Speculative history includes “alternate history,” what if questions, the use of fiction to explore other possible pasts, and any histories outside of the boundaries of the conventional academic discipline of History with a capital H. Historiography is the study of the methods of history. Putting them together points to novel methods for visioning or re-visioning the past and its effects on the present.
A team of researchers, artists, and writers–Mél Hogan, Andrea Zeffiro, Gisèle Trudel, and Sabine LeBel–have created a new project called “Speculative Historiographies of Techno-Trash” that brings these techniques to electronic waste. The project asks: “what if we were required to physically store and care for our personal devices, such as cell phones and desktop computers, long after these machines served their intended function? In such an imaginary, unusable technologies remain within our sights, and in our sites.”
Their methodology is to collect stories and imaginaries on personal histories of technological obsolescence and discard. The site currently has three stories, and they are looking for more:
We are soliciting personal histories of technological use, disuse, and disposal. Send us your stories and photos, and become a participant in raising awareness on the social and environmental impacts of our personal technologies and media practices.
Questions to consider include but are not limited to:
• What technological devices do you use on a daily basis?
• How did you acquire these devices?
• How often do you change/update your phone/laptop?
• What usually makes you want to change your device?
• What devices are you no longer using, but haven’t disposed of?
• How have you disposed of your devices?
• Where do you dispose of them?
• Do you consider the social and environmental impacts of your devices?
E-waste, or electronic-waste is a material genre of waste that is receiving increasing attention as mobile devices and other portable, sort-lived electronics become ubiquitous. Dominant and not-so dominant narratives about e-waste play a considerable role in this research, perhaps even more so than other forms of waste, evidenced by scholars like Josh Lepawsky, who argues against popular imaginaries of how e-waste circulates, and by Jennifer Gabrys’ work Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics, which uses a more poetic and meandering method of doing history. I look forward to how Speculative Historiographies of Techno-Trash develops over time, and how the crowd-sourced storytelling method is used to produce knowledge or, one of their stated goals, awareness.