The project – Seven Grams

Seven Grams is an augmented reality project by Karim Ben Khalif that visualizes the implications of extracting rare earth minerals for phones. It is called “Seven Grams” because your phone contains roughly seven grams of precious materials such as cobalt, gold, cassiterite, and wolframite. By visualizing the production chain of the iPhone, viewers recognize the human cost required in the production of consumer technology. By situating the development of smart phones with the emergence of exploitative economies, the project aims to denaturalize technological neutrality. The medium and message are in tension with each other because the augmented reality runs on phones that have already been produced, meaning that the program still relies on the very medium it criticizes to deliver its message. However, by uncovering the hidden reality behind the marketing of developing technology, people are forced to acknowledge the implications of constant smartphone consumption. In many ways, the augmented reality creates a dystopian world that is historically accurate to alienate people from their phones and technology. The augmented reality media acts as speculative design because it addressed a twofold societal issue: the vast human costs of exploitation in creating technology and consumer’s addiction to wasteful practices of updating and purchasing new technology. Once people apprehend the human cost behind their new gadgets, they will experience guilt for their consumptive lifestyle and will be less likely to be fooled by advertisements that display the benevolence of emerging technology. Although the media program does not dismantle anything, the project serves the purpose of electronic civil disobedience by creating an anti-advertisement that intends to change consumer practices away from consumption. By centering the narrative of those experiencing dehumanization through rare earth mineral extraction, the Seven Grams project flips the script surrounding smartphones to reveal the unsettling consequences of their production.

The Seven Grams project has three forms of media: augmented reality, a documentary, and solution journalism. Both the augmented reality and documentary are in 3D because Karim Ben Khelifa documented his surroundings with emerging media such as VR, AR, and 360-degree soundscapes that immerse the audience more deeply into the reality he describes. Solution journalism centers developing changes to people’s behavior and concrete measure to improve the conditions that people are subjected to within the media. Not only does the media demonstrate the human cost involved, but it “will also offer them a lever to improve the way hardware manufacturers source gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten.” The program also centers the geopolitical relationships between the US and the Democratic Republic of Congo to visualize the global imbalances within the unequal exchange of commodities in technological production. The inequality is visualized by the demonstration that “he world’s most powerful economy, the United States, has been valued at $21 000 billion in 2020, the total value of the mineral resources in the soil of the DRC is estimated at $24 000 billion.” Then the medium asks the question how is this possible when the DRC is 175th out of 181 countries on the Human Development Index. By situating the extractive economies of smartphones within the reality of economic inequality, consumers are forced to grapple with the international and geopolitical consequences of their purchasing habits. The media is an example of critical making because it intends to disrupt the exchanges between producers and suppliers that make this ongoing inequality a reality, immersing the consumers in an augmented reality that has always been intentionally hidden from them.

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