Tantalum

Giving a new look at the Coltan Wars and their unbearable ciphers in human life costs, suddenly the whole mythology of cybernetics seemed to be embodied and localized all over a human settlement: Congo, the country where the machines turn against men…using men themselves to destroy their own kind. Numbers change with sources, but we speak about more than 4 Million dead -and counting at a rate of approximately 45.000 monthly assasinations-  in the last decade as a consequence of the civilian war, which is partly ethnic but has been drastically inflated by the Tantalum Rush. We are approaching extermination statistics and somehow everything keeps its march quietly. Could we ever stop assigning more value to metals than to the potential of living beigns? What do we understand for “Value”?

Coltan is an abbreviation for colombo-tantalite ore, a mineral from where Tantalum is extracted. Tantalum is used to assemble capacitors needed to assemble the microchips present in cellphones, game consoles and PCs (MACs too). A capitalist, machine-dependent economy increases the revenues for providers of this mineral and hence they go frenzy in their greed. People in the area seems to have no more option than to mine the mineral in order to get money but at the cost of being in the middle of the fire- “greedline”.

http://globalinvestmentwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/congo-coltan-map.jpg

http://globalinvestmentwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/congo-coltan-map.jpg

A map showing the geography of the conflict.

Jaromil (winner of the shared theory award inthe Transmediale), announced he’s organizing a Campaign (Still searching for info on the web) for a no-computer day in June, when all participants around the world should shut their beloved extensions down. It is an act of conciousness that sketches a problematic question: should we as media related artists, designers or activists use blood-stained technology at all? The Hardware you use represents corporate profit made with Tantalum. But as I write, the production of digital devices keeps on and the only way to transmit this information and make it active is by using the network. Is it possible to find a solution? use some other material to build our machines? Someone asked… The answer was,  that businesses are made where something apparently ‘valuable’ to someone has been forbidden, it’s scarce or hidden, isn’t it?  Think about drugs. So why would corporates let go of enhanced profit by any reason? Let’s keep the Tantalum fever as long as there is some left… Sony, which fired up Tantalum’s price while producing the hitherto new PS2 around 2000, claims not to use Tantalum from Congo, which posseses almost 25% of world’s production. Researchers are highy skeptical, as it is known that to “clean” the exportations of the condemned substance, the metal is extracted and transported to neighbour countries from where it can be “legally” commercialized.

The questions coming out of this complex subject go into many directions but basically it confronts us with the tools we accept to get into your life as part of a consumerist society and the use we make of them. Finding solutions to this paradox seems to be a task for some years and lots of people networks trying to create new perspectives and work towards different production, and above all, consumption dynamics. Sounds utopic but late unstabilities in world’s organisation, the economical crisis, the food and energy crisis that are crawling to the most powerful nations should force even the most profit-oriented into similar processes…should it?