The digital revolution, as it turns out, is littered with rubbish. (Gabrys, 2011, p. 2)
The society we live in is developing more digitally and technologically than ever. We are already living in a techno-integrated world. The current pattern of this development accompanies key terms such as ‘better,’ ‘faster’ and ‘progress.’ As more information is generated than ever, we continue to require faster and better processing capabilities. Therefore, software that performs better is released continually, and new hardware to support the new software is presented on the market accordingly. Nowadays, there is great enthusiasm for advances in the new digital world. Consequently, the cycle of technological development accelerates faster and faster. However, the paradigm of digital technology became ‘planned obsolescence,’ which is the term Bernard London used to diagnose the consumer society already in 1932 (cited in Hertz & Parikka, 2012). The newness and advances in technology do not last long. The fast cycle of digital development ironically makes the life of technology shorter than ever.
No longer are we surprised by news of newly produced and developed technologies. This incessant pattern of technological advancement is so pervasive and familiar that we living in the current digital society have become desensitized. In contrast, news illuminating the loopholes and dark underbelly of digital technology seems less popular. However, there is extinction along with creation, and there is an outdated object alongside the newest toy. When something new comes out, something suddenly becomes old and abandoned. If we turn our attention a little bit, we might notice the breakdown, obsolescence, and debris of technology. Facing those failures, I propose we ask “What is newly abandoned? How and why?” Moreover, let’s ask “Where does this debris go?” Instead of “What new object is about to come out?” The unrecognized, old beings will shed a tear of joy for our little attempt to see them.
Technology is designed to be useful to humans. For that purpose, we would pay attention to something more useful, and furthermore, better, newer, faster and even aesthetically cool looking ones. However, at this point, digital technology has already, very profoundly, penetrated our everyday lives, beyond the object as a tool. Digital technology permeates our daily lives, as well as guiding the direction of our society. Think about how much we rely on digital technology throughout the day. Also, how much we take advantage of digital technology, and how much digital technology controls our daily lives. The role of digital technology can be understood as standing at the center, directing society’s development. Not only the system that controls our lives on a bigger scale but also the private sector on the individual level, digital technology is intertwined deeply. All the works we do requires digital technology, and human relationship is formed via digital technology as well. Pervasive digital devices have now become a part of our body - expanded body - like a prosthesis. Thus digital technology becomes the subject to be considered beyond what we see as merely a tool, as it takes up to considerable parts in our lives.
The image of digital technology often seen in media - progress and advancement - is highly influenced by the main ideology of society we live, which can be described as onward and upward, more, better, and faster. According to this framework, the technology and the environment around digital technology are formulated. My current research - that I have termed ‘off technology R&D’ - investigates the research and development of technology in order to remove our societies central ideology, and thus move to an alternative viewpoint. With a different perspective, I try to look into the current aspects of digital technology and its development. I use the word ‘off technology’ to describe technologies that have been devaluated, lot their presence, and are out of our interest. The image of digital technology we mainly have is something like future, fast, high-tech, and new. However, in reality, old, trashed, and broken down objects are also what digital technology looks like today. When we imagine the development and future of technology, we feel not only hopeful and excited anticipation but we also harbour feelings of fear, dread, and eerie haunting that characterize dystopian, science fiction movies and novels. Unlike this, when looking at the leftovers from digital technology, we could feel compassion, sympathy and complicated feelings on it, by facing the severe problems around the digital debris. Based on this empathy, I question the dominant discourse on digital technology and pay attention to things abandoned and unnoticed. Then, I try to proceed with useless but worthwhile research and development for ‘off technology.’ The focus I take is not on the ‘(re)using’ or ‘recycling’ broken technology. I aim to deal with a value side of digital debris which is not detected and evaluated materially. Thus my project could be seen useless in an aspect of the function of technology. However, it can be worth dealing with value beyond its use and proposing a different point of view on digital technology.
I believe that off technology can be an intriguing subject from ethical, environmental, sociological, and aesthetic points of view. Therefore, this practice-based research is conducted along the fault lines of art, media, society, environment, and media-techno studies. Through this research, I explore digital technology’s debris, breakdown, pollution, failures, and garbage. Then, I develop creative reuses and reappropriations of these off technologies.
The first topic of off technology R&D is electronic waste (the hardware side), where I focus on the physical materiality of digital technology. First, the theoretical research on electronic garbage was conducted by studying practices in the field of art, media archaeology, and sociology. Based on the ideas found in academic research, I developed an instrument that produces noise using e-waste. This e-waste instrument consists of some components left over from broken electronics and circuit boards I designed. You can find this e-waste instrument and the result of project on website (https://off-technology.website/), where everyone can access the text and media files. I hope this R&D, which aims to be useless but worthwhile, can show the unusual way of noticing the presence of e-waste. Moreover, off technology R&D could guide us to look at e-waste differently and play with it creatively.
- Bauman, Z. (2004). Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts. (Korean translation edition) 지그문트 바우만(2008). 쓰레기가 되는 삶들. 정일준 옮김. 새물결.
- Cascone, K. (2002). The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Music. Computer Music Journal, 24(no.4, pp.12-18). MIT Press.
- Collins, N. (2006). Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking. Taylor & Francis.
- Gabrys, J. (2011). Digital Rubbish: A natural history of electronics. University of Michigan Press.
- Hertz, G. & Parikka, J. (2012). Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method. Leonardo, 45(5), 424-430. The MIT Press.
- Huizinga, J. (1938). Homo Ludens. (Korean translation edition) 요한 하위징아(2019). 호모 루덴스(3판). 이종인 옮김. 연암서가.
- Lauwaert, M. & Westrenen, F. (2017). Facing Value. Valiz.
- Parikka, J. (2015). A Geology of Media. University of Minnesota Press.
- The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) & UN E-waste Coalition. (2019). A New Circular Vision for Electronics, Time for a Global Reboot. World Economic Forum Website
- Andrew McConnell, Rubbish Dump 2.0
- Benjamin Gaulon(Recyclism)
- Dani Ploeger, e-waste performance
- Kevin McElvancey, Agbogbloshie
- Nicolas Collins, Hacking Workshops
- Tin Dožić, Re-Cycles
- Electronic Beats. (2016, September 10). The Essential Guide To DIY Instrument Building Retrieved from https://www.electronicbeats.net/essential-guide-diy-instrument-building/
- Rhodes, M. (2014, July 22). Hacker Musician Turns E-Waste Into an Awesome Instruments. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2014/07/music-hacker-that-turns-e-waste-into-an-awesome-synth/