Smithsonian Exhibit on Cellphones

By Brian Shine, Manitoba Corporation 

I had the pleasure of participating in a meeting held amongst interested parties invited in by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History who is working to launch an exhibit scheduled to open November 2021. The cell phone exhibit has six distinct sections proposed including a full section devoted to “end of life.”

The researchers plan to explore the intersection of mobile phones and globalization via a pair of different approaches: the ecological impacts of phone production, and the cultural variability with which phones are used around the world.

Mobile phones are constructed using hundreds of different chemicals and elements, and each of these relies on a complex commodity chain with impacts around the world. Joshua Bell of the Smithsonian points out that the plastic in his phone originated from a petroleum product which was likely shipped to China for manufacturing, while the lithium battery includes ions mined in the salt flats of Bolivia and the capacitors include the element tantalum, which is produced in Congo. These connections have human and ecological consequences since the average American now buys a new phone every two years. The impacts can be steep including the reuse and refurbishing as well as the eventual recycling of the device.

I am really excited about the opportunities for ISRI and our members to take part in this exhibit. Here are some additional details about the exhibit and possible ways to get involved. This ranges from sponsorships to in-kind services including physical products, photography depicting end of life activities etc. I am excited about this forthcoming exhibit and encourage all members to get involved and participate and plan a DC trip to the museum once the exhibit open. 


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