Last year, Sony announced the death of floppy disks. Tomorrow we will hear about the end of compact discs, USB drives, laptops, DVD players, iPhones and ultimately every physical storage medium that we’re familiar with.
Have you wondered where mediums that are rendered obsolete go to die? And what becomes of the heaps of electronic trash they leave behind? According to most recent U.S. Environmental protection Agency statistics, Americans discarded around 27 million TVs, 205 million computer products and more than 100 million cellphones and PDAs in 2007. What’s even more alarming is that only 16% of the equipment was recycled. This means the rest of it either ends up:
- Buried in a landfill (where they release toxic chemicals into the land and water);
- Incinerated (releasing lead, mercury and other heavy metals along with toxic dioxins and furans in the air); or
- Exported to developing countries!
The good news is that several computer and electronic equipment manufactures and retailers are encouraging e-waste recycling via various programs and events. Further, around 20+ U.S. states have passed laws mandating statewide e-waste recycling and several others are considering passing similar laws this year.
The most encouraging new example of e-waste recycling that gained worldwide attention were the medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The 1,000+ medals contained gold, silver, and copper that was extracted from used electronic equipment that would have otherwise ended up in landfills.
Of course, when all else fails, make art! Dead technology make great raw materials for art. Bringing discarded storage mediums and gadgets back to life as art fulfills the dual purpose of putting such materials to valuable use and serving our relentless need for nostalgia in an age of rapid change. Don’t get me wrong, most of us will never be nostalgic about actually using an old Walkman or floppy disk, but we may be nostalgic about the idea of such long-discarded mediums. As New York Times Columnist Rob Walker puts it, “There is little to be nostalgic for about the cassette tape — except nostalgia itself”.
So when you come to the conclusion that the gadget you love so much today is suddenly past its prime, remember to show it (and the earth) some respect by not tossing it in the garbage. Alternatively, you may decide to break out of our pattern of consumption and actually create something.
Here are a few inspiring examples of dead technology art to get you started:
- Nick Gentry – floppy disks and VHS tapes as a canvas.
- Gabriel Dishaw – Nike shoes made of circuit boards
- Ann Smith – robot-like figurines from broken electronics
- Erika Simmons – portraits of musicians made out of recycled cassette tapes
- Brian Dettmer: cassette tape skeletons
- Rob Pettit – cell phone art
- Jeremy Mayer – Typewriter Sculpture