BBC 6 minute English-Built to fail

BBC 6 minute English-Built to fail

BBC 6 minute English-Built to fail


Transcript of the podcast

Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript

Neil: Welcome to 6 Minute English, where we bring you an interesting topic and six items of vocabulary

Catherine: And all in just six minutes, of course. I’m Catherine

Neil: And I’m Neil. Today – is technology built to fail? And are we throwing away too much technology and harming the planet? Catherine, tell me – how old is your TV

Catherine: My TV has just had its fifth birthday

Neil: And your mobile phone

Catherine: It’s about two and a half

Neil: So you do like to have gizmos, but not necessarily the latest

Catherine: Exactly

Neil: Gizmo – nice word. A gizmo is a small piece of technology – otherwise called a gadget

Catherine: And of course I’m not alone in buying gadgets from time to time. They actually keep on getting more advanced – so people keep buying new ones

Neil: Technology also gets cheaper and cheaper. In fact, many gadgets are more expensive to fix than replace

Catherine: And this means that we throw a lot of gadgets away – but how many

Neil: See if you can guess: how much electronic waste is thrown away every year globally? Is it

a) 420 tonnes

b) 4.2 million tonnes or

c) 42 million tonnes

Catherine: And I do actually know the answer to this once, so I’m gonna keep quiet, just for once

Neil: Ah, first time for everything! So, to bring us back to our main point. Is technology no longer built to last? Let’s hear first from Professor Tim Cooper who is an expert in sustainable consumption and production at Nottingham Trent University in the UK

Catherine: Sustainable, by the way, means ‘able to continue over a long period of time’. We often use it to mean ‘able to continue without causing harm’ – like environmental damage. What’s the problem with mobile phones

INSERT Tim Cooper, Professor of Sustainable Consumption and Production at Nottingham Trent University

The classic example of this is the mobile phone, where, for example, screens are glued into the product. Now they know that if there was a screw there, the consumer could easily, when that screen cracks, which is obviously a very common problem with mobile phones, unscrew it and put a new screen on. They don’t. They know perfectly well that that would be a way in which mobile phones would last longer. They don’t want that, they want you to replace your mobile phone every year or two

Neil: Professor Cooper says that mobile phones’ screens crack often – and generally when that happens people buy a new one

Catherine: That’s partly because mobile phones’ screens are glued on rather than screwed on. Now a screw is a piece of metal like a nail but with a raised twisted part – and we use screws to join two things together

Neil: The verb form is the same – to screw – and the opposite is to unscrew. If you could unscrew a cracked screen and then replace it, there’d be no need to buy a whole new phone, he says

Catherine: He thinks that generally, people have lowered their expectations when it comes to how long things should last

Neil: Expectations is a good word – an expectation is a strong belief something will happen. Expectations can be raised or lowered

Catherine: Or managed – to ‘manage your expectations’ means to not let your expectations get so high that you then become disappointed when something fails

Neil: Yes, by way of an example, Professor Cooper says that his parents’ washing machine lasted for 37 years. These days, they last between five and ten

Catherine: Yeah. And we don’t see electrical products as an investment in the same way that people used to. We now worry that what we buy today will become obsolete tomorrow

Neil: Obsolete – no longer valid or useful. And also – he says we’ve become so used to cheap products that we don’t want to spend more on good quality

Catherine: So what’s to be done

Neil: Cooper suggests that if we can afford it, we really should try to buy higher quality products. And manufacturers should put labels on their products saying how long they are designed to last

Catherine: An interesting idea. Cooper says that over 2m pounds worth of electrical goods are thrown away each year in the UK. He calls it a throwaway culture

Neil: A culture in which we throw things out much more easily. Not good for the planet either. So – will you try to keep your mobile for a bit longer, or are you already tempted by the latest model, Catherine

Catherine: I’m happy with the one I’ve got, but I’m gonna protect the screen very carefully

Neil: Yes, a good idea. Maybe this will help you make up your mind, though. I asked how many tonnes of electrical waste are thrown away globally

Catherine: And I said I know the answer – it’s actually 42m tonnes, according to a UN report back in 2015. The figure could be a lot higher now. And as you know – my mobile isn’t very heavy – so 42m tonnes is an awful lot of phones! While we try to picture that, let’s quickly run through today’s vocabulary. So first up was gizmo – a small piece of technology – a gadget

Neil: Smartphones, smart watches, fitness trackers, sat navs – all gizmos

Catherine: We had sustainable – able to last or continue. We talk about sustainable energy, sustainable economic development

Neil: The opposite would be unsustainable development… And another pair of words – to screw and to unscrew

Catherine: A screw is that little metal thing like a nail that we use to join things together. You can screw shelves into the wall, you can screw furniture together

Neil: And when you move house you unscrew it. Three more: to lower your expectations. What have you lowered your expectations about

Catherine: Err, so many things… Becoming a millionaire – I don’t think that’s going to happen. Or I could say a company has lowered its expectations about performance over the next five years

Neil: Yes – another one looking ahead into the future – I’m pretty sure my computer will be obsolete in ten years. It will no longer be used – it will be out of date

Catherine: I just urge you, Neil, when you do get a new one – please recycle this one responsibly. We already live in a throwaway culture

Neil: Yes – it’s pretty unsustainable. Now, before your laptop or phone becomes obsolete – I suggest you check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube pages! Bye for now

Catherine: Bye

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