We tend to think of digital technologies in pristine, clean, idealized terms. Much of the immediate allure of any newly purchased digital device stems from the shiny surfaces and smooth contours – an assemblage of tempered glass, brushed aluminum and toughened plastics.
The fact that we continue to imagine digital devices in these ‘box fresh’ terms means that it is easy to distract ourselves from the sullying of the digital hardware that settles into our lives. Once the initial aesthetic thrill of any new device subsides, we soon learn to look past/through the material aspects of digital technology. Instead we devote our attention to the coded, virtual aspects of ‘the digital’ … where we like to imagine that the real action takes place.
Yet if one takes the time to look again at the digital devices that have become embedded in our everyday lives, then they are clearly very different now from when first acquired. Once in situ, digital devices soon become tarnished, blemished, imperfect artifacts.
This takes place in a number of different ways. For example, nearly every digital device is a dirty device. Keyboards become sticky, screens become dusted and greasy, grime accumulates around the parts that are most touched, pushed and prodded.
As they grow older, many digital devices also become broken devices – assemblages of cracked screens, missing keys, scratched surfaces and dented casing. As with any mass-produced consumer product, digital devices soon begin to collect battle scars that users learn to live with, work around and quickly overlook.
Yet there is much that can be learned from paying attention to the accumulated imperfections of ‘real life’ digital devices. Every dent, bash and scratch has a story behind it – offering rich testament to a history of past uses and abuses. Dirt and grime offer tangible evidence of the sensual dimensions of technology use – not least feel and touch. In short, the digital devices that we use on a daily basis have a range of grubby secrets and stories to tell. It befits us to pay more attention!