(Scavenging for minerals among the hazardous electronic waste at a dump in Accra. Image © Times Online)

Having recently replaced the mac I work on at home, I needed to get rid of my old one. This machine was five years old, had been repaired several times, and was becoming rather unreliable. I didn’t want to sell it, and neither did I want to give it to a charity shop to sell, since a buyer might (quite rightly) complain when it gave up the ghost. It might, however, be useful to someone who was in need of a computer. So I listed the mac on freecycle — a system I like both because of its informal grass-roots element, and because it keeps stuff out of landfill. I received over 80 responses in a couple of hours. Many of these were a plain “yes, please I’ll have it”, some were a little peculiar in their human-interest element, and some responses were a little disturbing and demanding. I ignored the last category, and out of the rest selected a recipient who lived nearby and who, when he turned up to collect the mac, was just as pleasant and straightforward as he’d sounded. Late yesterday evening I changed the freecycle listing to ‘taken’, and thanked everyone for their interest. And then the weirdness started. I began to receive a barrage of odd emails. Some of these messages were from people who told me they were kicking themselves for not noticing my ad earlier. Some emails came from individuals who were slightly peeved that I hadn’t selected them, and felt like telling me about it. I received one berating me for not noticing that they had placed a ‘wanted’ ad for a computer a few weeks ago. And then there were the others – the messages which a) told me I was stupid, or b) informed me that they were sure they were a much more worthy recipient than the person I’d selected. There were quite a few of these. Here are the ‘best’:

‘”Gone to a Good home” — unlikely — suggest you check ebay or gumtree over the next few weeks. At least I would have kept it and used it for my kids education’

‘You’ve just thrown away £300 of YOUR money. It winds me up how naive some people are.’

Now, perhaps I am naive — in the sense that I think that people are perfectly capable of participating in systems of exchange where money is not involved. I am of course also canny enough to realise that many resellers may well use freecycle for profit — but frankly, this is their business, and not mine. In getting rid of the mac I was pleased to be able to help someone out with something that they needed and I didn’t — but this pleasure was not essential to the transaction. I was simply getting rid of a thing that I didn’t need, and that I didn’t want to sell because it was an unreliable thing of uncertain value. If someone else felt able to sell that thing then that would be, as I said, their business. But what I did not want to do was to relegate a thing that still worked, and which could still be of some use, to the tip, where it would end up on one of those mountains of poisonous waste with which we are now blithely polluting Ghana and Brazil, and which are the stuff of my nightmares. So to the individuals who have sent me these peculiar, abusive, and upsetting messages, I would like to say that the worthiness of the recipient of the thing is not really an issue: the point is that the thing is being recycled and put to use, rather than being thrown away. However, if you do want to bring a moral element into such exchanges, you might like to think of the bigger picture: the one that is at the top of this post. Thankyou.