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 per cent of the world’s population owned a mobile phone, but today this figure has risen to a staggering 75 per cent (or five billion handsets). Consumer electronics also become obsolete with similar rapidity, with a new models 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. But there is a paradox: despite their 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.