The Economistreports on how refugees prize mobile phone connection — even over food. Phones are their primary way to stay connected with family at home as they enter “informational no-man’s land,” not knowing who to trust or where to go. Phones help them stay motivated with photos of family and successful migrants, and offer a means to contact smugglers to help them with their journey.
Sometimes Hekmatullah, a 32-year-old Afghan, has to choose between food and connectivity. “I need to stay in touch with my wife back home,” he says, sitting in a grubby tent in the Oinofyta migrant camp, near Athens. Because Wi-Fi rarely works there, he has to buy mobile-phone credit. And that means he and his fellow travellers—his sister, her friend and five children—sometimes go hungry.
Such stories are common in migrant camps: according to UNHCR, the UN’s agency for refugees, refugees can easily spend a third of their disposable income on staying connected. In a camp near the French city of Dunkirk, where mostly Iraqi refugees live until they manage to get on a truck to Britain, many walk for miles to find free Wi-Fi: according to NGOs working there, the French authorities, reluctant to make the camp seem permanent, have stopped them providing internet connections.
Phones become a lifeline. Their importance goes well beyond staying in touch with people back home. They bring news and pictures of friends and family who have reached their destination, thereby motivating more migrants to set out. They are used for researching journeys and contacting people-smugglers. Any rumour of a new, or easier, route spreads like wildfire. “It’s like the underground railroad, only that it’s digital,” says Maurice Stierl of Watch The Med, an NGO that tracks the deaths and hardships of migrants who cross the Mediterranean, referring to the secret routes and safe houses used to free American slaves in the 19th century.
Mr Ingold wrote about the importance of the word talo. Roughly translated, it means house. But it also has a deeper meaning. When Finnish herders are raised in a talo, it is not simply that they grow up in one place. “A house,” explains Mr Ingold, “is a total establishment, an organic unity of place and people, cumulatively built up through the work of generations.” It is not something that can be shaken off. When Aarne says that herders are “born” to do it he is not being flippant. Like his father, he feels he had little choice. Nor does he regret that. Raisa explains that “this is what we want to do. There’s a richness to this wild way of life.”
That remains true even as threats from climate change, logging and other signs of expanding human footprints impinge on their vast emptiness. But throughout the centuries herders have adapted to changes wrought from outside. They have embraced GPS tracking, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and drones.
The first battery, a pile of copper and zinc discs, was invented more than 200 years ago, ushering in the electric age. Subsequent versions led to portable electronics, mobile computing, and our current love affair with smartphones (1,000 of which are shipped every 22 seconds). Now batteries are powering electric cars and storing electricity produced by solar cells and windmills, but they don’t last long enough and are too expensive for either use to really go mainstream. To cut the cost, Tesla plans to double the world’s production capacity of the popular lithium-ion battery with its forthcoming $5 billion battery manufacturing plant in the Nevada desert. Tesla’s idea is to use economies of scale to lower prices. Meanwhile, other companies and many industrialized countries, including China and the U.S., are racing to develop batteries that are more advanced than Tesla’s. They’re betting billions that breakthrough battery technologies will help create new industries, juice existing ones, and wean us off fossil fuels because we’ll be able to use the sun and wind in their place. Here is a book, a documentary, and five stories on our battery-powered future.Read more…