WhatTheyThink    WhatTheyThink.com    Blogs    PrintPlanet


Tracking E-Waste at MoMA

By on July 27th, 2011

As you have no doubt surmised, e-waste is a big topic here at the Going Green bunker, so my eyes perked up (ow) when I came across a New York Times blogpost about a new installation at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Manhattan. It is called BackTalk, and is part of the larger exhibition “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.” It’s a pretty cool idea: “BackTalk transforms obsolete electronics into independent reporters sent out into the netherworld of the global e-waste chain to record their afterlife. BackTalk, a project of the M.I.T. Senseable City Lab, tracked two parallel streams: devices that were reused (that is, donated to developing nations, which the team tracked by working with World Computer Exchange, World Teach and the Peace Corps) and those that ended up as e-waste.

For the reused equipment:

Forty donated netbooks were equipped with tracking software and labeled with stickers announcing that they recording their whereabouts.

After arriving at their destinations, the computers send out location updates and snapshots of their surroundings every 20 minutes. With this data, the team is able to create a real-time visual narrative of these computers’ second lives in classrooms in Nepal and public libraries in Kenya.

For the discarded gear:

Placing tracking devices on volunteers’ discarded cellphones, batteries, printer cartridges and so on, the team was able to track the convoluted paths of e-waste from Seattle to recycling plants that in many cases were on the other side of the country.

Said Assaf Biderman, associate director of the Senseable City Lab:

“We hope that the exhibit will both raise consumer awareness about what happens when they upgrade, and shed light on inefficiencies in the e-waste disposal chain which desperately need to be addressed.”

If you’re in New York, check it out. “Talk to Me” opened on July 24 and runs through November 7, 2011.