Digital junk

Digital media and digital humanities are becoming rather central in any field. Law has now opened the door to digital legislations against any respect for constitutional rights; governments engage with social media and restrict (read: filter) content published and ISP block access and send threatening emails to those who hide IP address, download TOR or are Torrent fans.

I have talked somewhere else about the Bakunian idea of the commune and how Anonymous could be considered the ‘voluntary militia’ that could bring the revolution he so passionately embarked on and -repeatedly- fell for. Despite ideological biases, which -I would argue- do not spare anybody, Bakunian ideas of revolution and voluntary militia are not just purely politically anarchical but can be easily applied to current ‘short-lived ideologies’. I see that the central point of the centrality of the issue, the ‘voluntary militia’ that assembles online and does something (from movies’ chitchats to cyberfeminist marches) has its flip side of the coin. Not necessarily bad of course! I’ m talking about short-lived ideologies that can be summed up in # and can generate loads of attention…and data-junk. Data that is stored (whether you want it or not there is a trace) but not really ‘cared for’.

The idea of waste is not mine. I assisted to a very brilliant and witty talk about waste by a Goldsmith reader and the idea is fascinating. I talked about it and expanded it to academia and its now-turned corporate functioning. But waste is ontologically and epistemologically interesting in the current world order, our world order. (footnote: I am aware of the theory of rent. I am exploring it too!)

When we think waste, the thought is one of ‘rubbish’, ecological damage and economic cost (or cost opportunity); the opposite –and consequence- of production and over-production. But looking specifically at the ontological essence of our digital world, we have ‘junk’ everywhere; in the form of space, data, hyperlinks and history. I am referring to the early 2.0 days (not even a decade ago sob) where blogs were ‘the’ big thing and everybody was not too stressed nor too tired (lol despite we worked more) to write, brag about our knowledge; have our ‘epiphanies’ as a friend would say. We would have followers and would follow. New platforms came along. And I am talking about the practice of writing your thoughts (or other people’s that ‘s easier) in 140 characters like in old mobile phones; the ‘I m sociable and even make my movie’ sort of platform and many others “selfies” to follow. I mention only two because I hear so much about them but there is no intention to neglect other forms of cultural production (and ‘junk’).


The overall idea is that of a digitally produced culture that finds its space on platforms that are capitalistically owned. But this is not the point; or at least it is not my point. The cultural production we are ‘producing’ turns into ‘waste’ in no time. There are approximately tons of inactive blogs worldwide, Facebok pages with Xn likes and approximately a like/comment ratio of .3, Twitter analysis is always a disappointment if looking at what I address as the ‘factual’ (I ve done my readings of Kant thank you very much!) tweets/retweets and when looking at the ‘influencers’. Google news has revamped the almost-obsolete concept of ‘agenda setting’ despite its great zoo of algorithms.


The trend is to say “content is king” and I would agree with it. But, if that were the case, where is this content going? Who is producing content? But most importantly, how long for is the content relevant? If content is the king, how extensive and how ‘powerful’ is this king? An Italian intellectual –now-turned-celebrity in France wrote that one day we will open the window of power and it will be empty, there will be nothing there to pick, choose, kill for or resist to. Although it makes me think of the 2012 crisis in Italy and the long queues outside the Milan Apple store, this reflection is much deeper than one could think.  Another very interesting thinker also argues that we will be forced (it will be painless surely) to enter continues ‘crises’, many different ‘bubbles’ that will eventually burst and leave us with new challenges and new opportunities (in mutande as we would say in Italian). But, at the same time, I would argue, we are already living a moment where cultural production is powerful but in new ways; it is no longer crisis-led. I am afraid but I must agree with those chaps that in 1947 actually used “cultural production” negatively and pessimistically as cultural industry where ‘trends’ # and #selfies[1] become more relevant and will re-write many of current theories of power, resistance, ideology, and epistemology/ontology.

Why is that? I assisted to a very interesting conversation with some marketers; young students who have opinions and use social media. And something caught my attention, the clash between ROI and PR through Social Media. Well, I would like to expand this thought. Focusing on content production, distribution and usage. Content is produced in new ways, new forms, short, long, images, pictures #selfies (again!).  It emerges; it is there and it can be stored and retrieved. It is a sign of our existence, a proof of our being and becoming (idiocratically or not?).

Cultural forms are nowadays technologically mediated and ‘authorised’ ontologies are being redefined and re-written in light of the computational and algorithmic turn of our current technological lives. A very interesting article on Elsevier by a very clever woman I had the pleasure to meet highlighted how the ‘trash’ left by Mexicans in their sad Sonoran desert walks towards the USA tells a story; a story that sees new forms of economy emerge (the production of black water bottles so to avoid sun reflection during the day) but also a story of desperation and rescue, hope and despair. I would invite people to think of the current ‘junk’ traces left on our digital world. Inactive blogs, obsolete # that we have, one way or another, stored; liked facebook pages with no activity, instagram liked pics that have been ‘abandoned’; lost relevance (cybernetics again). The desert becomes the platformed reality O’Reilly so much acclaimed and the migrants are us, all of us, who have left a trace, a piece of very valuable junk that will contribute to the making of history, our history as well as future history.

Our world has always being about understanding it, either through Cartesian and Kantian categorisations or through entropic approaches to matter. Digital Humanities will need to start looking at those traces, that junk that’s left behind.

The idea of the junk I am putting forward is one of abandonment, forgetfulness, but not trash; traces of parts of us (in this case cultural production however trivial and mundane)  left -for now-. It is not rubbish, it is not trash; it is junk, it is something redundant available (or scattered?) all over the desert. Although the difference between trash, junk and waste seems not to be marked, I would argue that in the long run, we won t be able to talk about rubbish because it is not rubbish. Culture is always culture, however mundane it is. It is not. Thinking in terms of our daily job: is it good to delete a mail or put it in junk? Junk is irrelevant but not trash yet. And this is the idea of junk I am using. Redundant cultural production that had relevance but retains agency. I am not going to explain what I mean by agency here but Barad/Cannizzaro influence is rather clear. It is part of our becoming something new, something else, it enriches our very selves and works along with institutionally approved apparatuses and is perhaps more ‘true’ or perhaps more ‘multiple’ to us than these apparatuses like the trash left behind by the Mexicans that tells as a new, multiple story of illegal migration than any reports. A story that is encapsulated in water bottles, altars to the Virgen De Guadalupe, old traditional clothes scattered on the floor and blankets. Those “desert/ed”  belongings (material as well as cultural) that retain history and tell a story, become exhibitions or are destroyed by the desert.

What Digital Humanities should start looking at is the overall junk scattered on our Sonoran desert, making sure that natural deterioration (in this case new technological algorithmic zoos) do not turn it into trash too well, too soon.



[1] A small note. No reference I promise. Please see the new Samsung “selfie camera and then watch Idiocracy and please, laugh.

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