonable to bury these emotional items. So, are these practices set in stone or just a thing started and followed by people over time? Grave robbers pose an interesting problem.

Rituals are sometimes more about the people left behind than the people who left. The ones left behind are suffering and looking to come to terms with death. Some rituals might be their beliefs and things they do to give themselves peace. Holding a funeral seems like one of them. People are bound to visit the family members of the deceased to console them. Why not call them at once and not relive the pain? Somehow people always speak good about the dead. Are we worried that we weren’t nice enough to them when they were alive? Or are we worried they might be scarier as ghosts?

We like to have control and substantiate why things happen. In this case, we don’t know enough. Why does a person die, who picks the time, and is there escaping it? But again, we like to reason with it. When a young person passes away, the common explanation is that God picks the best flowers in the garden first. Does this sound reasonable? Not really. But is it a reason? Yes.

I feel that something similar happens to our devices when we throw them away. The remains of these devices are sent far away from us. Probably buried with its charger or set aflame. Generally, the E-waste is sent to third world countries where workers try to scavenge the resources they can. The wires, devices, and cables are burnt to retrieve commodities like copper, aluminum, and brass. The process of burning is dangerous. The workers develop respiratory problems, dermatological problems, eye infections, neurological issues, and shorter lives. People aren’t doing this out of a choice and it's a compulsion to earn a livelihood.

There are similarities and differences between the death of humans and devices. Both these items have valuable information and resources. Devices have metals that can be sold and probably user data if in usable form, and graves tend to have riches. Grave robbers are punished for extracting these valuable resources. The afterlife is where things get interesting. The extracted metals are reused in some form and used in making new devices. Bodies decay over time and their minerals are dispersed in the environment. These minerals are then used by plants or organisms, giving rise to new devices and the cycle continues. We tend to see the end coming, right? We generally just start looking for a newer one for phones and maximize the current one’s usage. We can’t do the same for people and it’s more difficult to replace them. Both phones and people are abundantly available, but that doesn’t stop us from choosing one and living with it. Even after they are gone, they can have an influence on our lives.

What would be scarier: a notification in the middle of the night that someone has logged into Gmail in your old Blackberry from Maui or your dead uncle asking for his bike? Both ghosts have a lot of power. They know a lot about you and will probably use that to get what they want. This might be a good time to add the dreaded 2 Factor Authentication to your account.

We have developed so many rituals around death. Will we have the same for our devices too?

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