Photos: Gifted City
by Beauchamp Art
These macro photographs show two circuit boards that were gifted to me, taken using a mix of magnifying glasses and a reversed lens.
I do not know specifically where it is from especially as it was given to me (attached with the label, ‘Be careful, there are tiny people living in this city’, or something along those lines), but it seemed appropriate to examine the silicon surface, and the workings of Moore’s Law, the biannual doubling of processor power, as part of “the revolution in micro-electronics led to four generations of computers in 30 years.” [Van Dijk, 1991: 29].
Fittingly, “Computers are used as a metaphor […] for the description of the human mind” [Van Dijk, 1991: 197] as the serve as an extension of man, and thus the “anthropomorphization (humanization) of technology” was also inevitable, and may “lead to technical influences on humans and their personalities. It is well know that people tend to approach computers as if they are partners instead of devices.” [Van Dijk, 1991: 214] – one may build a machine in order to understand oneself; to understand one’s own desire and what one prioritises and sees as one’s essential needs, and their motivation. If one was to take a cybernetic prospect, the computer chip could therefore be seen as a supplementation or replacement some aspect of the bodily self; made imperfect in one’s own image. Thus how machines are made is telling of society and its individuals, even on a neurological level. They can represent man’s desire for their own future, and what they want from themselves. For example, as “Computer media […] replaced sequential storage with random-access storage […] computer storage devices make it possible to access any data element equally fast.” [Manovich, 2001: 49, 78] does man thus desire to know everything and to be able to access all this this knowledge simultaneously? Some individuals may see computers as part of humanity’s natural evolution; as natural as the wheel, or knee replacement; as a wall or dam; so the micro city of the circuit board could be seen no different to these extensions of man [McLuhan, 1964]
These photographs are an examination of the mechanics of the computer, rather than the mediation of images or other information that is represented on the computer screen. There were taken through an old, redundant found circuit board that has long since lost its purpose and its meaning. “The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible […] it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. […] Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye.” [Benjamin, 1936] It is a cliché to observe the similarities between the aesthetic of a circuit board and that of a modern, linear planned cityscape; with tall objects erupting vertically from a grid network of transistors and station points, roads and bridges, but nevertheless, the superficial aesthetic similarities between the two should not be forgotten, as they are both a product of the exponentially expansive consumer era (paralleled in West with cities like New York, and the East in Seoul).
The computer object is symptomatic of the modernist modes of mass production, as well as the construction of new media objects, which are “rarely created completely from scratch; usually they are assembled from ready-made parts.” [Manovich, 2001: 124] They are a product of the assembly line, made by countless unknown hands, passed through international traders, shipped from port to port, assembled, sold and distributed, but unlike the electronic subject; which undergoes similar process via networks and digital exchange, the physical machine ultimately breaks down. The parts degrade and erode, circuit boards short circuit, become outmoded and are replaced, and are thrown away as a carefree waste product of the consumerist economies of the West. Whereas digital files can be so easily deleted and forgotten (though often are not, and add to an endless archive of e-waste) the computer hardware is left to degrade in waste dumps, or shipped off to LED countries to be stripped and broken down into their parts and constituent parts; creating polluted slums like Agbogbloshie (digital dumping ground in Ghana), which as completely out of mind for the individual when they purchase the latest upgrade for their mobile ‘phone or laptop computer.
As Walter Benjamin observed, ‘The public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one.” [Benjamin, 1936] The action and consequence of e-waste traffic is dissociated from the psyche of the individual, they do not, and cannot comprehend the ultimate outcome of their actions; their physical engagement with subjective environments not only blur the virtual barrier for their interfacing, but also may cause them to neglect the presence of the object itself; seeing it just a window, rather than a collection of rare minerals and an embodiment of labour. In an article on the aforementioned e-waste ground, the current scenario was described thusly: “‘Even if you have a state-of-the-art facility in a country like India, the free market there will send it to the lowest common denominator, to the worst facilities where people are sitting on the streets just picking through it by hand,’ he says. ‘It’s a myth to think that you can just solve the problem immediately with technology alone.’” (PBS, 2011) Man is still subject to on socio-economic discrimination to continue its technological expansion, and physicality of the machine are too easily emancipated from the networking potential they enable.
- Manovich, Lev (2001) The Language of the New Media. USA. MIT Press.
- McLuhan, Marshall (1964) Understanding Media. 1994 Edition. Routledge. Great Britain.
- Van Dijk, Jan A G M (1991). Network Society, Social Aspects of the New Media. 1999 Edition. SAGE Publications Ltd.
- PBS (2011) Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground: Africa’s Agbogbloshie Market Is a Computer Graveyard. NewsBreakingOnline.com. [Online] – http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/video/video_index.html – Accesssed 25.4.14