Waste = Object + Time

Keyboard waste in China (img src). Guiyu is known as the e-waste capital of the world.

I’m reading Brian Thill’s excellent Waste, part of the Bloomsbury Object Lessons series which dissect and construct the “hidden lives of ordinary things.” Thill sets out the maxim:

“waste is every object, plus time”

The environmental effects of electronic technologies has been documented (though not correspondingly attended to) — used TVs, old phones, recycled computers, heavy metals, carcinogens, lead. My thoughts on the concept of obsolescence explored how technologies that have been superseded by new ones can burrow into our lives exactly through their slight irrelevance. The cost of discarding technologies in favor of new ones, though, is a psychological as well as environmental one. Whereas the e-waste conundrum is explicit in its materiality, the objects that pass by us digitally are not always so easy to pin down.

Every day, we encounter and seek out so much information. Text, video, ideas, facts, post-facts, time. As analogous to electronic waste, digital waste might be found in the Trash on your Mac. But what about the deeper sense of the word waste, which so often finds itself next to “time”? Is waste every moment plus time? Time wasted transforms the object of time into that of waste, but it is a non-material type, one which eludes the easy allocation to processing sites or recycling bins. Wasted time and energy, interestingly, lead to the inverse of an object, a digital frustration. The life of an object hardly stops when it becomes waste, as Brian Thill examines in his analysis. In many ways, a whole new life becomes available for that thing in the process of discovery and re-discovery and remembrance and un-remembrance. It may be one of the uncanny pleasures of our time when we can remember what we had forgotten — from some time ago that had been buried under its own waste.