research design laboratory

Techno Trash

I collect stuff, especially old stuff. Maybe it’s because I’m challenged to let things go but I like to think that I hold onto the old based on its ability to inspire the new. This is especially true when it comes to my fondness for old technology. Earning a living by making and creating within the digital realm demands an intimate relationship with evolving technologies.


Along with my peers, I conflate a technology’s accomplishments with its potentials. We look at technology differently when we help make it.  And in using and analyzing new technology in this way we are equipping ourselves to help navigate the transition from mechanical to sensory communication. Where an interface's buttons have been replaced by links. This transition from the analog to the digital is especially relevant to us children of the 80’s. We know what life was like before the internet and we also know how to use the internet. The technologies that bridge this gap therefore hold cultural and personal value to us.


For me, the pieces of antiquated technologies I have chosen to keep evoke memories of the things I’ve made and documented during this era of transition. I’ve endured the editorial discipline required to type an essay on a typewriter, remember the physicality of the rotary telephone and the chair that sat next to it, experienced the novel freedom of carrying my music on my Walkman, and was enamoured by the creative potentials of the point-and-click interface with the Macintosh. While these antiquated objects greatly influenced my productivity during my formative years, they aren’t simply markers of time, nor are they simply measures of my personal history with technology. These objects reference the freedoms of digital technology and the lost textures of the analog.


The nostalgia of antiquated technologies can cause us to overlook the ecological footprint of their existence. The cruelty of obsolesce, both natural and strategic, is waste. While many physical technologies, like the paper and pen, are being replaced by the virtual, their modern substitutes are driven to be light, small, fast and temporary. These devices are also supported and dependent on a variety of tethers, power supplies and media. Often these peripherals remain long after their devices have moved on. The ecological impact of today’s technology is evidenced in both its production and its disposal. It impacts the health and environment of those who build the technology as well as those who are left to dispose of it.


As a media maker I rely on many tools - some new and some old. New tools overcome limitations; old tools are reliable. The tools we use and the way we use them contribute to the character of our craft. Eventually we notice that some of these technologies start to limit our means, so we replace them. I'm reminded how mastery gives way to incompetence when upgrading my digital devices. As creators in the digital industries we should not be forgiven for contributing to the waste of our upgrading simply because we are helping to service the innovation of these products. We should be smarter in our contributions to the development of technology. Limiting the obsolescence of our innovations should be placed on an equal plane with profitability and ingenuity. A conciousness about where technology comes from and where it ends up is as much the responsibility of those who make technology as it is to those who use it.


To learn about other personal histories of technological use, disuse, and disposal or to tell your own, check out this great project established by some great people...