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Monday, April 08, 2013
Digital Rubbish: A natural history of electronics
The rapidity of technological progress leads to enduring and toxic electronic materials. Electronic waste gives rise to a distinctly electronic version of garbology, a digital rubbish theory. The research that follows considers how remainders - and dirt - may be the most compelling devices for registering the transience of electronic technologies.
If you dig down beneath the thin surface crust of Silicon Valley, you will find deep strata of earth and water percolating with errant chemicals. Xylene, trichloroethylene, Freon 113, and sulfuric acid saturate these subterranean landscapes undergirding Silicon Valley. Since the 1980s, 29 of these sites have registered sufficient levels of contamination to be marked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as Superfund priority locations, placing them among the worst hazardous waste sites in the country. What is perhaps so unexpected about these sites is that the pollution is not a product of heavy industry but, rather, stems from the manufacture of those seemingly immaterial information technologies. The manufacture of components for such technologies as computers, mobile devices, microwaves, and digital cameras has contributed to the accumulation of chemicals underground.