Naturally, I find myself gravitating towards Hertz and Parikka’s article, “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Having presented on Parikka’s “Media Theory and New Materialism” several weeks ago, it’s interesting to see the shape Parikka’s opinions take a year later. Generally speaking, the content of “Zombie Media” is something I grapple with fairly often, particularly this idea of purchasing technological products with the knowledge that they will become obsolete. When I try to take account of how many phones, laptops, etc. that I’ve personally owned and where they might be now, the shameful truth is that I have no clue what became of my consumption.
I was already aware of “the concept of planned obsolescence first put forward by Bernard London in 1923, as a proposed solution to the Great Depression” (425). I learned of this concept in a women gender studies class after we began to map the formation of cultural norms for women, such as shaving legs and underarms, all of which related back to this consumption plan meant to pull the U.S. out of the financial hole, so to speak. Planned obsolescence is specifically a consumer capitalist issue, one that is destroying our planet, but Hertz and Parikka tell us that, “The political economy of consumer capitalism is a media archaeological problem as well” (427).
When Hertz and Parikka state, “In other words, technological objects are designed as a “black box”—not engineered to be fixable and with no user-serviceable parts inside” (426), Macintosh products (closed systems) come to mind specifically. When I encounter service errors with my MacBook or iPhone, I must go to the source (i.e. the company) to fix them. Additionally, it is becoming more and more commonplace for those of my generation to lack any sort of programming ability; so even at micro levels, users struggle with customizing, building, or understanding the hardware they interact with every single day:
“The inner workings of consumer electronics and information technologies are increasingly concealed as a result of the development of newer generations of technologies, a feature that is characteristic of recent decades of technological culture” (427).
Hertz and Parikka take a closer look at contemporary electro-movement techniques, such as “circuit bending,” which essentially recycles and repurposes old technologies, “…it can be connected to tinkering as a methodology of media archaeological art…circuit bending is a way of operating that reminds us that users consistently reappropriate, customize and manipulate consumer products in unexpected ways, even when the inner workings of devices are intentionally engineered as an expert territory” (426).
Despite my focus on the environmental impact of technological consumption, it is important to note Hertz and Parikka emphasize that media archaeology is “not always connecting such ideas to poetical economy or ecology” rather, the primary focus is on “…the nature of temporality in contemporary electronic digital culture…The circuit, not the past, is where media archaeology starts if we want to develop a more concrete design-oriented version of how we can think about recycling and remediation as art methods” (427).
This is where I begin to see ties between “Zombie Media” and Parikka’s “Media Theory and New Materialism,” both articles pointedly depoliticizing media and materialism, choosing to “go inside a device” rather than “back in time to media history” (427). Again, we go into the function of a device and remove the emphasis of the assumed user. I can follow Hertz and Parikka through this, albeit with a bad taste in my mouth. As Parikka defends in “Media Theory,” “In the wake of the Kittler-effect, media archeology becomes a way to investigate not only histories of technological processes but also the current “archeology” of what happens inside the machine” (86).
Addressing data, I feel, is useful, and Parikka certainly makes a great argument for this, but his theoretical approach and method problematically erase the user of such devices. Is it not also worth viewing user data? As we saw in Erin A.’s presentation, we know that class effects ones ability to use and access basic technology. Race and gender likewise influence this. To me, this proposed approach works from an assumed “we,” othering individuals that cannot participate in this conversation. More than anything, I am curious as to why Parikka seeks to separate analysis of the user from analysis of the device, as if the device transcends its human creator or ecological consequences. Because of this, I’m not sure what to make of Hertz and Parikka’s statements on information technology “traversing political economy and natural ecology” or how technical media “taps into the temporalities of nature—thousands of years of non-linear and non-human history” (429).
My personal view is that this article makes many contradictory statements regarding media archaeology, and I’m not sure what to take away here. Just as science detrimentally seeks to exclude cultural theory, I feel that there is a danger to pretending that we may separate the device from the creator/user of the device for analysis or that we may eliminate responsibility from art methods.
While reading “Zombie Media,” performance and installation artist Mary Mattingly, who meticulously catalogues her consumption in an online archive and has created giant sculptures composed entirely of waste, came to mind. Art21 follows her process in this 10-minute video, under which a journalist posses the question: “Do objects come with responsibility?” Mattingly’s art, creative process, and way of life center around the concept of planned obsolescence and one’s role in it as consumer. Similarly to circuit benders, she repurposes technological waste, “…what gets bent is not only the false image of linear history but also the circuits and archive that form the contemporary media landscape” (427). Where she differs from Hertz and Parikka, however, is by highlighting waste politically in our culture. Waste and consumption are not only the art but the method of the art itself. One can hardly separate the consumer from the technological products in Mattingly’s work.
A few questions that arise from my reading of “Zombie Media” and viewing of Mattingly’s art processes:
- How do users shape the technology we currently produce? Who is the user?
- Can we predict who will or will not have access to technology in the future?
- Can we predict what type devices will be created down the line?
- Do these things already influence the history of technology?
- Is history actually contingent to the study of media archaeology?
Some of these questions work in tandem with Hertz and Parikka’s assertions, while others, I feel, interrogate the relationship between the user and the device, as well as deconstruct who specifically benefits from this separation. While I have some reservations about jumping aboard “Zombie Media,” I feel that many of the points are valid and crucial to understanding Media Archeology as a field and some of the rhetoric and methodology behind it. Whether or not I fully agree with the article, I find it useful for probing my own understanding of the field and for locating some of the existing holes in terms of cultural theory.
Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Leonardo 45.5 (2012): 424-30. Print.
Miller, Weseley and Nick Ravich. “Mary Mattingly Owns Up.” New York Close Up. Art21.org. 2013. Film.
Parikaa, Jussi. “Media Theory and New Materialism.” What Is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. 63-89. Print.