Book: Behind the Smart World – saving, deleting, resurfacing data

Book: Behind the Smart World – saving, deleting, resurfacing data


Book: Behind the Smart World – saving, deleting and resurfacing of data
as part of the AMRO Research Lab 2015

edited by: – Linda Kronman, Andreas Zingerle
published by: | process coordinator: Us(c)hi Reiter
layout by:

The publication is available both analog as a printed book and digital in form of a pdf, an epub and a web version.


Us(c)hi Reiter/ Foreword
KairUs: Introduction
Fieke Jansen: If not us, who stores and owns our data?
Ivar Veermae : Center of Doubt
Emilio Vavarella: The Google Trilogy
Leo Selvaggio: Surveillance, McLuhan and the Social Prosthesis
Marloes de Valk: What remains? The way we save ourselves
Research Team “Times of Waste”: TIMES OF WASTE
Interview with Audrey Samson : Digital Data Funerals
Stefan Tiefengraber: Technology-based Art and Destruction
Dr. Michael Sonntag: Third Person Data
KairUs: Artistic strategies for dealing with resurfacing data
Interview with Michaela Lakova: Deleted file information is like a fossil…
KairUs: Strategies Against Phishing and Fake Business Websites



Smart phones as e-waste – meeting with Yvonne Volkart

When researcher Yvonne Volkart (University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland) was making a stop over in Linz on her way to Vienna we took the opportunity to meet her and hear more about her research “Times of Waste“. Besides learning a bit more about the interdisciplinary methodologies of the research group at the Institute of experimental Design and Media we had an exchange of thoughts around e-waste specially focusing on Yvonne’s topic “biography of a smartphone”.

In Agbobloshie we observed vast amounts of mobile phones amongst the e-waste, but smart phones were still rarely recycled there. According to Yvonne the reason might be that we tend to hold on to our phones for a long time. Even if we do not use them they tend to linger some where in a shoe box till they are thrown away e.g. in connection with moving apartments. At least in Switzerland (where Yvonne’s research is focused on) most of the phones are given to recyclers, but the access to information of what happens to the phones after this is much harder to retain.

We observed that also in Austria there are a number of ways to get rid of an old phone and even feel good about it. For example promises to take care of your old mobile phone and even children with heart conditions will benefit from this. On their website one is secured that the data is deleted from the phones before they are given forward, but the unmonitored cardboard boxes that are used to collect the devices do not convince us to leave a mobile phone with undeleted data there. On the websites there is little information about partners or further strategies of how the phone are reused or recycled. As stated in the “Time of Waste” research abstract “Waste is hence considered as a “new resource”, dynamic and transformable.” also Yvonne is focusing in her ongoing research to map how the business of recycling is formed in Switzerland. According to her much of the smart phones are still re-purposed and reuse, making it extremely important to trust that the data on them is actually deleted.

While in first hand it seems easy to delete the data on a smart phone just by using the ‘factory reset’ option, there seems to be a reason to doubt its effectiveness. And there seems to be a number of guides and software for DIY recovery as well. This combined to the complex re-use and recycling practices that unfolding in Yvonne’s research makes it interesting to think about the smart phone as storage mediums with similar problematics as with the 22 hard-drives bought at Agbobloshie. Both with hard-drives and smartphones the hardware can be seen as a resource for “urban mining” regain reusable raw materials out of waste (“Time of Waste” research abstract), and the data breach can become a source of data mining regain of material for potential (ab)use.

Another interesting point coming out of Yvonne’s research was a conclusion, that compare to the amount of waste generated of home electronics such as fridges or televisions when looking into the amount of e-waste produced the mobile phones are relatively small. Yet the amount of residue produced in the production of a new phone in much larger. The amount of waste in production of new electronics is something that Jennifer Garbys talks about in her book ‘Digital Rubbish’ specially focusing on the microchip, a component found in many of our electronics also in our mobile phones:

“To produce a two gram memory microchip, 1.3 kilograms of fossil fuels and materials are required. In this process, just a fraction of the material used to manufacture microchips is actually contained in the final product, with as much as 99 percent of materials used discarded during the production process. Many of these discarded materials are chemicals—contaminating, inert, or even of unidentified levels of toxicity.”

Therefore from an ecological perspective it is not enough to look at affects of our technologies at the end of the lifespan of electronics. One has to consider the residues produced in the production as well.

Behind the Smart World Day 2 Field trip & Artist presentations

Field trip to MGG Recycling (Müller Guttenbrunn Group) center in Amstetten. Chris Slijkhuis, responsible for E-Waste & Public Affairs gave us a tour through the center, showed us their shredder and talked in a presentation about his experiences at Agbogbloshie.

After Lunch in the evening the artists presented themselves at the Kunstraum Goethestrasse xtd.


Visit at MGG-recycling

While this research lab focuses on the 22-hard-drives bought at the e-waste dump at Agbobloshi in Accra, Ghana. We were also curious how e-waste is manage here in central-Europe. Just 60km from Linz there is a recycling facility focusing on e-waste. We were welcomed to make a tour at the Müller-Guttenbrunn Group grounds to understand how electronics in Austria are treated. The contrast to Agbobloshi was big. Here huge machines processed big amounts of scrap rather than individuals with with rater primitive tools. Part of our tour was made by Chris Slijkhuis (E-Waste & Public Affairs), who also visited Agbobloshi in connection to the UN managed E-waste Academy.

Here is a company video from the Group:

And here some images from our visit:

Videos of 2 Transmediale panels discussing aspects of electronic waste

These two videos are panels from Transmediale 2014 both looking at the ecological aspects of the accelerating production of electronics and some of the known consequences this has on our environment. The first one concentrates on plastic and the second one on the effects of electronic and synthetic waste.

transmediale 2014 afterglow — An Ecosystem of Excess
With Pinar Yoldas, Heather Davis, Jennifer Gabrys, Bernd Scherer, Daniela Silvestrin

At Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin
Sat, 1.2.2014

Starting from Yoldas’ project An Ecosystem of Excess and her artistic approach through speculative design and biology, this panel will analyze and discuss the impact on what we call “nature” and the term’s ontological crisis. In her exhibition, plastics are the starting point for thinking a new speculative evolution. Plastics have radically changed our environment and the ecological footprint we are leaving on the planet, and in big part contributed to the ecological turn that we are experiencing as one symptom of the anthropocene. But plastic seems to even have become a natural force of its own, unstoppable, invading every space, eliminating and ousting bit by bit the life that had been inhabiting these spaces before. Do plastics have their own agenda? If so, what do we find if we study the ethology of plastics? If there are more and more parts of the ocean where we find numbers of plastic molecules and particles that are many times higher than those of plankton, what is left of “nature” – and the world – as we know it? The ubiquity of plastic, mostly in the form of trash, is creating a new kind of “nature”, and therefore “environment”, which we will use as a starting point to rethink the term and its meaning today, as well as the geopolitical and ethical thinking related to it. In an attempt to overcome old habits of thoughts we will reflect on possible ways of positioning ourselves in relation to other humans as well as nonhumans in these “next” or “post-natural” landscapes surrounding us. (Source:  Transmediale archive)


transmediale 2014 afterglow — The Media of the Earth: Geologies of Flesh and the Earth
With Ryan Bishop, Sean Cubitt, Jussi Parikka, Denisa Kera

At Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin
Sat, 1.2.2014

Afterglow of The Mediatic conference stream

The panel focuses on the effects of electronic and synthetic waste on geological and biological bodies. The tissue and the soil effectively register the residue of scientific and technological processes, acting as inadvertent storage site and archival apparatus for our trash. The panel includes discussions of electronic waste, nuclear fallout as well as the global labour concerning the geology of media: minerals and material sciences. It is in this sense that it aims to address the media of the earth, and the earth as essential to the existence of media: issues which tie organic bodies with the non-organic reality. The speakers represent media and technology studies perspectives to what was often reserved as a territory of the sciences, namely geophysics. A geopolitics that is truly geo-based emerges from these engagements. (Source: Transmediale Archive)

Reading: Digital Rubbish: A natural history of electronics

Digital Rubbish: A natural history of electronics by Jennifer Gabrys in the digitalculturebooks series.

Table of Contents

one: Silicon Elephants
two: exchange at the interface
three: Shipping and Receiving
four: Museum of Failure
five: Media in the Dump
Newspaper Articles
Archives and Museums


This book is attached as an appendix to Jussi Parikkas Medianatures mentioned in a earlier post. Yet this is a book in it self and can be read online as well. And while I am currently reading the second chapter I think that this book really deserves a post of its own.

Reading: In the Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method

Hertz G., Parikka J. 2012, In the Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an
Art Method, LEONARDO, Vol. 45, No. 5, pp. 424–430.

This text is an investigation into media culture, temporalities of media objects and planned obsolescence in the midst of ecological crisis and electronic waste. The authors approach the topic under the umbrella of media archaeology and aim to extend this historiographically oriented field of media theory into a methodology for contemporary artistic practice. Hence, media archaeology becomes not only a method for excavation of repressed and forgotten media discourses, but extends itself into an artistic method close to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture, circuit bending, hardware hacking and other hacktivist exercises that are closely related to the political economy of information technology. The concept of dead media is discussed as “zombie media”—dead media revitalized, brought back to use, reworked.

In this article Hertz and Parikka introduces the term zombie media as “media that is not only out of use, but resurrected to new uses, contexts and adaptations”. Even if the article is mostly concerned with circuit bending of consumer electronics it gives insights to think about our 22 hard-drives. The article describes how obsolete electronics are reused in new constructions in which “materials and ideas become zombies that carry with them histories but are also reminders of the non-human temporalities involved in technical media”. Gadgets and electronics are bought on flee markets or found while dumpster diving and repurposed in art works. Yet todays gadgets increasingly collect data of their prior owners. A blackbox that is broken (see figure 2 in the article) and abandoned will contain data of its prior owner. And if we continue the metaphor of the dead this data might be seen as a ghost that is now sealed in the gadget(hard drive) and can not be retrieved without expensive expert help. If this gadget was synchronised with other electronics or retrievable from the ever saving cloud the data is saved elsewhere and one might not make the effort to reanimate the machine thing just to delete traces of one self. Another scenario are all those old phones that sill function, but are somewhere in a shoebox now. During the spring cleaning it is for sure easy to drop them in recycling as dead shells while deleting personal contacts from it, would require to find the right charging cables which is of course lost. Though, as Hertz and Parikka argue, dead media is not always really dead:

Although arguments concerning death-of-media may be useful as a tactic to oppose dialog that only focuses on the newness of media, we believe that media never dies: it decays, rots, reforms, remixes, and gets historicized, reinterpreted and collected (see Fig. 5). It either stays in the soil as residue and in the air as concrete dead media, or is reappropriated through artistic, tinkering methodologies.

With the perspective of the hardware returning to be used in art pieces, likewise there is the chance that the media in the meaning of data resurfaces in the hands of artist or others. A haunting thought…

The Dead Media Lab (Garnet Hertz 2009) is also worth visiting. Here electronic waste finds the artist and dead media comes alive.


Reading: Medianatures

A book on our reading list:
The Materiality of Information Technology and Electronic Waste
ISBN: 978-1-60785-261-2
edited by Jussi Parikka

It is divided into 4 topics: Materials, Energetics, Waste, Ecosophy. Here is a short description of each topic from Jussi Parikkas introduction:

This living book consists of three sections. The first, titled ‘Material’, engages with some of the processes and materials from which technical media is produced. This offers a new look at media materialism in a way that is slightly less McLuhanian (‘the medium is the message’) but that insists that the material is the message – or, as Fumikazu Yoshida has it: ‘the relationship between high-technology and environmental problems focuses on high-technology like microelectronics and new material, while biotechnology develops on the basis of new sorts of substances: this is contrary to the saying, ‘the message is more important than the material.’ These substances , even if they have little value in themselves, have long-term and combined effects on human health which are not yet sufficiently clear’ (1994: 105).

The second section, ‘Energetics’, focuses on energy consumption and includes various perspectives on hand-held mobile devices, data-grids and server economies. The key question is how such new forms of digital economy and energy use (on an abstract informatic level, computers are zero-entropy machines) relate to the old regimes of energy production, and, for instance, CO2 emissions.

Third, we focus on ‘Waste’ management – a growing part of literature on the materiality of electronic media and information technology cultures. It relates to the global distribution of electronic waste devices as well as the capitalist tendency to be able to recycle such uselessness (shit’) into economic value (Laporte, 2000). In spite of the increasing amount of international regulation since the 1990s, e-waste is still being exported to developing countries (to India and Pakistan, but still also to China). The process follows international labour trends: work in those countries is cheap. Or, as Pinto bluntly states, ‘The dumping of e-waste, particularly computer waste, into India from developed countries (‘green passport’ according to Gutierrez), because the latter find it convenient and economical to export waste, has further complicated the problems with waste management’ (2008). As work is becoming more expensive in China due to rising labour costs and wages, new countries will become the final address for the things which developed countries do not want any more.

The last section of the book is titled ‘Ecosophy’, following Félix Guattari’s (2000) concept. Ecosophy refers to the creative moment across the three ecological layers he identified as nature, the social and the human subjective ecology. As such, it refers to the creation of new practices and relations within and across ecologies, recognizing that the standard ‘environmental ecology’ perspective is in itself insufficient to tackle the links between capitalist modes of production and specific forms of living attached to that economy. This is why this particular section addresses some ethico-aesthetic perspectives that tap into ‘ecology’ and media in a different vein: it includes texts and links to projects talk about artistic, social science and media theoretical ways to rethink relations between materials, the environment and technologies.