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Users, Waste, and the Public – Response to Hu

In the class discussion about Hu’s A History of the Cloud, the issue of what a truly “public” space would look like on the globally connected digital network. Youtube came to mind in part because of it’s specified design allowing users to make their own entertainment, education, and art through a medium that was, until then, almost exclusively populated and controlled by corporate entities. Professor Gold pointed out that Youtube is likely an example of just the opposite, i.e. Youtube creates the platform for media circulation that appears to be community-based but is, instead, a product that the viewer creates through the process of consumption as individuals users.

I wanted to try and better understand Hu’s argument by focusing on the particular issue of waste. I also wanted to find particular examples of practices in the physical world related to waste in ways that are related to Hu’s discussion on the topic. These examples can be found below.

To recap, Hu details the time-sharing model of early computing and the problems of errors, bugs, and “waste.” He offers a comparison to Victorian era implementation of the sewer system and, equally important, the dividing lines between public and private. These divides were made possible by the acknowledgement of waste and the need to dispose of it without publicly shaming or peeping in on the individual household. Thus, in addressing the issues of networked computing, an infrastructure was created that made “waste” invisible in order to assuage concerns over privacy and to allow users to focus on generating more value through their work.

Youtube, of course, operates through the active consumerism of likes, shares, and comments and the linking of activity of users to individual people. This activity is what makes Youtube a behemoth commercial entity; by engaging in this “community,” this population of users radiate what they see as waste (if they even consider it at all) but what Youtube collects to turn into profit.

For Hu, the isolation of the public into a community of individual users is what negates the possibility of a truly public space on the internet. A public space cannot exist if people desire a system that collects and secures their waste away from the public – a service that, at this time, is conducted by private companies like Youtube. Thus, regaining sovereignty of our data is actually a regaining of control over our waste. The public must operate without distinct digital identities; it must make its waste visible and have control over its waste. But, how? I think one method of controlling the data we produce either directly or through the radiation of our presence and activity is obfuscation. We can manipulate the content of our data so that it offers no value to those who collect it.

There is, I believe, far better examples of returning to a public sphere through the management of waste in the physical world. I link to some of these examples below. (The irony of using Youtube to share this information with you is not lost on me. I recommend signing off from any Google profiles, using a Tor browser and a VPN, and or simply sharing your online identity with other people in order to obstruct the exploitation of you, the user.)

Refining platinum and other precious metals from roadside dirt

Hunting for silver dimes still in circulation

Urban gold mining on the streets of New York’s Diamond District

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