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Challenge Lab: Digital Waste

Challenge Lab: Digital Waste

How much do we really know about digital waste? What would happen if our digital communications suddenly took on a material presence?

There is a city called Leonia, chronicled by travelling observer Marco Polo.
The residents 'refashion' their city everyday. Waking each morning with fresh sheets and wearing new clothes.
This daily ritual of renewal is sustained by the novelty afforded by continuous consumption of brand-new objects.
However, piles of waste from packaging and obsolete items accumulate outside of the city's gates. This suburban ring of waste in the invisible part of Leonia.
Clearly a substantive and ever expanding presence that casts its ever threatening shadow over the city walls
Yet the residents of Leonia cannot (or choose not to) see the waste they are constantly producing

The city of Leonia and Marco Polo's travels are of course fictional coming from Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cities'. Calvino’s fictitious chronicle is just one example of the ways in which authors and artists have sought to give visibility to behavioural patterns or social phenomena that society seems to not want to acknowledge. Many have used waste as a device for constructing counternarratives.  This Challenge Lab takes inspiration from these cultural narratives as part of the imaginative exercise of thinking about digital or e-waste.

WELCOME TO CHALLENGE LAB: DIGITAL WASTE

This Challenge Lab takes inspiration from cultural narratives as part of the imaginative exercise of thinking about digital or e-waste.

Our everyday lives are very much characterised by our interactions with digital media. Many of us watch the news on the Metro or scroll through social media platforms during our coffee breaks, do our homework through Canvas and read library books online. As we do so, we might tell ourselves the convenient story that reading on a screen, as opposed to on paper, is even environmentally friendly. Yet, we can only tell these stories, because we don’t look at the balance sheets: Our digitized lives require gigantic amounts of energy and produce huge carbon footprints. What is more, our digital habits produce enormous amounts of trash, so-called e-waste – digital stuff we are bombarded with or produce ourselves that our minds cannot metabolize. The wastefulness of our e-lives poses major challenges to our social interaction, to our mental health, and to our ability to interact with nature. It’s high time to put our digital wastefulness under scrutiny, explore its ramifications, and think about strategies of resilience.

How much do we really know about digital waste?

How much do we think about our digital behaviour and the patterns this follows?

What if our digital communications suddenly took on a material presence?

What might these scenarios look like?

This Challenge Lab proposes the overarching research theme of digital waste. It invites participating student-researchers to work as an interdisciplinary team, to explore and establish their own interdisciplinary definitions of digital waste, to consider ways in which human society’s digital carbon footprint can be mapped and made visible.

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences