This project came about from a recent experience: my video player broke so I asked a friend if I could use hers. She laughed: she didn’t have one – didn’t I know that VHS was long dead!? I was taken aback: despite my background in technology, I had not noticed the demise of the video cassette – which once, not so long ago, had a place in every home. This incident made me think about our relationship with consumer electronics.
Tool-making defines our species, but the pace of technological change today is unprecedented. This revolution is exemplified by the mobile phone – no other technology in the entire history of our species has spread so widely, or so fast: at the start of the 1990s, less than 0.25% of the world’s population owned a mobile phone, but today this figure has risen to a staggering 75% (five billion handsets). But consumer electronics also quickly become obsolete, with a new model superseding the old in often under a year.
We are simultaneously in awe of and intimidated by today’s advanced devices: we want to possess them, but fear being possessed by them; we are schizophrenics, both technophiles and technophobes.
The photographs in Digital Archaeology depict iconic consumer electronics paradoxically of archaeological age. Despite their very recent manufacture, these devices appear seemingly decades old, perhaps centuries. Electronics as archaeology is a contradiction: how can 21st-century technology be as ancient as the photographs suggest? This dichotomy is heightened by the intended presentation of the images: displayed on light boxes, there is an allusion to the marketing of these highly desirable products. The project aims to provoke questions about time, technology and obsolescence and the consumer – and on the role of the increasingly visible LCD screen in our culture.