Smartphone Teardown6000000

The first and only exhaustive and comprehensive database of a technical device ever attempted.

A project proposal by Baruch Gottlieb

This is a project which, at first glance does not appear to be an artistic project, however, this is a project that only an artist would approach with the stubbornness and single-mindedness necessary to reach the critical mass necessary to prove it's value. The project is a thorough materials analysis of the components of a common contemporary digital device, the Smartphone, from the surfaces we contact every day, to the functioning parts inside, tracing the material origins of each and every one of these parts, back through their various industrial processes and ports of call, to the mines and sources where the materials originally emerged from the earth.

Today, increasingly, many people are aware of the inner conflict within the amazing technological instruments of our advertised humanist utopia. The term conflict-minerals is garnering public attention. But how relevant are, for example, the 6x106 - people whose deaths can be directly related to the trade in minerals used in high technology (according to US Congress figures1) to the individual user of such devices (especially phones and game consoles)? Without an accurate and comprehensive data-model relevant to any particular device, our defiant innocence or conciliatory guilt is a relatively abstract choice. A comprehensive and exhaustive data-model of the material truth of the origins of our Smartphone will allow consumers all over the world to better position themselves with regard to their device and the globalised processes which make them possible.

The story of the Smartphone is not only tragedy, it is also the victory of the incredibly sophisticated language of globalised capitalism which makes possible such a wondrous summoning of materials, labour and talent from around the world which finds its concretion in the compact work of functional technological art of the Smartphone. Smartphone Teardown6000000 will also model this incredibly complex web of global socio-economic relations with unprecedented detail, accessed through an intuitive and attractive interface.

The interested and alert citizen of contemporary nations want to make informed choices about their purchases, just as they require information to make ethical choices in their lives. Without adequate information, these choices must remain largely abstract, based on prejudice or propaganda. The Smartphone Teardown6000000 will endeavour to offer, for the first time, an adequate and unbiased account of the human and material facts at the origin and emergence of a Smartphone, and provide a model for large-scale information-aesthetics appropriate to convey, photograph or videograph, the material reality of our globalised age so often lost in the real distances and overwhelming dust storms of pertinent human facts.

What Foucault called “the Impoverishment of History”2 is now in a such an advanced state we may want to turn away from history in offence. Relativized into quasi-irrelevance by today's multi-perspective media-scape, the wastelands of history always threaten to sap every resonance of meaning in our contemporary lives with their endless expanses.

But what appears as barren fields extending out in every direction, may reveal itself to be exponentially more arable and fertile, and what's more, it is right here at hand right now, connected to the very substance of the chair which holds you from the floor. . Looking closely, we see that history is made up, not of a barely differentiated mass of corpses, but of an endless treasure trove of individual experience. The closer we look in this regard, the more fascinating detail we discern. It can be overwhelming. In order for this boundless expanse of potential historical value to become meaningful, we need guides and maps.

The starting point of every excursion into the meaningful depths of history must begin at the immediate contemporary surface. The surface, just before us, the surface you are reading this on right now, for example on a Smartphone. Though so many and so small, the fragments of human lives which find concretion in the solid surfaces of the Smartphone constitute an invaluable cultural resource which this project attempts to begin to elaborate.

The last act of the worker is to remove the traces of his labour. It is this effacement of the toil of its creation which imbues an object with a mythic quality, according to Roland Barthes in Mythologies “...all that is left for one to do is to enjoy this beautiful object without wondering where it comes

from.... Nothing is produccd, nothing is chosen: all one has to do is to possess these new objects from which all soiling trace of origin or choice has been removed. This miraculous evaporation of history is another form of a concept common to most bourgeois myths: the irresponsibility of man.“3

This effacement of the experience of the making in the made thing means we have to learn to read the surface to understand the origins(history/pedigree) of our contemporary ideas, in the body memory of the people who made our world. The unnamed become the not-yet-named, the nameable, an ancestor, the infinitesimal becomes the measurable, and thus the valuable. Through this work we retrieve lost value in minute fractions of currency units, we may begin 'market making' like the high-frequency, low-latency traders4, salvaging, and imaginatively, investing new economies of meaning in our desperately impoverished history so that we may be well prepared to engage forcefully and meaningfully in the overflowing abundance of our present.

Though David Ricardo and Adam Smith recognized labour as that which produces all economic value in the world, they both disregarded the individual nature of this labour. That each man's labour is an individual's waking life, deadened or not by the monotony of toil, it is the personal experience of that one person. If we deign to subject this person to the value system of our current age, with its Universal Human Rights of the United Nations of the Earth, we would be hard pressed to generalise this person into an expendable unit of labour. Indeed it is here, on the ground, in the relations between real irreplaceable human beings where the contemporary surface originates, and whence emerges the fundamental notions for any meaning we can hope to cobble together for ourselves to justify out existences in the life-support system of today's technological society.

Nature and science. - Just as in nature, so in science it is the poorer, less fruitful regions that are first properly cultivated - because it is precisely for this that the means available to budding science are approximately adequate. The cultivation of the most fruitful regions presupposes a carefully developed and tremendous quality of methods, individual conclusions already gained, and an organized host of well schooled workers - and all these come together only late in the day. - Impatience and ambition often make too soon for these most fruitful regions; but the results are then almost nil. In nature the revenge for such losses would be that the colonists starved to death.

-F Nietzsche „Human all to Human“ ' p.358 The Wanderer and his Shadow'

Outcomes (PoC)

New Data

My brothers, I do not recommend love of the neighbor to you: I recommend love of the farthest to you.“

- F. Nietzsche

Julian Assange, in a recent interview explained that there were three types of information: 1. history:information already part of the historical record. 2:Forgotten: information which has been recorded but which people have forgotten existed and 3:Hidden: information which people purposely impede others from finding out. Where as Assange finds in the 3rd category his motivation, the Smartphone Teardown6000000 explores a 4th category of information: information we do not have at hand because it has not yet been considered relevant or necessary. Many kinds of data fall into this category, for example, the value of unpaid work, such as that of grad students, or of domestic workers, or work that takes place outside of the 'authorized' marketplace, black and grey markets, underworld activity. Data on all such categories of human activity is often lacking because of political reasons, e.g.that it would not contribute to profitability or productivity to compile such data. We live in a society where the knowledge economy is determined by market pressures. The market prioritises the accumulation and analysis of certain types of information over others, which makes the pursuit of this fourth type of data substantially more difficult.

There is simply a paucity of relevant data for us to make moral or ethical decisions about the technology which is increasingly integrated in our daily life. We are born into a technological world, a system of national economies, and a variety of other layers of contexts we did not choose. And like all the generations before us we find ourselves bewildered to behold the world, the world of the sun and the stars, and also that of the social world of people as well. One might say there is nothing to understand there. But such would be one who would profit from such ignorance.

Today we live in a scientific world. The technology we use is built on scientific research, and is the legitimisation of this research. Great social changes such as the institution of the principle of equality between the races can only come about in the face of undeniable scientific data. (unfortunately, despite scientific proof to of its indefensibility, racism still exists, and technology still works as well for racists as for anyone else. It is not enough to be right, indeed being right is only a bonus, first one must assert ones dominion over others to the extent that one's standards be adopted by them. Can virtue be scientifically proven to be beneficial to mankind? What worth is it to be beneficial to poisonous mankind anyway, it that need heeds what is beneficial for it?)

However, taking the premise that a scientific proof of the relevance of the human conditions of production (essential for the technical device to become reality), is not only possible but desirable, taking the premise that better conditions of the people involved at every stage of production of the latest technology will, in the end produce better (if, potentially, less) technology, and taking that a more thorough scientific calculation and analysis of these conditions would be salutory towards those ends, Smartphone Teardown6000000 has an agenda to distinguish the worktime, and human contributions to digital technology, in all their fullness of lived life experience as essential to understanding what these technology and the media generated with them mean.

Therefore the first and most important work in the Smartphone Teardown6000000 project is to amass large amounts of new data, data of the 4th type, data which has not heretofore been considered useful or necessary. Data which is available but has not been collated methodically or meaningfully. The first ambition of the Smartphone Teardown6000000 project is to provide a more nuanced, detailed and multi-faceted presentation of the actual human pedigree of digital technology.

The second priority is to produce from this new data several speculative labour models, which will attempt to calculate scientifically and convey discursively how much and what kind of human attention is necessary for a Smartphone to be produced. These speculative labour models are intended to demonstrate the value of the new data towards a labour theory of digital media, and to contribute to other discursive approaches attempting to articulate the human meaning of an instrument such as a smartphone.

fig.1: iPhone teardown

The Process

The methodology is quite simple, as seen in fig. 1., in industrial parlance, it is called a 'teardown'. We take the finished product, lets say an iPhone4, and open it up on the table. We take all the observable components and determine the origin of each one. We then check on the material constitution and manufacturing process of each of these components. If this points us to subordinate manufacturing processes we trace these too, with as much detail as possible. i.e., in our example, fig.1, we take the Samsung CPU chip K9GBG08U0A and we then 'tear' this down:

From the packaging stage, when the finished Smartphone is sent out to retail, backwards sequentially to the final assembly stage of the Smartphone's emergence as a consumer good, back through the production stages of all the individual components wherever this may have occurred we go, recording as much detail as possible about the location and conditions under which a production stage took place, who was there, and what were the relations between them. Back further we go, tracing the material ingredients through stages of purification and exotic chemical and physical treatments until we arrive finally at the mine head or other source where the raw material which will become the Smartphone were originally exhumed.

The Role of Price & Costs:

One will also notice in the chart section of fig. 1, that the net price for each component is listed. Price is only a subordinate concern in this project, the main concern will be in tracing as deeply as possible into the minutely interwoven genealogies of materials the rosters of the human players involved, with as much detail as possible. The price and cost of the resulting products may help guide the research and, especially, determine aesthetic issues such as relative scale when visualisations and other interpretations of the resultant data are produced.

Once the project has reached a significant depth of analysis, of course, economic question such as relative worth of man-hours in the production of the finished good may be addressed with the advantage of sophisticated new data-models to determine this with more accuracy.

Conventional Teardown & ST6M Methodology:

As mentioned previously, the teardown is an existing practice among geeks and hardware hackers curious about what is inside their devices. The teardown is often undertaken in order to ascertain the true price in parts, and thus the true manufacturer's markup of the price they paid for their device. From the teardown price we can begin to discern how the value of the intangible, truly immaterial quantities in the smartphone, design, marketing, management, transport, etc. meanwhile, there is an element of 'trainspotting' in a teardown whereby the mass-produced object, utterly uniform by design , reveals itself to be a unique assemblage of unique parts, each with its own unique point of origin.

However, a conventional teardown only exposes the first level below the 'completion phase of the product, that of final assembly, subordinate to this final assembly are the equally essential precursor phases

a. where & when the parts used in the final assembly are, themselves, manufactured

b. where & when the materials (or parts) of these parts are prepared for implementation in a.

c. ...(where & when other intermediary stages whereby the materials are reprocessed to their desired forms in b.)

d. the point in space and time where (the actual quantities of the) the raw materials used in the product originally emerge from the earth

The Smartphone Teardown6000000 engages pragmatically with the daunting prospect of the exponential accumulation of data in points b. c. and d, correlating existing yet disparate data, and harvesting new, as yet unqualified data, to permit a more comprehensive modelling and understanding of the technical object.

The first priority is to create the database infrastructure, or sculptural form which will be inhabited by the constellations of new data. This is accomplished by selecting a particular part from phase a. of the teardown and following the mineral ingredients of this all the way back through phases b. and c. to the phase d. keeping track as precisely as possible of all the processes involved, and, especially, quantifying the ingredients and human actors engaged in every stage of the process. It is important to have numbers, the quantities, for these will form the basis of the algorithms by which we can begin to model the totality of the process.

After tracing a first element from a. to d. we may do a second. We investigate as far back towards d. as we can with as much detail as possible, sketching out a section of the root system of the device. Once the genetic characteristics of the root system begin to emerge, we can already produce provisional visualizations or other representations of that of which we are searching, a comprehensive model of the genesis of the technical device.

At this point it is possible to open the process up on a platform such as to interested members of the public to help fill in the remainder of the necessary genealogical data with their own research. This project can only really become truly comprehensive with the engagement of a public which sees this paradigm as essential to making sense of their world in the age of the technical image.

Associated projects and references


Make IT Fair

Procure IT fair

Procure IT fair





Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (for identifying mineral fingerprints)leads to... CTC analysis/regulation

Waste & Pollution:

Silicon Valley Toxics


from the H.R.4128 - Conflict Minerals Trade Act (US Congress)

Section 2

(3) According to a study by the International Rescue Committee released in January 2008, conflict and related humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have resulted in the deaths of an estimated 5,400,000 people since 1998 and continue to cause as many as 45,000 deaths each month.

2Foucault, Michel „The Order of Things“ p.282

3Barthes, Roland Mythologies p.152

4A form of algorithmic trading of stocks and other commodities using computers which can communicate with certain appropriately equipped stock exchanges, accumulating significant profits from buying and selling at minuscule changes in the value of the commodity at increments in the microseconds.

5I-Mine an networked art-app/game which attempts to evoke the desperate conditions of the miners mining the minerals for the phone on which the game is played. Http://

6„The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver, the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a very distant part of the country! How much commerce and navigation in particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers, must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners of the world! What a variety of labour, too, is necessary in order to produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen! To say nothing of such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner, the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the seller of the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the smelting-house, the brickmaker, the brick-layer, the workmen who attend the furnace, the mill-wright, the forger, the smith, must all of them join their different arts in order to produce them. Were we to examine, in the same manner, all the different parts of his dress and household furniture, the coarse linen shirt which he wears next his skin, the shoes which cover his feet, the bed which he lies on, and all the different parts which compose it, the kitchen-grate at which he prepares his victuals, the coals which he makes use of for that purpose, dug from the bowels of the earth, and brought to him perhaps by a long sea and a long land carriage, all the other utensils of his kitchen, all the furniture of his table, the knives and forks, the earthen or pewter plates upon which he serves up and divides his victuals, the different hands employed in preparing his bread and his beer, the glass window which lets in the heat and the light, and keeps out the wind and the rain, with all the knowledge and art requisite for preparing that beautiful and happy invention, without which these northern parts of the world could scarce have afforded a very comfortable habitation, together with the tools of all the different workmen employed in producing those different conveniences; if we examine, I say, all these things, and consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we shall be sensible that, without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilised country could not be provided, even according to what we very falsely imagine the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated.“

Smith, Adam An Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations, Forgotten Books, 2008 p. 10-11

7Brecht, Berthold Brecht on Theatre: p.186 Little Organon for the Theatre #23

8Brecht ibid....