With a whole pandemic between now and the last time I wrote weeknotes, there’s a lot going on that I haven’t shared here – most notably that I’ve begun a PhD in Design and Communication at BAU here in Barcelona, supervised by my friend Jaron Rowan. My topic is an expansion of the ideas on digital waste that I was preparing for IAM weekend last year . you can read my full proposal here if you feel so inclined, but the gist is that our online lives are afflicted by sort of digital Diogenes syndrome – as more of our digital lives moves to ‘the cloud’ and as the cost of data storage decreases, we’ve lost any incentive to discard or delete things – our media, documents and data continue to pile up indefinitely. This is of concern due to the increasing environmental impact of the services we use to store this data and the role that this perpetual storage plays in the ongoing erosion of our privacy and agency by surveillance capitalist platforms. In our digital lives, we’re forgetting how to throw things away, or discard them – and it turns out that the act of discarding waste has all manner of important social functions. My main question then is this – can we learn from the practices and social role of waste and discards in the physical world to give us a better understanding of our discard practices (or lack of them) in the digital world and their effects, and can we use this understanding to design digital services which are more sustainable, less exploitative, and which afford a more conscious awareness of what we keep and what we throw away?
This is a very rough outline (and also very provisional – Jaron also has some interesting ideas about waste, decay and ritual which I am in the process of incorporating), but gives a general idea of the broad theme.
Over the next three-or-so years I’m going to be using this blog as a research journal, documenting my work in progress in an informal manner. It’ll be in English sometimes, en castellano a veces, y potser després de tres anys entrarà una mica de català també. I’m going to be making an effort to make it a fairly complete and spontaneous document of my process, so it won’t always be as rigorous or well-written as the work that (I hope) survives to eventually makes it into my thesis, but it will hopefully be interesting nonetheless (even if only to myself and maybe to my supervisors). I suppose in a sort of recursive turn, it’s also a document of the discards that will silently contribute to the project itself – the dead ends, inspirations and distractions that won’t make it into the final result but which help animate the process of arriving at it, and form a kind of ‘negative space’ of whatever’s left at the end.
There’ll be a flurry of posts now as I catch up with documenting the last two weeks, and then hopefully I’ll settle into a more regular rhythm.