Simple Products

Simplicity – In a Smartphone?

For some time now, I have been tracking Mozilla’s forthcoming smartphone, a device known as “Firefox OS.” To my surprise, the internet world has responded with unwavering criticism and confusion, pulling consumers back toward mainstream devices. “It’s already a competitive market,” they say, and “it does nothing an outdated iPhone doesn’t.” Perhaps these critics are missing the very thing Firefox OS provides – a renewed perspective.

Don't judge too quickly. This simple phone aims to leave a lasting impact. Photo courtesy of Wired.com

Don’t judge too quickly; this simple phone has unexpected plans. Photo courtesy of Wired.com

So what exactly is Firefox OS? Well, it’s actually quite straightforward – it fulfills Mozilla’s dream of “building a better internet” by “keeping the power of the Web in people’s hands.” More simply, it allows Mozilla to provide an easy-to-use phone for the “second wave” of smartphone users–those who are not currently locked into an iPhone, Android, Windows Phone or Blackberry device. Sounds like a mediocre target market, right? Not entirely. Mozilla is aiming Firefox OS at emerging markets in countries such as Brazil, Portugal and Venezuela, again hoping to put the web in the hands of all people.

Like any imminent piece of technology, however, Firefox OS offers bouts of technical details. I’ll send you over to the Mozilla Blog for those – I like to focus on simplicity here. So, what do you need to know about this device? And why is it relevant? It all returns to Mozilla’s mission. If carried out effectively, Firefox OS will reach much of the developing world, breaking into a market that other major players failed to consider. In fact, Many analysts believe the U.S. market will be one of the last to adopt the phone, a testament to the device’s commitment to building a better internet.

Confused? Uninterested? Walk away with this: Firefox OS will provide developing nations with a cost-efficient, fully capable smartphone, offering wireless internet access where it did not previously exist. The selfless plan just may catch on: the first versions of the device went on sale yesterday, selling out within the first few hours of release. Perhaps the American consumers just don’t quite get it. To solve the problem, Firefox OS provides the perfect fix – a renewed perspective.

Convinced this plan will fail? Love Mozilla for all they do? Keep the conversation going by commenting to the left.

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Recognizing the Earth

Celebrating the Earth, Everywhere

As Americans, I so often wonder how our scope impacts our view of the world. Today, I spent time researching Earth Day events in Washington D.C. and New York City, developing pride in my country for its diligence in honoring this important day. A quick trip to the Earth Day Network, however, expanded my understanding. As I uncover the enormity of this event–one that reaches 192 countries and over one million people–I recognize that Earth Day does not simply represent an American holiday. In fact, it represents the very opposite.

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The view from Volcano Pacaya, just outside of Antigua, Guatemala. Views like this one provide reason to celebrate

Today, the far reaches of this planet celebrate the earth. Why? Because the earth unites all of us; we cannot travel without experiencing its providence. Take a stroll along the Belizean coast, through the Boston Public Gardens, by a small park in Central Pennsylvania, and you serve as a witness to its uncompromising beauty.

What are you doing to honor the earth today?

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The Trash Tragedy

What about Waste Land?

The background: For 34 years, a seaside mountain of waste and filth marred the image of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, causing environmentalists to chastise the country for its “environmental sins.” The landfill—called Jardim Gramacho—accepted 9,000 tons of trash per day, spanning 321 acres of land and growing to heights of 50 meters. Each morning, over 1,700 men and women traveled to the landfill to gather recyclable materials, collecting bottles and containers to be sorted, sold and traded. These individuals—known as the Association of Collectors of the Metropolitan Landfill of Jardim Gramacho—had stories to tell. In 2010, Brazilian-born visual artist Vik Muniz made their stories public, releasing the influential documentary “Waste Land” to a worldwide audience.

Although Waste Land first hit the market in late 2010, it took me until recently to watch the film through. And let me tell you–I’m glad I did. As the beginnings of the film unfolded, with Muniz sharing his passions for modern art and for his birth country of Brazil, I found myself expecting another “rich American saves the poor locals” story. I found something entirely different.

Through the lens of art, Muniz supports a community in search of a sustainable life. They have needs and ambitions just like everyone else, though they resort to trash picking to support their number one priority – their families. And so, through practical charity, Muniz sets out to humbly empower “the pickers,” teaching unity through art. This is where “Waste Land” separates itself–by articulating the need to provide sustainable aid, not just momentary relief.

As agents of change, this is our greatest asset. Not in traveling overseas with free shoes, building materials or personal agendas, but with an ambition to generate lasting change. Muniz is a teacher; he instills hope and community within the people of Jardim Gramacho, qualities that will last–and have lasted–long beyond Muniz’s journey back to southern Brazil.

Have you seen Waste Land? What message did the film leave you with?

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Belizean Reflections, Recognizing the Earth

Finding Simplicity in the Sky

As I traveled through Belize, experiencing the hopeful greens, bold blues and brave pinks of the Caribbean canvas, I couldn’t help but quietly observe the world around me. This painting presents something entirely new–a palette of colors that only seems fit for the imagination.

In Belize, the sky plays an integral role in country’s natural beauty. Dreary days do little to amplify the freely-growing hibiscus trees, and densely packed clouds do little to bring out the lucid blue water that covers the coast. When you do wake up to a cloudless morning, the country comes alive. The locals smile and greet you, the pace of life slows down, and the elegance of Belize can be seen in every direction.

Now settled into life in the United States, I’ve rediscovered this concept. Blue skies bring out the best in my classmates, as they roam freely across campus to soak in the refreshing color. Red barns and green grasses show brilliantly against the blue tarp that surrounds us, providing insight into how this world looked before we arrived. It’s a simple realization, though it plays a crucial role in my daily routine. The sky serves as a backbone; without its deep blue hue, the earth stands sluggishly before us.

“The sky is that beautiful old parchment in which the sun and the moon keep their diary.” (Alfred Kreymborg)

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Belizean Reflections

“What do you grow in your yard?”

I honestly believe, as humans, that teachable moments have a way of finding us; when we least expect to have our world turned upside down, we find ourselves staring at the ground. This (wholly true) story works to prove my case.

While living with a local family in San Jose Succotz, Belize, a small village just minutes from the Guatemalan border, I developed a meaningful relationship with my home stay brother. To this day, I could not tell you his age; he liked to argue with his mom, who provided a different age than those who knew him well. For the purposes of my story, he was 13.

Succotz Soccer Field

At the center of Succotz lies the village chapel: a communal soccer field

During our first afternoon together, my brother, American friend and I walked around the village to prepare dinner. We made brief stops in several homes, purchasing each villager’s “specialty.” One woman owned a commercial refrigerator for ice, another passionately grew bananas, and another sold fully-dressed chickens. Each family seemed to feel empowered by their product–they made a contribution to the village and the village made a contribution to the family. This process, I learned, represents as the essence of local eating.

That evening, after hours of soccer and a meal made from the ingredients we gathered, I sat down beside my brother and engaged in small talk. He wanted none of it. “What do you grow in your yard?” he asked. I paused, taken back by the authenticity of the moment. Just hours before, his family walked me through their yard, which, at first judgement, seemed dirty and unkempt. Fruits, vegetables and herbs filled every inch of open land, displaying an ungroomed, overgrown plot in need of refinement. I didn’t understand.

“You know, we don’t grow anything,” I sheepishly replied. “Well, where do you get your food?” my brother continued. I stopped again, with thoughts of the American food system stalling my response. “Well, we…we drive to the grocery store, and buy everything we need.” I wanted to include that “our” foods originate nowhere near our homes, where they conveniently find their way to our grocery stores at extremely low prices.

“So, what the heck do you use your yard for?” he boldly asked, with more confusion than ever before. Entirely defeated, I responded, “Well, in America, its important that our yards…look nice.”

There I sat, staring at the ground.

I knew, in this moment, that I learned my lesson. Through the eyes of a 13ish-year old boy, I discovered one of the many foils of the American food system. We see Belizeans and other “developing nations” as resource-less and in need of relief. But does this family really need my support? Or does my family need theirs?

As I think about this sacred moment in my Belizean journey, I cannot help but consider the land’s providence. Suddenly, a Dole banana from Giant seems so unsacred. Have we completely lost sight of a responsible food system? Could we truly live off the land?

“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.” (Elizabeth Berry)

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Belizean Reflections

The Background: Why Simplicity?

In August 2012, I enthusiastically boarded a plane for the rainforest of Cayo, Belize, in search of an escape. I wanted to withdraw the complications of college life; I wanted to experience, for one semester, a life with limited commitment and responsibility. Over the course of my four month journey, Belize molded my perspective on life in America, showcasing the value of simplicity in a world that strives for complexity. I never plan to look back.

Still Belizean Campus

The view from my front porch in Santa Elena, Belize

My semester abroad focused on two key principles: relating to the earth and living simply. Along with 16 fellow students and six staff members, I shared common meals, participated in communal chores and traveled throughout Central America as an engaged ecotourist. Along the way, I earned an education in faith, justice, ecology and sustainable development, understanding first hand how American culture impacts the developing world.

Over the next several weeks, I hope to dialogue about the people who changed my life, the lasting habits I acquired, and the simple life I continue to live. If my words resonate with your passions and motivations, or challenge your current values, I encourage you to continue the conversation by commenting below.

Thank you for joining me.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” (Leonardo Da Vinci)

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