Snapchat and Privacy

“Welcome to a world where Google knows exactly what sort of porn you all like, and more about your interests than your spouse does. Welcome to a world where your cell phone company knows exactly where you are all the time. Welcome to the end of private conversations, because increasingly your conversations are conducted by e-mail, text, or social networking sites. And welcome to a world where all of this, and everything else that you do or is done on a computer, is saved, correlated, studied, passed around from company to company without your knowledge or consent; and where the government accesses it at will without a warrant. Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we’ve ended up here with hardly a fight.” – Bruce Schneier in “The Internet is a surveillance state”

I misused Snapchat to perform an analysis of how it and similar social media platforms seize our information and deprive us of our privacy. I attempt to dissect our notion of information and how the impenetrable curtain of corporate greed is masked behind progress and innovation through increasingly impressive technology. I end my blog post with my thoughts about my interaction with Snapchat and how it affected me and my idea of public versus private spaces.


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We interact with information in two ways: we actively seek it, or it finds us; either way, we’re obsessed with it. This obsession, we could say, stems all the way back to the Industrial Revolution, where humanity’s transcendence into “modern” times rationalized the harnessing of science to overcome nature’s limitations. Thus began to perpetuate the ideas that the more information we have, now predominantly in that we procure through technology, the better equipped we are to remedy the world’s imminent crises and to become increasingly educated, reactive citizens in our day-to-day lives in doing so. However, both of these are not exactly true. Global warming is the easiest crisis to think of, and it, like most others, was enabled by technology – the combusting of fossil fuels. And we react without acting on social media all the time; we read and scroll past the headlines about calamities but pause to watch the latest Tasty video.

In Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Locational Privacy, Control, and Urban Sociability, Silva and Frith argue that digital media has “overloaded” us with information. They quote scholar Richard Lanham on the effect, “‘In an information society, the scarce commodity is not information – we are choking on that – but the human attention required to make sense of it’” (Silva, Frith 26). The stimulation caused by the increase in information made humans develop tools to manage their attention – mobile interfaces that not only cause an “explosion” in data but also alter their perception and serve as filters of public spaces (Sengupta).


Former high-level FBI official Timothy Ryan believes that the Boston bombers were identified by lifting thousands of images and videos off of private cameras and smartphones. While this might seem like finding a needle in a haystack, he says, “‘In every investigation, it’s better to over-collect than to under-collect. To the extent that they had a computer and used it, it [was] a treasure trove of information’” (Stenovec).  This was no ordinary sleuthing; it required data mining to look for patterns in the images taken by the people surrounding the bombed area to eventually trace the Tsarnaevs as the perpetrators. Ryan’s extolling of the method emphasizes his, and probably most of his colleagues’, conviction that information is good. In this case, it was because a tragic crime was solved, but something to think about is how data mining, in most cases, is used on the grounds of security.

It’s dramatic but apt to say that information is bad when it’s in the wrong hands. In the words of journalist Bruce Schneier:

…what we do on the Internet is being combined with other data about us. Everything we do now involves computers, and computers produce data as a natural by-product. Everything is now being saved and correlated, and many big-data companies make money by building up intimate profiles of our lives from a variety of sources.

So there lies the inherent flaw in information collection, that it’s exploited with or without our knowledge for capital gain.

There are two points to bring up here. First, information collection at this scale is unprecedented. As a mindful aside, in her discourse of the ubiquitous digital cloud, Allison Carruth highlights that it’s impossible to pin down the tangible effects of data usage because data has grown exponentially; that is, in the past, there was no record of it. Second, using social networking sites, search engines, e-mail, or the general Internet (including access via cellphones) is now commonplace, and as Schneier later points out, we can’t just stop using them because we don’t like to be “spied” on, especially since the full extent of spying is deliberately hidden from us.


We do own our information…technically. Intellectual property laws were significantly changed in the Copyright Act of 1976 when it was no longer necessary for one to register his or her work to protect it. Anything “fixed in a tangible medium” automatically became copyrighted (Boynton). Recent laws protecting copyrighted material on the Internet have so raised the status of intellectual property that court systems and corporations often wrongly equate it with physical property. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries,” meaning that authors and inventors can profit from their intellectual property in exchange for allowing limited and eventually full public access to it. However, privacy policies for Facebook and Snapchat are nebulous as to whether the information we upload or unintentionally store on their applications is still ours or if our control over it slowly dissipates with time. Snapchat’s Terms of Service states:

Many of our Services let you create, upload, post, send, receive, and store content. When you do that, you retain whatever ownership rights in that content you had to begin with. But you grant us a license to use that content. How broad that license is depends on which Services you use and the Settings you have selected.

Facebook is a little clearer about its intentions but not by much:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

However, in the following line, Facebook says that although IP content is deleted, there may be “backup” copies for a “reasonable” period of time, inaccessible to any entity other than Facebook of course. The ability for corporations to be vague in their regulations about storing and using our information sheds light on our own powerlessness, a key motive for cyber-activist and computer programmer Aaron Swartz who started a campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) of 2011, a bill that would allow the government to censor or prevent complete access to designated websites.


In one of his last speeches before committing suicide, Swartz recounted the battle to defeat SOPA from start to finish. A major proponent of the Demand Progress group, Swartz seemed to believe that this was an “us versus them” issue in which the underdogs, a small community of young computer scientists and start-up entrepreneurs, faced the powerful but archaic Congressmen who had an “irrational fear that things were out of control” to prevent Internet censorship in agreement with the First Amendment (Goodman). Referring to the Congressmen as the “enemies of the freedom to connect” and challenging that “they wouldn’t find something they could pin on any of us,” Swartz highlighted that neither the right nor the left wing was to blame specifically since both were interested in the lobbying funds provided by Hollywood and other similar groups.

The idea of powerlessness is further exemplified by media theorist Douglass Ruskoff in the “surrendering” of his Facebook account. He explains, “I have always argued for engaging with technology as conscious human beings and dispensing with technologies that take that agency away. Facebook is just such a technology. It does things on our behalf when we’re not even there…it misrepresents us. It exploits our social interactions.” What we don’t realize is that the end users of these social networking applications and other digital media are the marketing and advertisement companies that want to influence the decisions we make. They pay for us, the product, and by “logging” on, we become workers. What’s scarier is that by mining our big data, the government can even predict for whom we vote, our sexual orientation, or our likelihood for civil disobedience and even terrorism (Rushkoff).

In his paper on networks, writer, computer programmer, and professor Alexander R. Galloway expresses that we’re captured (seemingly from birth), analyzed for our usefulness, and forced to participate in endless data collection:

Today organisms must communicate whether they want to or not. This is essentially why “communication” and “control” are inextricably linked. Organisms are “captured” using any number of informatics codes and rubrics. Clicks are accumulated. Behaviors are mined for meaningful data or tracked for illegal data. Even the genome is prospected for rare or otherwise useful sequences. Today, interactivity means total participation, universal capture.


Snapchat is unique from the other major social media platforms that dominate our culture because it promises to make photos, videos, and messages disappear. The image or video is set to a timer and expires after the timer ends while the message disappears once the chat box is exited. The “erasing” aspect of the application spurs the sending (and receiving) of compromising images or messages, but users fail to realize that just because something is deleted from their phone doesn’t mean that it’s deleted forever. It’s still lurking around on some server.

Snapchat is fallible in two other ways: users can take screenshots of the messages or images they receive and leaks are possible and relatively frequent. In a leak where 200,000 pictures were released, Snapchat distanced itself from any blame, citing its users’ usage of third party apps for the reason of compromise (Lunden). In May 2014, it was the only company to receive one star out of six for how it protected its users’ data from government requests. Conducted by digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the annual survey evaluated more than two dozen companies on issues including “whether they require a warrant before handing over communications and whether they notify their users and the public about government data requests” (Smith). Snapchat’s one star was for its policy of publishing law enforcement guidelines. Around the same time, Snapchat was incriminated for misrepresenting its privacy and security practices to consumers such as transmitting their geolocation when it explicitly stated that it did not access that information (Bautista).

Snapchat recently acquired Looksery, a company that modifies pictures in real time and has begun to introduce comical lenses for its users to don before sending their snapchat. Only after rapper B.O.B. tweeted, “when you realize all the snap chat filters are really building a facial recognition database” did users begin to understand the gravity of their Snapchat usage, that the application did have some startling implications on their privacy.


I chose Snapchat because it’s the fastest source of information; by looking at my friend’s Snapchat story that’s usually accompanied by a geofilter, I know what she’s doing in that moment. Snapchat stories can be glamorous because within those ten seconds, we have to give a performance whether it consists of a selfie by the beach or a party taking shots with friends.

I wanted to completely decontextualize Snapchat and strip it of its usefulness (locating our friends and seeing what they’re doing or showing everyone where we are and what we’re doing) by posting completely useless pictures and videos. Some consisted of me sleeping, brushing my teeth, going to the bathroom, or being hyperbolically philosophical. More than anything, my friends were entertained, but some questioned my sanity, asking if I was alright or needed help. I found the experience hilarious but also elucidating of some of our habits on social media (perhaps I did my own data collection as well).

I was posting personal moments in my life that people wouldn’t normally see. The video of me sleeping was filmed and posted by my friend, and I, alongside my Snapchat friends, viewed myself sleeping for the very first time in my life. Some had seen me sleeping even before I had. Writing this after recalling that moment, I was reminded of Schneier’s summary of the internet as a surveillance state, “Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we’re being tracked all the time…all of us being watched and that data being stored forever.” What was even more interesting was that even though I was posting these personal videos alongside completely silly pictures (one of an empty plastic cup), my friends were still viewing my story. Even if the information is unrelated to us or plain old stupid, we still want it.

Professor L. pointed out to me that new media and technology reshape, reorganize, and create new environments. I corroded my privacy in the environment I created on Snapchat, and my moments of solitude,  happiness, complacency, and pure boredom weren’t mine anymore. Instead, they were everybody’s, my friends and the companies whose servers my face and my voice were filtering through. In doing this experiment, I feel as if I’ve lost some sense of place because I wasn’t necessarily “living” for myself, but rather the friends for whom I needed to perform. I don’t think I can ever disconnect, though. I feel as if data is too far away for me to touch it, and it’s woven so seamlessly into our daily lives that it’s difficult to know when to disconnect and live in visible, tangible ways. Like most people my age, I’m too tied to my media even if it necessarily isn’t mine anymore.

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Sources Cited

Bautista, Christian Brazil. “Surprise! Your Incriminating Selfies on Snapchat Weren’t Deleted After All.” Designtechnica Corp., 9 May 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.

B.O.B. (bobatl). “when you realize all the snap chat filters are really building a facial recognition database.” 16 Apr. 2016, 1:58 pm. Tweet.

Boynton, Robert S. “Righting Copyright.” Bookforum. Feb. – Mar. 2005: n.pag. Web. 3 May 2016.

Carruth, Allison. “The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy.” Public Culture. 26 (2014): 339-364. Web. 3 May 2016.

“Freedom to Connect: Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) on Victory to Save Open Internet, Fight Online Censors.” Democracy Now! N.p., 14 Jan. 2013. Web.

Galloway, Alexander R. “Networks.” N.p., n.d. PDF file. 3 May 2016.

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message.” McGraw-Hill, 1964. PDF File. 3 May 2016.

Lunden, Ingrid. “Snapchat: Our Servers Were Not Breached In The ‘Snappening’ Blame 3rd Party Apps.” AOL Inc., 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.

“Terms of Service.” Snapchat, 29 Mar. 2016. Web. 3 May 2016.

Rushkoff, Dennis. “Why I’m quitting Facebook.” Cable News Network, 25 Feb. 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

Silva, Adriana De Souza E, and Jordan Frith. “Interfaces to Public Spaces.” Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Locational Privacy, Control, and Urban Sociability. New York: Routledge, 2012. 26-27. Print.

Schneier, Bruce. “The Internet is a surveillance state.” Cable News Network, 18 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

Sengupta, Somini. “Facebook Software Puts It Front and Center on Android Phones.” The New York Times Company, 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

Smith, Gerry. “Snapchat Isn’t Standing Up For Your Privacy: Report.”, Inc., 16 May 2014. Web. 3 May 2016.

“Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” Facebook, 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 3 May 2016.

Stenovec, Timothy. “Former FBI Official on Crowdsourced evidence: ‘Better To Over-Collect Than To Under-Collect.”, Inc., 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

U.S. Constitution. Art. 1, Sec 8.

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A Day of Living Analogly



I usually wake to an alarm on my phone. After hitting the snooze button a few times, before even getting out bed, I jack in and check for any email or Facebook notifications that came through during the night. But on this morning my phone was on a table in the living room. I would later find out it was dead the entire day, an unprecedented realization for me as I usually keep close track of how much juice my phone has left. When it does die, I wait impatiently for it to recharge. The reason my phone was not sitting by my bedside was because I planned to go the entire day without networked or digital devices – I would only use analog technologies. This plan was largely inspired by our readings towards the end of the semester, especially Allison Carruth’s The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy. As Carruth details the complex infrastructures behind “the cloud”, she cites Robert Marzec’s breakdown of the environmental impact of networked technologies: “Viewing a simple webpage generates approximately .02 grams of CO2 per second; ten times this is required to view a complex website with multiple images; a running PC generates 40 to 80 grams of CO2 per hour; a fifteen minute Google search, 7-10 grams. All of this activity adds up.” To be more precise, it adds up to 2% of international carbon emissions every year. I had never thought about the Internets environmental impact before. Earlier in her paper, Carruth discusses an essay by Anthony Doerr: “He pins his own online cravings on a digital alter ego, Z…Doerr writes of a recent vacation without Internet access and how his state of bliss comes to an abrupt end on his return because of Z’s obsession with surfing the web, reading news feeds, and chasing down information about everything from climate change to health insurance premiums.” Upon reading this, I felt drawn to the idea of taking a purposeful vacation from networked devices and digital technologies.

Preparing for My Analog Day

AnalogTo start my analog day I had to run a couple errands. As I usually rely on my phone for the time, I had to have my watch repaired and given a new battery (you probably can’t tell in the picture, but the face of my watch features Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, a film that critiques modernity and industrial societies. I found this to be coincidently appropriate for my project). As embarrassing as it is to admit, as I checked my watch throughout the day, it took me a second to read analog time. In William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Molly states that she has a time readout chipped into her optic nerve. Had my phone too turned me into a cyborg of sorts distanced from a skill so basic as telling the time?

When I read that we had post images documenting our projects, as I also use my phone to take all my pictures, I thought I’d have to make photography the one caveat to my analog day. Luckily, I found a friend who was willing to loan me his Polaroid camera. A four-mile bike ride and $37.79 later, I was set with twenty exposures and was ready to “analogly” document my project. Playing with the Polaroid camera throughout the day was an absolutely joy. I hadn’t used one since I was kid, so I was giddily taking pictures of and watching as each one developed to see how it turned out. I will discuss this process in greater detail a bit later on.

Looking Back

As I went through the day, I kept thinking back on the exercise we did at the beginning of the semester – going off networked devices for two hours. In my discussion post on this exercise, I described instances of habitually reaching for the phone that was not in my pocket: “As I headed toward the kitchen [to make dinner], I habitually began to reach for my phone (I often save recipes from various Facebook pages and reference them for many of my dinners). I caught myself and remembered I would have to peruse our cookbooks instead”; “I took a walk down the street to run a quick errand. Again, I mindlessly reached for my phone on my way out. Typically when I’m walking somewhere I’ll make phone calls, respond to texts and emails, or scroll through Facebook.” During my analog day, I did not have these sorts of responses, but occasionally I would walk past my phone lying on the table and sense my own Z desiring social media.

Making Plans

But there was only one time throughout the day that I was seriously tempted to use my phone. I had planned on meeting up with Nick around 2:00 PM to prepare for our presentation on The Yes Men Fix the World. I got back to my apartment from running errands right at 2:00, but as I had no way of contacting him, I worried I had missed him. I kept looking out the windows and going outside as I waited for him to arrive. In this moment, I considered looking at my phone to see if he had texted me. Luckily I abstained, because a few minutes later he showed up. This made me think back on the way plans were made and kept in the days before cell phones. You could call the person’s landline, but what if there was no answer? You could go to their location, but what if you don’t know it or they are not there? Or what if, as in my case, they are meeting you? You would just have to wait. This experience really highlighted the effect networked devices have had on me. In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan states, “we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time…Rapidly we approach the final phase of the extensions of man – the technological simulation of consciousness”. As an extension of my consciousness, my iPhone had made it unnecessary for me to wait. Thus in its absence, I found anxiety in the unknown.

Studying Outside of Cyberspace

As Nick and I studied, I remained off networked devices. I skimmed Through the Arc of the Rainforest and reviewed the passages I had underlined. I took notes by hand. I discussed The Yes Men Fix the World based on what I could remember off the top of my head for the time being. It was such a different way of studying. I usually study by reviewing Power Points, skimming through movies to find pertinent scenes, or even Googling direct quotes from the movie. I generally use a computer to take notes as it allows avoiding my atrocious handwriting while keeping all my notes in one place. This made me consider how studying, and education in general, must have differed before pervasion of computers, or to go even further back, readily available writing utensils. Everything would have had to be written by hand or retained in one’s memory. This made me wonder how much digital technologies have affected people’s ability to retain information. Later in Understanding Media, McLuhan writes, “With the arrival of electric technology, man has extended, or set outside himself, a live model of the central nervous system itself…It is a development that suggests a desperate suicidal auto-amputation, as if the central nervous system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous mechanisms”. Networked technologies certainly have their advantages; they provide access to a vast array of information as well as a fast and arguably more efficient way to document notes. In this way they provide a prosthetic to people. But with this prosthetic comes an amputation as people risk the deterioration of their retention abilities.
The Most Photographed Park in Rochester

When we finished studying, Nick, my girlfriend Clara, and I took a walk to Highland Park. As we strolled through the park, around every bend of the trail was a person with a camera or a phone taking pictures of the lilacs and magnolias. Under usual circumstances, I would have been taking pictures right along with them. Sure, I could have gotten the Polaroid camera and taken pictures without breaking the rules of my analog day, but I wanted to see what it was like to have an unmediated experience of the park – or find out if such a thing was even possible. Being one of the only people not taking pictures, only served to make the photographers that much more apparent. The whole experience reminded me of The Most Photographed Barn in America featured in White Noise. As Murray watches everyone taking pictures of the barn he observes to Jack, “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura…We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision…We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now”. Even though I wasn’t taking pictures, was I too just a part of the park’s aura? Was my vision still tainted by a collective perception? With such questions on my mind, I began to wonder if a truly unmediated experience is still possible in the digital era.

Lunch in the Commons

HighlandClara and I usually have lunch while watching an episode or two of a TV show (currently we’re alternating between Community, New Girl, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). But for my analog day, after Nick left, we packed a picnic and took our cat Dorian to a park. The park we went to is one we just happened upon. Even though it’s right down the street from our apartment, we had not known about it before. I was pleased to see that the park had a community garden. I’d wanted to grow a garden for quite some time now, but as we don’t have a yard, I’ve never had the opportunity. This discovery may just be the perfect outlet for my horticultural desires. In The Place, the Region and the Commons, Gary Snyder extols the virtues of attaining a sense of place: “Bioregional awareness teaches us in specific ways…Our relation to the natural world takes place in a place, and it must be grounded in information and experience”. He goes on to discuss how people once had such a keen sense of place, that they held intimate knowledge of regional plant life. Though I cannot claim to have ever had this level of bioregional awareness, when we found the park and the community garden, I definitely felt an increased sense of place and was excited by the prospect of discovering the horticultural skills so many people have forgotten.

Engendering Community With Analog Technology

That evening we met up with a few friends (including the friend who loaned me the Polaroid camera) at Victoire, a bar on East Avenue. Towards the end of the night, we asked a woman sitting across from us if she would take a picture of our group. She seemed so surprised when we handed her the Polaroid camera. After we got in place, the woman awkwardly positioned the camera’s viewfinder over her eye and fumbled for the button to take the picture. If we had handed her a phone, I doubt she would have given it a second thought and might have even taken several pictures for us to choose from. With the Polaroid, she just handed camera back to us and did not display any interest in seeing how the picture turned out. Have people become so inundated by digital technologies that any alternative has become foreign?

VictoireOur group gathered to watch the picture develop and passed it around to see how it turned out. If we hadn’t have had the Polaroid, I doubt we would have even taken a picture. Even if we had, everyone would have glanced at the image on the phone and not given it another thought until it was inevitably posted on Facebook with everyone tagged in it for all our cybernetic friends to see. In River of Shadows, Rebecca Solnit discusses how every technology simultaneously connects and disconnects: “Those carried along on technology’s currents were less connected to local places…It was as though they sacrificed the near to gain the far”. Posting a digital image on Facebook would have connected with a wider array of people and we might have received a few likes and comments. But in doing so, we would have lost the sense of community the Polaroid picture engendered in our group.

Listening to Vinyl and Watching Celluloid

Projector 2For the last few years, I’ve been a minor vinyl and film enthusiast, so I own a record player and a 16mm projector. Thanks to this, I was not deprived of music or film during my analog day. I listened through two records, Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs and Paul Simon’s Graceland, and I watched my print of John Wayne’s The Quiet Man (a childhood favorite). Both vinyl and film exemplify the differences between inscribed and dematerialized media that we discussed in class.

In Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces, the authors draw a correlation between cellphones and books as mobile technologies. They argue that both of these technologies act “as interfaces to public spaces”. It would be easy to draw a similar connection between vinyl/film and streaming services. Solnit discusses that manner in which motion pictures changed the relationship to time, “they made it possible to step in the same river twice, to see not just images but events that had happened in other times and other places, almost to stop living where you were and start living in other places or other times”. In Mediations, Peter Adey adds, “films pass on specific cultural messages and values to receptive audiences”. He delivers a similar sentiment on music, “Music carries considerable freight by transporting the baggage of different cultures”. These attributes can equally apply to both vinyl/film and streaming services. However, as we discussed in class, though books and cellphones are both mobile technologies, cell phones have immense social networks behind carrying many more implications than books. By the same token, the streaming of music and movies pushes their impact even further than Solnit and Adey discuss.

Record PlayerI often listen to music on Spotify. It is a useful application supplying full discographies for almost any artist imaginable. When I want to check out a musician I am unfamiliar with, I will find them Spotify and listen through their music starting from their debut album. It is a great way to observe the evolution of an artist’s career. This is how I discovered Tom Waits who has become one of my favorite artists (I now have eight of his albums on vinyl). But every time I listen to vinyl, I am struck by the way music has become engrained in social media. Carruth points out that “one’s desires to share experiences online and to access data for anywhere provide the foundation on which industries profit”. Spotify allows its users to post the music they listen to for their friends to see. But this seemingly innocuous addition to social networking, gives corporations access to more information about people and gives them one more way to profit from people’s interests. When I listen to vinyl I feel like I’m listening for myself rather than in service of corporations.

ProjectorBoth a film print and a digital copy of The Quiet Man will connect me to 1950s Ireland, where the film is based. But every time I use my 16mm projector, I’m always fascinated by the history behind each individual film print. I bought my print of The Quiet Man from a film collector at a film festival in Syracuse last year. A code on the edge of the film reveals that the print was made in 1971. The collector told me he was only selling it because it was beginning to fade, so a portion of the film was reduced to a red tint. All of this history is lost on a digital version of the film. And despite the fading, every time I screen the print I feel like I’m experiencing something unique. This too is lost in a digital format, which provides a consistent but homogenized experience. The act of projection is also an experience that cannot be replicated digitally. When I project I am connected to the film, literally and figuratively, as I carefully thread each of the film’s three reels through the projector and play them one by one. This is such juxtaposition to the act of mindlessly binge watching a TV show until Netflix asks, “Are you still watching?”

With such arguments, it would be easy to romanticize film, especially was we move further and further into digital age. But I am constantly reminded of film’s complicity. In Manufactured Landscapes Edward Burtynsky acknowledges his own complicity: the film in his camera contains silver particles that had to be mined; the gas in his car uses oil that was drilled from the earth. Similarly, the emulsion of film prints contains gelatin, which is made in part by the hooves of cows. As a vegetarian I often wonder how to reconcile this fact. Like Burtynsky, I can only ever acknowledge that everyone has their share of complicity.

Polaroids and the Limitations of Analog Technology

Failed AttemptsAs I went about documenting my project with Polaroid pictures, the first thing I noticed was the limitations of analog technology. Half of my pictures came out out of focus or blown out. I tried to get a close up of my watch’s Modern Times inspired clock face, but it was too close to maintain proper focus. As I was watching The Quiet Man, I tried to capture an image of the film projecting on my wall, but the flash on the Polaroid camera rendered it invisible. I soon realized that analog photography really requires a certain familiarity with the camera’s capabilities. For example, to be in focus with the Polaroid camera, I had to be at least 0.9 meters away from the subject. Because of this there were some images I could not capture the way I originally planned. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, I only had twenty exposures available to me and each one was relatively expensive (almost $2 each). So I had to limit the number of times I attempted to capture a certain image. This could be seen as a weakness and an argument in favor of digital photography; on my phone I can take as many pictures as I want, from any distance or angle and it will come out perfectly almost every time. But I’ve always felt that limitations greatly encourage artistic expression. By working within the limitations of the Polaroid camera, I had to find creative ways to capture what I wanted to represent. And when it did come out well, I felt a greater sense of accomplishment than I ever felt after taking a digital image. earkovskypolaroids07It also gave me a greater appreciation for the artists that have done much more with the medium than I am capable of. For example, I have a book of Polaroids taken by director Andrei Tarkovsky. All of the images are beautifully composed. After seeing how much went into capturing my simple images, I better understand how much work is behind each of Tarkovsky’s pictures. Thus, while digital photography has enabled me to take pictures with greater ease and store almost an unlimited number of them, it also disconnected me from a sense of creativity and deteriorated my appreciation for the artwork of others.

Tarkovsky-Polaroid-14-550x550 tarkovsky_polaroid-17-550x550 Tarkovsky-Polaroid-3-Lake-550x550


(If you are interested in seeing more of Tarkovsky’s Polaroids, this website has a good selection:

The Cybernetic Era of Nature

In A History of Nature, Mick Gold hypothesizes on a new construct of nature: “The new industrial revolution is electronic rather than mechanical, and is concerned with encoding information and simulating aspects of the human nervous system…Today could be characterized as the cybernetic era a nature – nature as bits of information”. During my vacation from networked devices and digital technologies, I found absolute joy in the various analog technologies I utilized, especially the Polaroid camera and the 16mm projector. Additionally, a resurgence of many analog technologies seems to be taking place – including both vinyl and film. If we are truly living in the cybernetic era of nature, could analog technologies be seen as a new vision of romanticism – an escape from cybernetic nature and a return to the physical world?

We Used to Wait for It

Early on in the semester Arcade Fire’s We Used to Wait was referenced in class. When I got home from campus, I immediately looked up the song and listened to it several times. As I went through my analog day, I kept thinking back on Arcade Fire’s lyrics. Everything I did that day required me to slow down: waiting to meet Nick with no way to contact him; taking Polaroid pictures and waiting for them to slowly develop (there is a certain irony in this as Polaroids were once the only form of instantaneous photography); threading each individual reel of The Quiet Man before they could be projected. With this I was struck by the fact that digital technologies are in large part responsible for the era of instant gratification that we live. And one line from the song rang particularly true: “Now our lives are changing fast. I hope that something pure can last.”

The Pervasiveness of Cyberspace

As I went through the day using only analog technologies, I found that I had a heightened awareness of the digital technologies surrounding me. At the jewelry store where I repaired my watch, TVs displayed the news. Everyone at Highland Park was taking picture. Victoire blasted music throughout the bar. People I was with spent time on their phones and occasionally tried to show me pictures. Even when I consciously tried to avoid digital technologies, it sometimes felt like I was in the world of White Noise, inundated by media. I wondered if, in this day and age, it is possible to entirely jack out of cyberspace.


Analog DayNetworked devices and social media certainly have their advantages; they provide access to an abundance of information and enable communication with distant friends and relatives. I used to tell myself that I had ridded my Facebook of the duck lips, memes, spam, and other shenanigans typically associated with social media; that I had curated a Facebook page that truly reflected my interests. But despite this claim, I still found myself scrolling past ten uninteresting posts to find one of mild interest. Much of the time I’m on my iPhone is spent on a quest that borders on OCD to clear notification. Emails from mailing lists I ended up on. Notification from Facebook pages I only half-heartedly follow. Birthdays of people I barely know outside of social media. If I didn’t have the phone, or the various applications, I would not receive the notifications and my life would not be any less enriched for it. But since I have the phone and the applications, the notifications must be viewed and removed. In this way, McLuhan’s maxim is demonstrated; the medium truly is the message. After recognizing this in myself, I really wanted to cut back on the amount of time I spend on social media. The day after my analog day, I did turn my phone back on to see if I’d missed any important messages (I hadn’t), but I continued to use it much less than I usually would. Yet as time went on, I found that my phone still had a strange allure – whether it be habitual or combatting boredom or interfacing the world around me – at times my own Z reared his ugly head and his craving for social media.

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Creating Waves Without the Microwave(oven)



As students or people rather, we have all been there. It is a gloomy weekend day, you have your favorite fleece sweatpants on and you’re watching law and order or friends or something. You don’t feel like going outside but, you still want some warm food with minimum effort and miraculously you can have it. What makes this incredible request feasible? One machine; the microwave. The microwave often lets you have a dinner in 3:30 or less and don’t worry even we the food you order gets a little cold that can be fixed as well.

What is the microwave oven? In scientific terms the microwave is “an electromagnetic wave with a wavelength in the range 0.001–0.3 m, shorter than that of a normal radio wave but longer than those of infrared radiation. Microwaves are used in radar, in communications, and for heating in microwave ovens and in various industrial processes.” In layman terms, the microwave oven is a device that we used to shorten the cooking of our meals drastically without taking not of how it can affect the environment or us as human and animals as a whole.

We are stuck in a neoliberalist society where progress and the next best thing is what drives us and with that being said many people no longer have time set aside to even start a family to begin with but also to cook with their families and sit down and have a meal.  Much of today is grab something quick on the go or if you’re lucky throw something in the microwave as you look over weekly reports at 2 am. The complicity of modern life has given us an excuse to use the microwave even more and value our environment even less.

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the late 1700s because Britain contained great deposits of coal and Iron Ore. This illustrates how important a local environment can be. On top of possessing materials themselves Britain was one of the biggest colonial powers at the time and could take control of the resources that their colonies possessed and this is where Mick Golds’ segment on nature as a resource comes into play as well as texts such as Through The Arc of The Rainforest and Avatar where the local people or their local goods become a commodity to more powerful individuals. The construction of the microwave oven is guilty of this as well. I find it interesting that the microwave oven is so accessible but, the information on where the microwaves supplies originate is much harder to find. Many of the materials that I was able to trace lead me back to three main companies Ed Fagan Inc. in Franklin Lakes, NJ, and CMW INC in Indianapolis, IN and Brush Engineered Materials in Mayfield Heights, OH. This reminds me of how a few major food companies ran the entire industry in movies such as Food Inc. and King Corn, but never mind that right now. These are where many of the metals and ceramics for microwave oven production are crafted, my biggest question is if stainless steel is one of the major ingredients in microwave oven production, why isn’t Pittsburgh on this list. This is where Bioregionalism and Environmental Justice play a part. For those who don’t know Pittsburgh was very commonly known as “Steel City” but, is in danger of losing the moniker. Steel caused the economy of the city to thrive but as a result of an increase in foreign influence and foreign competition the steel industry collapse. The local economy and environment was devastated because of the over commodification and exploitation of the resources. What started out as an industry mostly comprised of Native Americans has become more than 65% White.


The microwave is an extension of the body because it act as if we are monitoring the cooking when we are not. The door is there as a safety valve that allows us to place something in the microwave and then go ahead and complete other tasks. The microwave oven is also a huge annihilator of time and space. In the physical sense, Microwaves travel at a speed of 186,000 miles per second and a microwave oven can be placed in pretty much any spot in a home but, it gets deeper than that. The microwave makes it possible for us to eat almost anything from anywhere on the world in a much quicker time than was originally anticipated.

This annihilation of space plays right into the concept of sacrificing the near to gain the far. When you think of it initially it seems as if it is the other way around that we are sacrificing the far to gain the near because the microwave oven is meant to make things easier right or more accessible per say. I see it as a combination of both because when we use the microwave to eat something that has traveled or come from elsewhere, we neglect the resources or food out lets that are in close proximity to us that can be traveled to. As we travel to these places we also interact with other people and the local environment whereas the microwave oven as mentioned before is more of a device catered to fast moving individuals. You would not cook dinner for your family in the microwave, you would make a personal meal that is consumed in solitude.

The microwave also removes us from the here and now. Imagine if warming up your leftovers from a night out was a harder task, you would stay out until they were finished right? Am I the only one that feels that family or romantic dinner are cut short because we have the option of taking our food to go and warming it up at home. A lot could happen in the extra 15 minutes we take to finish our food completely.

This is a prime example of technology and media as prosthesis and amputations. As the microwave oven grants you one thing, it strips you of another. You may benefit with less effort and less time on dinner preparation but, you lose exactly that, you lose the quality time and the experience that creating and enjoying a meal with loves ones grants you. Even though you don’t have to wait for anyone to prepare your food or you don’t have to leave your room to eat, when has interacting with people or enjoying your local environment become a negative thing? To top it all off quick food does not mean good food. This is very interesting because, I can recall a time where I order Chinese food and something that usually take between 45 minutes and an hour was delivered to me in 15 minutes flat. Not only was my taken and processed. I was supposed to believe that my food was cooked, placed neatly in a container and delivered to my room from a place that is 10 minutes away in about 15 minutes. I noticed that that was entirely too quick but because I was hungry and not willing to make a trip, I had just paid $12 for food that I could have microwaved in my room myself. This moral of this story is that we do not know where microwaved food comes from or even what happens to the food in between the restaurant and our homes but, we settle for it because it is convenient.

Microwave Ovens are portrayed in media as a magic box that provides us with food in a very fast manner.

As I was doing research on microwave ovens all I saw a whole lot of how impressive and much needed it is but, not much of the cons. I did not see much of where the materials come from nor did I see much on where they food we place in the microwaves come from. Microwave ovens removes us from nature and animals because all we care about is the facts that they are warm enough for us to eat but not too hot to burn us after 4 minutes of cooking. The environment becomes so small that it can fit within these doors. Stainless steel does not have an origin nor do the chicken and beans from Santa Cruz that can be found in a microwavable burrito.

For my project, I saw “Mediations” by Peter Adey in a different light. We are all aware that media creates mobility and this mobility creates more mobility. Basically media creates compound mobility. When you think of this in terms of the microwave oven, the microwave shortens cooking time as well as the amount of attention needed to cook. This in turn gives us more time to be on our phones or travel with a quick meal. These two result create more outlets and this goes on forever.

I was pleased to discover that the removal of this media also created a great amount of mobility. 

As I removed the use of the microwave from my everyday life, I was forced to travel more to obtain meals and this granted me a greater appreciation for the local environment. I being to do more outdoor activities because that was where I would have to get my food and my relationship to the environment became much closer. As my relationship to the environment strengthened, I began to become interested in taking part in events that dealt with the very subject. My most memorable events were watching Cowspiracy with Sophia and her Vegan group and the tour of the abandoned subway with Rose. The movie screening was very important because it was the straw that broke the camels’ back. This screening combined with everything else that I have learned over the past few semesters inspired me to make an official change and actively pursue a vegan lifestyle. On the other hand, the tour with Rose was very important because being a Rochester native, I do not feel that I know too much about the city nor do I take part in many local events and this event was the beginning of a change in that manner as well. At the conclusion of the tour, Rose had begun to interview us about what we took away from the tour. One thing lead to another and suddenly, I realized that I had broken my phone a few days earlier but because of the fact that I was outside much more and in tune with the environment on a deeper level than before, I did not care much about not having a phone. I was interacting more without a phone than when I could be instantly connected to thousands of people which is pretty ironic. As a result of changing how I use one media, I had changed my perspective on a completely different technology simultaneously without even realizing it and I found that beautiful and very rewarding.


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Makeup, Media, and Mother Earth

Part One-

For my experiment I decided not to use any beauty products aside from soap and toothpaste.  The goal of this experiment was to analyze the effect this decision would have on my life and to become more aware of the larger impacts of seemingly small choices that don’t relate to the environment on a visible and accessible level.  I also wanted to explore the role the media plays in the use of these products and draw larger conclusion on the media’s ability to influence our everyday decisions.

To give some background on how it went- I kept kind of pushing the experiment to the back of my mind and avoided starting.  It’s not easy to change your daily routine, especially when the results might not be so favorable.  The day before I started I noticed that my shower lasted about twenty minutes, which is pretty ridiculous and unnecessary.  On the first day, I was pretty sick and really wanted to cover up the dark circles under my eyes, which I usually do every day.  I also had gotten a pretty bad sunburn and was worried it was going to start peeling, and I wouldn’t be able to use lotion at all.  As the weekend went on, I ended up kind of putting off showering longer than I may usually have, because I was home for the weekend and wasn’t necessarily looking forward to washing my hair with soap.  I thought that it would make my hair knotted and frizzy.  When I did get around to showering, I honestly noticed no difference at all.  My head was a little drier than usual, but nothing noticeable whatsoever, and that could have been from the sunburn.  My hair looked and felt the same as it usually does.  The only major difference was that my shower was cut down from twenty minutes to about three.  I was expecting the experiment to be a lot harder, and that I might forget I was doing it and accidentally use some beauty product unintentionally.  I found the whole experiment really easy to follow through with, and I didn’t feel that it made a significant change to my life.  That being said, I do not think that means this experiment was unsuccessful in teaching me something new about my life, media, technology, and the environment.  In fact, I think the conclusion that there was little to no change in my daily life speaks a lot more to our society than if there had been significant changes.

One of the major things we have discussed is technology’s ability to mediate our world on infinite levels- creating an unperceivable lens that effects everything we see, do, and know.  In doing this, technology and media distance us from our world and even our own bodies.  During my experiment I learned that even beauty products, something I may not necessarily think of as “technology”, mediate my relationship with my own body.

Gary Snyder, in his book Practice of the Wild, discusses how, due to increases in technology and an ever shrinking world, humans have become less aware of and involved with their sense of place.  This includes not knowing the land or taking the time to explore it.  Without the knowledge of place, humans no longer feel as connected as they once did.  They not only don’t care about the land as they used to, but can’t interpret it in the same way.  I think this idea expands beyond just our sense of place and into our sense of self.  We are unable to understand the land around us.  We no longer hold the ability to identify certain plants and what the presence of those plants mean or what their function is.  Similarly, we have become so distanced from our bodies we can no longer interpret them as well as we could in the past.  I cover the dark circles under my eyes instead of getting more sleep.  We change our appearances with chemical products, without thinking of what affect they have in the short or long term.  We accept what products society and the media deem necessary without assessing our own body’s needs.

The main example I had of this during my project was when I got a really bad sunburn the day or two before I started.  Usually if I get a sunburn I can put some aloe or lotion on it, and it’s gone in a day or two.  However, this time I couldn’t do any of these things.  This left me with the only option of simply drinking a lot of water and hoping for it to go away.  My sunburn lasted a lot longer than usual.  In the past I have been able to use different “technologies” to counteract nature’s impact, reducing the effects of sunburns.  I think if I didn’t have these options, I would have a better idea of the long term damage sunburns cause me and would avoid them in the future.  This would give me a more knowledgeable relationship with my body and the environment.  However, sometimes things like this leave us in a difficult situation.  As in- I can be more aware and wear sunscreen, yet sunscreen contains carcinogens and pollutes water across the globe.  So which is the better choice?  This reflects the risk society we live in today- we are constantly skeptical of technology and its effects, yet what choice do we have but to live with the risks?  It is hard to be in touch with our bodies when so much goes into mediating this relationship.

Don Dellilo’s novel, White Noise, expands on this idea of not knowing how to interpret the signs of our bodies beyond appearance and into all aspects of life, from how we portray our personalities to healthcare.  When asked questions by a doctor about his health Jack responds with answers like “to the best of my knowledge, I feel very well” and “what do you people usually say” when asked if he has been feeling tired- as if he needs science and technology to validate the way his body is feeling, rather than simply interpreting it himself (Dellilo 276).  During the time following the airborne toxic event, as an odor spread across the town, “there were those who looked worried, those who said the absence of technical personnel meant there was nothing to worry about.  [Their] eyes began to water” (Dellolp 270).  Despite the fact that the characters’ bodies are clearly having a negative physical response to this odor, the lack of media coverage or scientific assures them that nothing is wrong.  Their faith in media and technology is stronger than their faith in their own bodies.

Another way our use of beauty products reflects our lack of knowledge and connection to place is that we accept store bought as the default remedy to whatever beauty related struggle we are having.  In the past, people had the knowledge of what types of plants or herbs could remedy certain cosmetic maladies and even many health problems.  Today, not only do we not even consider this option, we rarely have the knowledge to apply it.  There are many natural remedies to dry skin, frizzy hair, or dark circles.  Yet, I automatically go to the store to find a chemically processed product, because that is what everyone else does and what the media says to do.  Having to use a natural remedy may be too tedious, as it might require some type of work or extensive travel.  Store bought methods allow us to overcome the limits of our body and of geography.  The products come in convenient packages, ready for easy use.  And as Rebecca Solnit claims in her book, The Annihilation of Space and Time, all technology aims to overcome the limits set by our body and by nature.  As industrialization began, “the railroad, the photograph, the telegraph, were technologies for being elsewhere in time and space, for pushing away the here and now.  They made vast expanses not so vast, the passage of time not so unrelenting” thus overcoming boundaries that previously seemed insurmountable (Solnit 19).  Yet today, we have endless technologies that accomplish the same effect that we don’t view remotely as groundbreaking at these technologies- everything from grocery stores to cellphones to individually packaged beauty products.

Media’s pervasiveness enables it to validate all that we do by claiming that it provides more information.  More information allows us, as consumers, to make more educated decisions.  The media validates store bought beauty products through its commercials starring “credible” celebrities.  We see these products used by beautiful faces and accept and expect that the product is valid.  Media doesn’t validate more natural remedies.  There are no commercials for the benefits of pure coconut oil or olive oil.  Yet, like the feathers in Karen Yamashita’s novel, Through the Arc of the Rainforest, many of these may have started out as natural remedies used locally.  These products have been commercialized to the point of being unrecognizable from the local, indigenous knowledge from which they arose.  In the process of commercialization the local versions lose their authenticity and credibility to the public eye.   Thus we see these natural alternatives as lesser, not valid and are skeptical of them.  We default to the as seen on TV products that are so easily accessible at local stores.  Are they accessible because they are better or are they better because they are accessible?  This is a question I have never asked myself in making my decision to use store bought beauty products.  To be honest, I viewed these things as more of a necessity than a decision, because that is the way media has portrayed them.

Our extreme trust in what the media claims leads us not to question what it is selling.  Although the media claims that it is giving more information, it is very unclear what information is not being provided.  In her article,Touch the Magic, Susan Davis outlines how people, specifically Sea World and its commercials, use media and technology to paint a pleasing picture.  The commercial focuses on nature as an adventure that is “out there” for humans to explore, touch, and experience, and how Sea World makes that adventure possible by bringing the nature to you.  Davis claims that, despite the information given to guests and viewers, is that “what customers don’t see is as significant as what they do see”.  In presenting the “natural” side of Sea World, they hide all that goes on that the customer cannot see.  This is a theme that runs throughout all media.  In beauty product advertisements a lot of the same tactics are used.  For one, none of the harsh chemicals used or where they are obtained from are mentioned.  It is easy to ignore, until you look at the ingredients listed on the bottle and can not recognize a single thing.  Looking up what these ingredients do is not as easy as one might think.  For most of my makeup, the ingredients were listed on the package, which I threw away when I bought them.  This meant I had to go to the websites to try to look up what is in them.  The only ingredients listed for my concealer was “contains ginseng, vitamin E, and chamomile” and that it was developed by scientists and botanists.  How informative.  When I looked it up on the Environmental Working Group’s directory of cosmetics and ingredients it showed low to moderate overall hazard with 14 low hazard ingredients, one moderate hazard, and one high hazard that caused reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption.  I’ve always been a little concerned about all of the E.L.F. products I use, because they are extremely cheap- like 3 dollars for lipstick cheap.  How can they be this cheap?  Maybe because they are really bad for you.  Below is the ingredient list and what the Environmental Working Group has to say about them.

Paraffinum Liquidum (Mineral Oil), Petrolatum, Ceresin, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Hydrogenated Polydecene, Microcrystalline Wax (Cera Microcristallina), Polybutene, Paraffin, Synthetic Beeswax, Polyethylene, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Fragrance (Parfum), Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Retinyl Palmitate (Va), Tocopheryl Acetate (Ve), Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vc), Neotame, Propylparaben May Contain: Mica, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Iron Oxides (CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499), Red 40 Lake (CI 16035), Red 7 Lake (CI 15850), Red 27 Lake (CI 45410), Red 6 Lake (CI 15850), Yellow 5 Lake (CI 19140), Blue 1 Lake (CI 42090) – See more at:


Compared to a natural and organic lipstick that cost 8 times as much.


What the media promises in these products is completely separate from what they do and the impact they have.  They might cure dry skin or get rid of split ends- but at what cost?  This is the invisible side of beauty products that the media fails to display.

The commercial above reminded me a lot of the discussion of the Sea World ad.  The first line is “Are you crazy? I would never go out without my Covergirl. I want to look natural not naked.”  First, this ad sets a precedent that you would be crazy to go outside without makeup on.  Second, it claims that your natural state is one with makeup.  So many beauty product ads promote “natural looking beauty” and an overall “natural look”.  Somehow a look that takes hundreds of different types of chemicals, labor, and energy is natural.  This exemplifies how much media can skew what the words nature and natural mean.  It also emphasizes the idea that an actual natural look, that being no makeup at all, isn’t beautiful.  We must alter ourselves from the natural state to what the media claims as “natural beauty” through the use of their products.

Part Two-

The larger impact of our beauty products is something we do not often consider.  Despite the fact that almost everyone uses some form of beauty product on a daily basis, it is easy to ignore the ramifications that come along with them- as they are not usually visible.  We think of human waste and garbage as the visible pieces of trash we throw into garbage cans- paper, food waste, old or broken items.  Not the shampoo that washes down the drain or the waste caused by the making of its ingredients.  There are so many nonvisible ways that humans produce waste in copious amounts.  Like the digital cloud that Allison Carruth discusses in her article, The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy, what the media portrays leaves out a completely invisible side- one that is harming and affecting our environment in significant ways every day.  Just like we can’t see the large data centers that power our small phones and laptops, we can’t see the water treatment plants or landfills that work to take on the impact of our human waste.

Keeping these things invisible is dangerous.  It leads to a skewed sense of sustainability and environmental progress.  I have always thought of myself as environmentally conscious- always separating my recyclables, not littering, throwing a judging glance when people are wasteful.  However, there are so many more impacts I create every day.  Keeping these impacts invisible leads us to believe we are making a bigger difference than we are and enables us to ignore the large impacts we are making.  Yes, recycling is good, but we need to think of every decision we make as a sustainability decision.  Every decision, from which car we drive to how long our showers are to even how many beauty products we use and where those go when we are done with them, makes a difference.  Allowing us to see the true, widespread impact all of our actions make will enable us to make more conscious decision on all fronts.  This project has made me realize that even the things I never considered to be environmentally related decisions have a larger impact that I have to think about every day.

Ed Burtynsky does a great job at revealing some of these invisible forms of waste.  He shows the ewaste that is often times shipped from the U.S. to other countries, forcing people to address what they may not want to see.  However, there are so many things that he cannot capture on film.  It would be pretty difficult to capture this with beauty products, as so many of them are washed down the drain or thrown into landfills with other types of garbage- making it hard to isolate.  Below are some pictures of the makeup and beauty products I use.  These are not representative of the whole picture, leaving so much of what goes into beauty products out.


This is all my makeup. I almost never wear makeup during the week, and I don’t use all of these. But, I still own them, and their impact is real.



This is the shower in my suite. There are seven girls in my suite, but this probably isn’t even all of our stuff.


These are the products I generally use every time I shower.

These are the products I generally use every time I shower.


Today, makeup goes far beyond the physical use and disposal.  There are millions of Instagram accounts, Youtube channels, and websites that advertise beauty products and teach people how to use them.  This connects back to the cloud.  Some alarming statistics provided by Robert P. Marzec in Carruth’s article state that

“Millions of people surf the web every hour, and we can mark that carbon footprint concretely at 2% of international emissions each year. Viewing a simple webpage generates approximately .02 grams of CO2 per second; ten times this is required to view a complex website with multiple images; a running PC generates 40 to 80 grams of CO2 per hour; a fifteen-minute Google search, 7–10 grams. All of this activity adds up.”

And beauty products fit into this in a big way, even if envisioning that impact is almost impossible.

These are a few of the many millions of makeup videos I can watch just from my phone.  In doing this I am producing unimaginable amounts of carbon dioxide, as are the millions of others who follow these accounts.

These are a few of the many millions of makeup videos I can watch just from my phone. In doing this I am producing unimaginable amounts of carbon dioxide, as are the millions of others who follow these accounts.


On Snapchat, I realized there was a tab called “makeup mania”.  This is where people can livestream videos and pictures of them doing makeup.  Below are some of the pictures.








Something else I noticed is that I didn’t even need to physically put on makeup to being “wearing” it.  I could use Snapchat filters to provide the same effect as wearing makeup- even altering the way my face looks.  I could use cyberspace to portray myself in the way I wanted like the characters in William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer.  These changes included making my skin smoother, eliminating my freckles, and making my eyes bigger.  This may seem like a better option, but it still has an impact.



This experiment made me more aware of how each and every decision I make effects the environment.  Every time I use shampoo, it is washed down the drain and needs to be treated and cleaned before it can reenter the water cycle.  Every time I watch a commercial for a beauty product, it in some way alters my perspective.  Even putting a Snapchat filter over my makeupless face has an impact and reflects the way the media promotes certain beauty standards and products.  I have learned to widen my view of what sustainability means, my effect on the environment, and the way the media influences my every day actions.  I’ve been using a dozen beauty products every day for years when I honestly could get by just the same with some soap and toothpaste.


Works Cited

Carruth, Allison. “The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy.” Public Culture                        (2014): 339-64. Print.

Davis, Susan. “Touch the Magic.” Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature. By                 William Cronon. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995. 204-17. Print.

DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Berkeley Group, 1984. Print

Manufactured Landscapes. Dir. Jennifer Baichwal. Perf. Ed Burtynsky. Zeitgeist Films,                  2006. Mp4.

“Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database | EWG.” Skin Deep Home Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2016.

Snyder, Gary. The Practice of the Wild. San Fransico: North Point, 1990. Print.

Solnit, Rebecca. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild                  West. New York: Viking, 2003. Print.

Yamashita, Karen Tei. Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. London: Scribners, 1991. Print.







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“The Central Nervous System of the United States”

Interstate Highway System


I was recently coming back from a trip to Boston, driving along Route 90 west. I had taken this road many times before and the trips have always been pretty monotonous. However, the Interstate is the most efficient way to travel across the country by car, and I began to ponder the travel experience. I was not alone, so I had companionship, but compared to most other travel mediums, the Interstate is oftentimes a private affair. A few solid hours alone in the car, letting spans of countryside fly by, and it is easy to sink into a meditative space. Remnants of other transportation systems are clearly visible from the Interstate, as the roads cross over railroad tracks and waterways. It is clear that centuries of transportation and communication media have been incorporated into typical American infrastructure and landscapes. In this essay I explore the impact that the Interstate Highway System has on mediating the relationship between myself and the environment, as well as the effects it has on the typical travelling experience for personal and commercial transportation. I then discuss the politics of visibility in the creation and maintenance of the highway.


The Interstate System was officially founded when president Dwight D Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law ( As the railroad had done in the previous century, the Interstate Highway System revolutionized commercial and personal mobility across the country. It is a vast network connecting American metropolises and rural areas. This was a huge event for the American travel experience because it allows for fast and personal travel to practically anywhere the traveler chooses. The average car traveller experiences a new kind of freedom in efficient long-distant travel, wrapped up nicely by Peter Adey in his article, “Mediations,” when he says:

“Whereas the time-table of the railway creates a time for all travellers to embark and disembark… the car creates the possibility for many ‘times.’ It allows ‘personalized, subjective temporalities’ for people to move at a time of their own choosing, to a destination of their inclination, without recourse to   the rigidity of a system like the railway” (Adey 183).

All media simultaneously connect and disconnect people from their environments. Adey discusses in his article that all media also spur mobility and movement. The interstate does both: it allows for connections over vast spaces in an efficient way, but also disconnects the individual traveller from other travellers as well as from the immediate environment. The individualistic nature of the freeway allows travellers to create their own personal and privatized spaces. Therefore, cars are new locations created specifically to allow for individual travel, so mobility builds on mobility. The autonomous medium of the freeway easily allows the driver to disconnect from the environment through which the car is passing. Adey says, “…car travel along the freeway thus constitutes a type of virtual travel that sinks the driver ‘into another world’” (Adey 205). In a more physical sense, the car filters the driver’s relationship to the road, and the road filters the car’s relationship to the earth. The smooth pavement makes the environment traversable and more accessible than any other travel medium before it, in example a dirt road. The Interstate therefore is a travel medium that at once connects and disconnects its user.

Though the Interstate is only a national system in the United States, it has massive delocalizing and globalization effects. Globalization is created from increased mobility and connectedness across larger spaces and cultures. It is easily paired with delocalization because it is an amplified version of Rebecca Solnit’s concept of “[sacrificing] the near to gain the far” (Solnit 22). With increasing networks across time and space, Marshall McLuhan’s vision of the “global village” becomes more real. The freeway is a major proponent in this because of its role as a medium for transportation media. Besides moving people, the Interstate allows for easy mobility of goods across places, thereby allowing shoppers in the north to eat food grown in the south, for example. The transport of goods is a hybridizing factor in many ways because it allows for more unanimous lifestyles. It continuously pulls people away from their local: as the physical body stays in place the culture surrounding it changes.

It is important to mention that delocalization did not come from the creation of the IMG_1804Interstate Highway, but it is just an acceleration if its effects. Humans on a fundamental level rely on mobility, and by the time the highways were put in, people had been
\travelling vast distances by railway or boat for more than a century. However, the speed and efficiency provided by the Interstate shrunk time and distance at a rate that is almost incomparable to other modes of transportation. To use my project case study, New York has shrunken greatly with the freeway, so much so that the entire culture of transportation changed with it. The following image is a screenshot of Google Maps tracing the distance between Albany and Buffalo:


I used these two locations because they span almost the entire state from East to West. I also used them because they serve as major landmarks as the ends of the Erie Canal, which was completed in 1825 (Sadowski n. pag.). According to Google Maps, it takes four hours and eighteen minutes to travel by car from Albany to Buffalo on the Interstate (route 90 west). This map is of the Erie Canal, which at first glance looks similar to Route 90:


The New York State government says that travelling the length of the canal, which in many IMG_1806places runs along the thruway, would take about seven days ( With this huge difference in travel times came as well a development in transportation culture. The Interstate, like most modern media, revolves around efficiency and faith in technology to deliver it.

Rest stops are a great example of how the Interstate efficiently serves travelers and transporters with quick stops for food and fuel. Most service stations look similar: they have small branches from major franchises and corporations to serve people items they are already familiar with. Interestingly enough, however, New York State rest stops are starting to include “farmers markets,” which sell locally grown and produced products. This is an interesting sight to see next to a McDonalds, but it creates some level of local attraction and connection to a region that would normally be ignored, especially on long distance trips. This hybridization is most likely a product of our risk society, which makes consumers question the “benefits of modernity,” and has recently led to an inclination toward simpler and more local consumption. Reflexive modernity has sprung different movements which attempt to “return to their roots” instead of consuming industrially made products. Rest services now pose a paradox for the traveller: they are generally unattractive places designed to quickly service basic needs, but they simultaneously encourage the consumer to linger and connect with the region by providing local products. Bioregionalism is one way that combats globalizing and delocalizing effects. Gary Snyder says of bioregionalism, “Our relation to the natural world takes place in a place, and it must be grounded in information and experience” (Snyder 42). By eating local foods and understanding the “flora and fauna” of a region, by Snyder’s theory, you become more connected to the region. Naturally this is impossible for the traveller to achieve with every region she passes through, but it poses an interesting question into the sale of locally produced goods. The Interstate has been hybridized so that it simultaneously provides travellers and transporters with easy mobility, and expands local marketplaces by servicing consumers with regional products.


With the relatively easy accessibility of the interstate highway, the politics of infrastructure is often ignored. In order to build the thruway, the United States government had to cut through rural or “wild” land. Remnants of these lands exist now as protected zones, such as the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Route 90 passes directly through the refuge and gives the driver a pleasant, but protected, view of undeveloped lands. Driving by the area reminded me a lot of Don Delillo’s novel, White Noise, and Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel, Through the Arc of the Rainforest, in that the thruway markets the natural resource as a tourist attraction. Signs for the wildlife refuge line the thruway, as did the signs for the “Most Photographed Barn” in White Noise. The irony that I see in the situation is that the wildlife only gets the attention of a refuge because it is all that was left to be protected after the industrialization or development of land, including the thousands of miles of land required to build the Interstate. The signs guiding the way, however, set up an expectation for the land so that viewers’ perception is all based off the signs, and not off the land they see. This happened in the creation of a mediated space around the “Most Photographed Barn” in White Noise, but it also appears in Yamashita’s novel when J.B. Tweep and GGG Enterprises developed the Mataçao and the surrounding areas of Amazon Rainforest. They did not create designated protected areas because the region had not yet been developed enough to consider that the wildlife was more precious than they had been treating it.

These two novels portray a similar attitude to that which we display toward places such as the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge because they all view nature as an approachable “other” from the developing or developed world. Mick Gold discusses post-industrial relationships to the natural environment as one that is consistently separated from human society because it is no longer something that needs to be battled; we have conquered nature and it is now safe for our pleasure. He writes on romanticism, “Nature had become something we communed with, something we yearned for. Emphatically separate from human society and everyday life” (Gold 23). This point of view makes invisible the human impact on the environment. The politics of visibility do not only contort the way we see our place in the environment but also the human lives that get affected by development. The federal and state government fund the building of the Thruway, but once it is built there is little discussion about the people who live next to it, nor the workers who service and maintain the roads or work at the rest stops. The issue of environmental justice is relevant because increased exposure to pollution created by the thruway puts these workers in higher risk situations.

There is a tendency to ignore the unequal distribution of risk because an efficient use of resources oftentimes trumps the health and safety of people in the area. This appears in White Noise when the protagonist, Jack, has the belief in the idea that natural disaster cannot affect higher social classes (Delillo 114). Steven Spielberg’s melodrama blockbuster, Avatar, also makes the viewer question whose lives matter, especially when dealing with natural resource extraction. The US government lands on the Pandora to mine Unobtanium, a fictitious but powerful mineral. In the process they completely destroy the avatar’s Home Tree and countless avatar lives. However, when the head scientist from Earth, Dr. Augustine, is killed, her death is mourned with a special attempt to transfer her life into a new avatar body. Avatar and White Noise are arguably extreme examples of natural catastrophes and industrial caused destruction, but are nevertheless comparable to the principles of invisibility and environmental risk that is (not) seen in the building and maintenance of the Interstate highway.

The thruway serves an interesting double function: it is a transportation media that filters our relationship to nature by making it traversable and accessible, but it is also a medium by which mobility builds on itself. It is a necessity of modernity, such as the tracks of a railway or the lines of a telephone wire. As the thruway passes across state borders, it is mostly up to the state to maintain its condition. Therefore, the state government determines the accessibility in and out of the region by choosing to allot certain amounts of money for reparations. In the case of New York-Massachusetts border, the traveller can literally feel the difference between states because of their respective levels of repair. The thruway nevertheless provides an impressive view of the expansion of the land across the United States, as Ed Burtynksy captured in his photos of “manufactured landscapes.” The Interstate Highway System, like any media, has both dividing and incredible connecting forces: the opportunity cost is thousands of miles of land that was developed and damaged, but the United States is connected like it had never been before.


Thanks to Nick for inspiring the title!



More Information and Sources Referenced:



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Disposing of garbage has become such an incognizant task, that we inadvertently commit the act without thinking about its consequences, or the simple fact that trash dispensers are so easily accessible. The act of getting rid of waste has become embedded in 0ur minds, operating on autopilot, for we have been trained to dispose of unwanted possessions into elegantly designed trash dispensers, equipped with labels indicating where the garbage belongs – recycle (which can be two types – type 1 being plastic, metals or glass; and type 2 being paper), or landfill.

The garbage fairy at work.

The garbage fairy at work.

In this day in age, we are so passive about our trash disposal – primarily as city and urban dwellers – that we have developed this trend to believe that once our garbage has been discarded, it is no longer our responsibility, especially if we followed the proper disposal procedures. It is as if we’ve created this artificial cataract for our eyes, which prevents the acknowledgment of the steps beyond our line of vision after we’ve dumped our waste. Plain and simple, this is naivety, because not only are we responsible for the items we discard and the personal waste we contribute to the environment, but we have to realize that waste disposal is not invisible, (fairies do not come to take out our trash) like that of cyberspace, a term coined by William Gibbson in Neuromancer, but rather it is a constructed invisibility that we chose to adhere by.

Delivering of homogenous trash cans.

Delivering of homogenous trash cans.

Though not inherently similar, this belief is synonymous to what Mick Gold highlights as pastoral nature in his essay, A History of Nature. On page 17 for instance, he states, “The domination and control of nature were celebrated in terms of formal design: not a single flower was allowed to wilt…whole beds were re-planted in the course of a day.” This is applicable to urban garbage disposal, in the sense that it is done in a controlled and formal manner. In several cities and suburbs, for instance, each household is notified of the specific day and time on which their garbage will be collected. Moreover, like that of pastoral nature, there is also an emphasis on aesthetic, as everyone, rich or poor, has the same trash container that magically disposes of one’s garbage. Like that of pastoral nature, garbage disposal is also an embodiment of hidden labor and is also contingent upon nature’s control (landfills) and productivity (sanitation workers).  Take for instance our consumption of products; when we’ve depleted an item’s contents we discard it into our beautifully designed in home waste baskets. However, when we’ve maximized the capacity of this canister, or the smell becomes unbearable, we take it outside to the homogenous garbage container to wait for the neighborhood’s collection day. On this specific day in question, we wheel the trash to the curbside, leaving it there to disappear like magic.

However, serviced garbage disposal was not always organized or prominent, but rather it was the desire to make life “simpler” and cleaner that sparked this movement. Yet, like all media, it simultaneously acted as a prosthesis and an amputation, for it has contributed to our lackadaisical and apathetic attitude towards garbage discarding, – we have no idea how much garbage we throw out, what specifically we throw out or what happens to our garbage after it enters a trash can and we walk away – while at the same time it has been beneficial to our lives and the aesthetic of our communities.

The History: Organized Waste Disposal

The earliest sanitation workers existed by 1354 and were known as the English Rakers. These men “were responsible for sweeping human excreta from gutters where chamber pots and privies were emptied. [Later they] were ordered by King Edward III to rake all refuse from streets and alleys and remove it once a week…depositing it in the Thames or Fleet rivers” (Begin with the Bin).

The Industrial Revolution also generated the need for institutionalized garbage disposal. As people moved to cities and urban areas for work, there was a fear of a possible plague similar to that in Europe – Black Death – due to space confinements and no solution to waste disposal. Therefore, “To avoid the potential problems associated with unmanaged waste in urban areas, the “Age of Sanitation” began. Many communities organized waste collection and instituted disposal systems…aimed at maintaining public health” (Begin with the Bin).

In 1895, “New York’s Street Cleaning Commissioner…employed 2,000…employees to clear the streets and cart off garbage to dumps, incinerators, the Atlantic Ocean and the very first U.S. waste sorting plant for recycling” (Begin with the Bin). By 1918, According to Begin with the Bin “U.S. cities [began to] switch from horse-drawn to motorized refuse collection equipment,” and by 1975, “all 50 states [had] some solid waste regulations, although content [varied] widely from state to state.”

Today, waste management in cities and urban areas continue to prove to be a tremendously taxing task. Though there is always research being conducted, as well as developments of innovative techniques, as the population of cities continues to rise, inadvertently so does waste.

My Experiment

 My experiment was inspired by this buzzfeed video.

Before this experiment, I paid little to no attention to the types of products I consumed and how much of it consequently became manufactured waste. I have been privileged enough to grow up and live in a society that is equipped with the necessary means to dispose of waste, however, simultaneously it has made me numb to my personal contribution to the disintegration of the environment. Never have I taken the time to think about not consuming products because of its inevitable waste contribution, however, this experiment offered me this opportunity.

My goal for this week long test was to minimize my waste by avoiding products I’d have to dispose of. In doing so, I would become conscious to a practice that I’ve done for years without ever being mindful or vigilant.

Day #1. Wednesday.

Wednesday = The most accumulation.

Wednesday = The Most Accumulation.

Besides the fact that I didn’t realize how innate disposing garbage was for me, – as if it was a natural selection process in the survival of the fittest, such that my ancestors learned that to survive diseases they had to be hygienic and sanitary, thus throwing out garbage became a learned condition – I think one of the most important lessons I learned on day one, was that by being a consumer, I was contributing to environmental waste. It never really crossed my mind that by simply walking into a store that I was depleting products and thus creating rubbish. Though the garbage is disposed as the store’s waste, essentially the trash is mine, because it was my presence and patronage that contributed to the need for its disposal. This realization was very troubling, because it opened my eyes to the many ways in which as an individual I create trash, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.

Day #2. Thursday.

Correction: This was Thursday, NOT Tuesday. I have no clue why I said Tuesday night in the recording.

Thursday = Improvement.

Thursday = Improvement.









Day #3. Friday.


TGIF = Switched to Paper Bags









Day #4. Saturday.


Saturday = Consumerism

Today also fostered further consideration for consumerism, especially in conjunction with the fact that often times we are hallucinating. While at a sushi bar, I ordered a drink and the waitress brought with it at the tip of the straw, a 1/4 inch of straw rapper. If this straw rapper was not present on my straw, I honestly believe I would not even have considered the fact that the Aiu-zXywudin38FEVkAhLoz18OyzZWOIpjL6mMzSOc9wstraw was stripped of its wrapper, to enable for my consumption of my strawberry daiquiri. This thus proves that like digiAnUHdJhZ2EwD-hMbpljayRPjiQKT8gkypguGvjt09XMVtal data, though we are only conscious of what is present on the user-friendly interface, and fail to acknowledge all the other aspects that are hidden, so is the case with consumerism. Just because we don’t see when the trash we generate – because of our presence or by being a patron – gets thrown out, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t contributing to our personal waste.


    Day #5. Sunday.


Sunday = Day of Rest; Day of Less Waste.








I’ve realized more hours I spend at home, the less packaged waste I produced, essentially just less waste in general. Majority of the waste that I accumulate at home are paper towels, water, toilet tissue, electricity, and soap. Being at home simply prevents me from using “disposal” materials that I ultimately have to throw away. However, at the same time even though I am not throwing out packaged items, I am consuming water by washing my utensils and plates.

Day #6. Monday.

Aq1ExZ2k_VuuBg-4DPdPLV9eF9CCtewi9pLTvNw0SuPtAddition: What made . one of the most challenging days was the fact that I got a disposable container (not by choice) that would not fit into my paper bag. However, being that I wanted to reduce my waste contribution, I didn’t get a plastic bag, so I had to struggle with bringing both articles around all day. Bags are so essentially, they are really the best examples of extensions of our bodily limits.

 Day #7. Tuesday.

Just when I thought I was getting better, everything fell apart. On this day I had exams in both my psychology classes, and at some point either in the first or second exam room, I forgot to take my trash bag as I was leaving the room. I have no clue at what point I lost the bag, and the unfortunate part is that I didn’t even realize until very late in the afternoon, after I was home reflecting on my day. I had no clue that the bag was even missing, but I will blame this forgetfulness on my exams. I am however very disappointed that on the very last day I lost track of my garbage. Though I left my garbage inside a building and facilities is bound to find it and dispose of it, this however, is a prime example of how forgetfulness can lead to rodents, odors, water contamination and filthy environments.

My Findings

After careful evaluation of my garbage, I discovered that majority of my waste were packaged products. These were items that were manufactured to make my life simpler, but yet beyond the surface of their use, they weren’t actually doing so, because they added to my waste quantity.

There were several ways in rich I could have reduced my waste significantly throughout the week. For instance, there were several days that I could have brought utensils from home so that I didn’t have to get disposables. However, I often forgot to do so, and on the days that I did remember, I didn’t plan to stay on campus for the entire day, and thus I thought I wouldn’t need it, which was entirely incorrect.

Moreover, a majority of the time I also forgot to take the paper towels  I used to dry my hands after using the restroom – sometimes I didn’t even need to use paper towels because there were hand dryers, but I did anyway, primarily because I don’t like touching door handles of bathrooms. Sometimes I’d just forget my garbage all together, illustrating how unconscious I am. For instance, one afternoon I went to the mall and while I was there, I ordered a Venti iced mango green tea lemonade from Starbucks and went about shopping. By the time I was leaving the mall, I could not find my Starbucks cup anywhere! Somewhere in one of the stores, my cup was sitting on a shelf and a store clerk would be bashing me for my unsanitary actions.  Though it wasn’t something I intentionally meant to do, I was so annoyed at myself because I am sure I wouldn’t have forgotten it, if its contents weren’t depleted. This just goes to show that often it is our lack of consciousness and being physically present in a space that sometimes leads to pollution.

Where Does Our Garbage Go?

Gary Synder argues in The Places, Regions, and the Commons that media disconnects us from the “spirit of the place,” delocalizing ecology, identity, and culture. However, recently, efforts have been aimed towards the return to these humble beginnings – at least to some extent. The new norm is to unmask the destination from which our food is imported or transported (domestically or locally), as well as the conditions in which they were produced – for example, cage-free eggs and/or organic fruits and vegetables.

However, as Marshall McLuhan stated in The Medium is the Message, all media connects while simultaneously disconnecting, making us numb and sensitive. This, therefore, offers an explanation as to why there has not been great emphasis placed on discovering what follows beyond that of hauling our garbage to the curb. If this was the case, if we knew where our garbage went, how much energy was consumed to dispose of garbage that as an individual we personally contributed, would we then care how far it had to go? Would we then care about the types of products we consumed?

According to Begin with the Bin, the 2012 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported, “that Americans generate 4.38 pounds of municipal solid waste per person and recycle or compost 34.5 percent of it, incinerate about 12 percent and send the rest to landfills.” However, many Americans, like myself before conducting this experiment, are completely unaware of the amount of garbage they actually generate on a personal level. Buzzfeed puts this fact knowledge to the test in the video below, to see if people are aware of their contribution to the degradation of the environment.

Not surprisingly, no one knew the amount of garbage the average American consumed on a daily basis. This, however, is the result of the passiveness that has become associated with garbage disposal and “the power to act without reacting”(4), as McLuhan defines. Disposing of waste has become so innate and intuitive that often times we discard things without even realizing. Furthermore, because of this, there has been little consideration as to what it would be like if there was no institutionalized garbage system, or what would happen if sanitation workers went on strike f0r a long period of time. Take for instance Henrich’s argument in White Noise by Don Delillo on page 142, “We experience these things every day of our lives but what good does it do if we find ourselves hurled back in time and we can’t even tell people the basic principles much less actually make something that would improve conditions.” Would you know what to do with your trash or where to take it if there was a sudden apocalypse? Would you be able to describe the process of how landfills or recycling plants work, or explain how institutionalized garbage systems operate that collects garbage on a weekly basis? No, you wouldn’t, I didn’t think so.

FUN FACT : In 1984 during the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, athletes, trainers, coaches and spectators produced 6.5 million pounds of trash in 22 days, more than 6 pounds per person per day (compared to the national average of 3.6 pounds produced per person per day at the time).


The University of Rochester’s garbage sorter container.


According, “landfill(s),  were invented in England in the 1920s. [It] became common in the United States in the 1940s [and] by the late 1950s, it was the dominant method for disposing municipal solid waste in the nation.”

Landfills are created into or on top of the ground in order to prevent garbage from contaminating the water below its site. Today landfills exist in two forms as “sanitary landfills which uses a clay liner to isolate the trash from the environment [or as] a municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill [which] uses a synthetic (plastic) liner to isolate the trash from the environment” (Craig Freudenrich).


Freshskills Park, Staten Island, NY.

Upon arrival “at a landfill, the garbage is compacted and covered at the end of every day with several inches of soil” ( According to Freudenrich, “The purpose of a landfill is to bury the trash in such a way that it will be isolated from groundwater, will be kept dry and will not be in contact with [the] air.” Due to the depletion of oxygen in the soil as it is continuously compacted, “Landfills are not designed to break down trash, merely to bury it.” In 1989 Arizona archeologist William Rathje recover[ed] a corn on the cob intact after 18 years in an Arizona landfill…[illustrating] landfills limited biodegradability “(Begin with the Bin).

This, therefore, illustrates how crucial it is to think about our consumption and limit the products that we will inevitably have to discard. If a corn, a product that should decompose in a matter of weeks, survived an entirety of 18 years, think about the plastic bottles, styrofoam plates, and containers that you throw out, that will probably never decompose. These products will probably surpass our lifetime and will ultimately have harmful effects on our children and grandchildren.


Thinking Green has become a part of our social definition of being environmentally aware and conscious. This movement is aimed at reduction of wastes that gets thrown into landfills, by maximizing a product’s lifespan. Therefore, it is highly frowned upon to dispose of garbage mixed with recyclable items, as it is considered to be insensitive to the “mother nature.”

I’ve seen the slogan Resue, Reduce, Recycle several times, however, I’ve never stopped to consider what it meant beyond the definitions of each of the words. Rather, I have just recycled products because there was an option there for me to do so. It however, is important to consider what exactly happens to our wastCan3e when it is recycled and the impacts or the lack thereof it has on the environment. Though recycling can be a tremendously confusing subject, because of the various applications and ways in which it is done, educating ourselves is the first step in becoming conscious and knowledgeable with its specifications. For instance, according to Waste Managment, “Recycling steel and tin cans…saves 74% of the energy used to produce them.” What if every American recycled their cans? Think about the vast amount of waste that would be reduced not only in the landfills, which never gets decomposed, but also in reduction of energy needed to create new cans.

However, recycling is not perfect, and as the video below will indicate, it still requires a tremendous amount of energy to process all these products. Therefore, the best solution there is, isn’t reducing, but rather is NOT using.

Landfills and recycling plants may be a solution to reduce health concerns, disease outbreaks and to maintain a beautiful aesthetic through the creation of these institutionalized sanitation companies, however at the same time these very solutions demonstrate that we are sacrificing the far, to gain the near, a complete 360° of Rebecca Solnit’s argument in The Annihilation of Time and Space. We want to live in an area that is sanitary, odorless and unblemished, however in doing so we are simultaneously affecting the environment, ecology, space, and place of a different community.

We want to believe that it is, “out of sight, out of mind,” however, these dump locations are having a direct impact on the animals and people that live in and around these locations. Let’s consider Ed Burtynsky’s film, Manufactured Landscape, the citizens of a rural area in China are forced to live amongst electronic wastes (E-Wastes) because of their town has become a dump site for unwanted, broken or outdated electronics from all over the world. Why should these people be dehumanized for industrial advancement and forced to live in such treacherous conditions for the benefit of having clean streets in NYC or Dubai? This is the epitome of environmental injustice as well as a question of who’s lives matter. “Society is set up in such a way that it’s the poor and the uneducated who suffer the main impact of natural and man-made disasters” (Delillo 112). There is an evident unequal distribution of environmental risks and benefits, – the urban and city dwellers benefit while rural areas in foreign countries receive the risks – as well as the silent illustration that poor lives, especially in foreign countries are not on the same plateau as those of rich urban dwellers. 

A similar pattern is also illustrated in Spike Lee’s When the Leeves Broke as the lives of the citizens of the lower 9th ward were completely disregarded. Not only did the poorly designed and installed leeves contribute to the disaster of Katrina, so did the depilation of wetlands by US oil companies. “Wetlands are responsible for reducing storm surges when hurricanes come along” (Dr. Ivor Van Heerden, Act IV), therefore by removing these wetlands for accessibility to natural resources, these companies regarded the lives of these poor American citizens as unimportant.

It is imperative that we realize that the earth is not a character in a magical realism novel, but rather these signs are undeniably true, but it’s up to us to unmask it and educate ourselves. We need to stop living in a fantasy world and realize that our environment is not like that found in novels like Through the Arc of the Rainforest, by Karen Tei Yamashita.  Our local ecologies are not adaptable and/or have the ability to change itself to accommodate our irresponsibility or lack of consciousness. Often times our waste never get decomposed and they remain in the landfills, secreting gasses, contaminating water supplies and killing off animals. Unlike those animals in Yamashita’s novel, for instance, “the mice had developed suction cups on their feet that allowed them to crawl up the slippery sides and bottoms of the aircraft and cars…they had high levels of lead and arsenic in their blood and fat from feeding on chipped paint” (100), animals in real life would simply die or even become extinct. As McLuhan stated on page 15 in The Medium is the Message, [though] any medium has the power of imposing its own assumption on the unwary, prediction and control consist in avoiding this subliminal state of narcissus trance.” It is time that we awake from our fantasy world and realize that our waste is contributing to the depletion of environment.

Garbage Trucks and its Environmental Waste

Though garbage trucks are extensions of our bodily limits, (they prevent us from having to live in unsanitary areas or finding the time to drive to dump sites to dispose of our garbage) they are however contributing to a great deal of our environmental risks. They not only dematerialize our relationship to nature, but they also contradict technology’s connection to humanity and the earth. 

The facts below are from “Infrom: Building Environmental Literacy”.

Air quality. Over 133 million Americans live in areas that violate federal clean air standards. Vehicle emissions, including those from diesel-powered garbage trucks, are responsible for most of the pollution blanketing US cities.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people living in the most heavily polluted areas have a 12% higher risk of dying of lung cancer than people in the least polluted areas. That risk increases to 50% for those who are repeatedly and regularly exposed to diesel exhaust, such as the workers who spend long days at the back of or inside garbage trucks. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has identified 41 toxic constituents of diesel exhaust that pose an additional health threat. Air pollution is also responsible for a variety of other health problems, including aggravation of the symptoms of asthma, reduced lung function, and other respiratory problems.

Noise. Diesel garbage trucks are notoriously loud, generating noise that can cause serious hearing damage. Garbage truck operators, as well as those living along garbage truck routes, are affected by these dangerous noise levels.

Energy security. The garbage truck sector alone is responsible for consuming approximately 1 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually, representing nearly 3% of total diesel fuel consumed in the US. And it is the unstable Middle East that provides the US with 30% of its oil imports.


There have been continuous efforts to raise awareness to unmask our unconsciousness through educating, and promoting ways to minimize, reducing and preventing environmental impacts.  Though many people, including myself, are beginning to realize our current phase in modernity, risk society/reflexive modernization, we still have ways to go in the process of illustrating the invisible effects of technology. My hopes for the near future is that the anxieties regarding the inevitable risk to the environment will unveil the cataracts from our eyes, limiting our need to live in the here and now, so that we will try to limit our individual contributions to environmental wastes.

The garbage truck, as well as trash canisters have become such great extension of our bodily limits that they have detached us from the present. Though there is still a need to maintain an aesthetic, there has however, been a push to do so in ways that limit the depletion or contamination of resources.

“A man is not free if he cannot see where he is going, even if he has a gun to help him get there. For media is a powerful weapon with which to clobber other media and other groups. – Marshall McLuhan


Delilo, Don. White Noise. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print

“Facts on Greening Garbage Trucks: New Technologies for Cleaner Air.”Inform: Building Environmental Literacy. Inform, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016. <>

Freudenrich, Craig. “How Landfills Work.” HowStuffWorks. InfoSpace, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016. <>.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Penguin, 1988. Print.

Gold, Mick. “A History of Nature.” A Reader: Geography Matters! Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985. 12-33. Print

“History of Waste Management.” Begin with the Bin. National Waste & Recycling Association, n.d. Web. 3 May 2016. <>.

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message.” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. 1964. 3-21. Print.

Solnit, Rebecca. “The Annihilation of Time and Space.” New England Review. Middlebury College Publications. 2003. 5-19. Print

Synder, Gary. “Bioregional Perspective.” The Practice of the Wild. Berkeley: Perseus, 2003, 40-48. Print.

“Waste Disposal.” HighBeam Research, 01 Jan. 2003. Web. 03 May 2016. <>.

“What Can I Recycle?” Waste Managment. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016. <>.

Yamashita, Karen Tei. Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. London: Scribners, 1991. Print.

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Primitive Kitchen – Recontextualizing Meal Creation


You’ve just woken up. It’s 9am, the Sun shines through your window and you’re feeling kind of hungry, so you decide to head into your kitchen to fix up something to eat. After only a few minutes, you’ve got an egg in a pan on the gas stovetop frying nicely sunny-side up, a piece of bread in the toaster becoming the perfect shade of brown, and a pot of coffee brewing in the electric percolator. The wonderful sounds and smells of the kitchen put you in a great mood. Your belly is now full and you are fueled and ready to take on the day! A breakfast and coffee, practically effortlessly made, thanks to the technology of the modern kitchen.

“Cyberspace, a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation…” (William Gibson’s Neuromancer, pg 51). If one inserts “kitchen technology” for “Cyberspace”, the same concept applies. The stove, toaster, and percolator and any other kitchen technology made that imaginary example meal possible. In our modern world, one hardly ever stops to recognize the aid that kitchen technology provides us, and more importantly, the extreme mediation between ourselves, our bodies, and the environment that kitchen technology also provides. There seems to be a consensual hallucination similar to the one in Neuromancer, in our society to not think about kitchen technology outside of the bounds of when to upgrade or buy new kitchen technology. Kitchen technology is so often assumed and taken for granted. Without kitchen technology, without our stoves, ovens, toasters, microwaves, various electrical coffee apparatuses, timers, thermometers, or broilers, how would one make a successful meal?

For my final project, I decided to take this on head first. I decided to attempt to make all the same foods I would normally make with the help of kitchen technology, but with the standards (now considered challenges) of the past; no natural gas, and no electricity. I did not simply stop making food, nor was this an investigation of food itself; I bought all these ingredients at the grocery store. Rather, this was to see how the everyday technology of kitchen gear is so universally taken for granted, to refresh the perception of what it means to ‘make’ a meal, and to investigate the perception of hidden sources and outlets that the resources that power kitchen technology come from and go.



To begin the day, I woke up bright and early at 8am. I knew it would take me a decent amount of time to find the parts for, design, and then assemble the cooking apparatus I would be making all my food on. This particular facet of my project reminded me of Gary Snyder’s ideas regarding place and sense of place. On page 28 of his Essay, “The Place, The Region, and The Commons”, Snyder says “The heart of a place is the home, and the heart of the home is the firepit, the hearth.” I felt that even though I was in the backyard of the home I had lived in for 23 years, that I was returning back to a forgotten “home” while building the stove. I had some bricks and stone walkway pieces stacked in my garage from decades ago that I decided I could use as building blocks, and my backyard has a small concrete ground area that served perfectly as a safe and heat resistant place to setup the bricks for the apparatus. No burning down the yard on my watch.

By 11am, I had finally assembled a decent  design. I had to search and dig through my backyard for stones large enough to safely and properly balance out other stones. Stacking the blocks in an every-other fashion, I had managed to make a deep enough pit to put fuel in and provide the fuel with strong oxygen flow via the slots in the sides and bottom. For fuel, I used some leftover cherry wood that my father had ordered at the beginning of the winter season. Because the pit was less wide than the logs were, I had to spend an hour or so chopping and trimming down logs to fit the size of the pit. This was my first obstacle, as I had to really put some physical strain into this. I had a wood splitter and a hand axe in my garage to aid me in this. By the end of splitting a fair amount of wood, I had a couple of blisters on my hands and was also quite winded. Once I had enough wood piled up, the next obstacle was lighting it. first fire

Lighting the fire actually turned out to be the hardest part. I did not want to simply use lighter fluid and a match, so I spent some more time searching for a makeshift flint and some tinder. I ended up settling on an empty lighter, as the lighting mechanism on it is a real flint and strikestone, and some dried out leaves, tumbleweed-like shoestring dead plants, and some dried out day-lilly reeds. I managed to string the tumbleweed material through the vents on the front of the dead lighter so that they were right up against the flint and after only an hour of trying, had a full on lit fire. I was so proud of my accomplishment. This served to really bring home the notion of sense of place for me. I had never started a fire without a lighter or matches, and here I was using tinder. On page 40, the first page of Snyder’s Essay titled “Bioregional Perspectives” he states “In the old ways, the flora and fauna and landforms are part of the culture. The world of culture and nature, which is actual, is almost a shadow world now…” In going through the pain of lighting this fire, I felt that I had actually gained some kind of practical knowledge of the world that was worth passing on. However, I also could not help but feel that I, in a way, should already know this knowledge. Creating and lighting a fire has always been considered such a fundamental basic cornerstone of human survival, but in today’s world it is not. This made me feel like kitchen technology bypasses that need to really know how to survive. I found it appropriate to make a comparison between the commodification of indigenous knowledge, like that found in Yamashita’s “Through the Arc of the Rainforest”. Much like GGG and J.B. Tweep commodifying Mane Pena’s knowledge of the feather, all kitchen technology has at least in some way commodified the basic indigenous knowledge of creating fire and the ability to cook over it.

The next milestone was preparing my first meal on this thing. I scavenged the garage again and found a broken grill top with a lid and grill surface. I took the grill surface and layed it over the top of my pit. I could now rest pots and pans on it! Time to get started. My first creation was boiling water for non-electric french pressed coffee. I got a pan filled with water, placed it on my “stove” and waited for it to boil. When I was a kid, my father used to say “a watched pot never boils” and I’ve never felt that be so applicable as this experience. It took nearly a full hour to get  water to boil at all. After it did, I poured it into the french IMG_4249press and finally, by 1pm, I had coffee made. I swear, after all the effort I put into just making coffee, it was the best tasting coffee I felt I ever drank. Over an hour, just to make coffee. This experience reminded me of Rebecca Solnit’s concept of the annihilation of time and space. With the help of kitchen technology, I could have had coffee going and ready by 8:15am, instead of over four hours later. I realized that kitchen technology in and of itself annihilates time and space, and very literally sacrifices the near for the far. Does anyone know exactly where the natural gas that they use on a stove/oven comes from? There are thousands of natural gas extraction operations across the U.S., how could one possibly know what region their gas comes from? Intricate networks of gas pipelines that we never see feed these far away resources all the way into our kitchen stoves, making these very far away and buried underground resources available to us at the push-and-twist of an oven knob. I spent a lot of time just preparing the fuel source to be able to be used in my “stove”, and my hands hurt by the end of it. On page 11 of Solnit’s “Annihilation of Time and Space”, she says “‘Annihilating time and space’ is what most technologies aspire to do: technology regards the very terms of our bodily existence as burdensome… What distinguishes a technological world is that the terms of nature are obscured; one need not live quite in the present or the local.”


After coffee I decided to reward myself with an egg. Placing the grill top back on top of the “stove”, I placed a pallet of butter in the pan, and fried an egg. It took virtually no time and was very tasty! Exactly what I needed. I was very surprised by how easy this encounter was, as the pan I had used normally causes everything to stick to it, no matter how much butter or oil is used. Over the fire outdoors, I had absolutely no sticking issues whatsoever. I remember thinking to myself that either the method of cooking everything over an open wood fire was scientifically easier or I, like everyone else, am a romantic at heart, as Mick Gold states in his “History of Nature”.


The next step was to see how far I could take this. Since I  did not want the fire to go out as it was nearly impossible to light to begin with, I paid my friend Ryan with a couple of beers to watch and keep the fire lit while I prepared some ribs and sides on a cutting board. A few minutes later I had some prepped ribs, potatoes, peppers, and onions. Ribs by nature stove w:lidtake quite a while to cook to tenderness, and this was something I had to really keep in mind and gauge since I had never used anything like the apparatus I was using. I went back on the hunt to scavenge my backyard for a stone wide and flat enough to cook the ribs on, but thick and heat-resistant enough to not burn them. Eventually, I found a circular ribs on stoneshaped stone, dug it out, cleaned it off, and I had a cook top. Carefully sliding the round circle over the cook hole in the pit, I had created a slow cooking cook surface! Going one step further, I used the lid from the broken old grill to cover the cook top and trap all the smoke coming out, effectively creating a duel functioning oven and smoker. I laid the ribs across the cook stone, covered them with the lid, and let two hours go by on each side.

At this point I should make a note of a few things. I had never cooked on anything like this before in my life. I am a born and raised city slicker, having never even gone camping before, and having worked in a commercial kitchen, surrounded by gear, as my main source of income for quite a while. This whole project was quite a shift for me in terms of everything I knew. The ribs were going better than I had ever made them before, which I didn’t quite expect. It was at this point, in gaining some confidence in my work, that I realized the amount of interfacing that kitchen technology really provides. I made mention sauce n ribs in class once how an audio interface works. Since one cannot plug a microphone into a computer directly, one needs what is called an interface to allow the microphone to connect and communicate with the computer. It needs an interface, or a shared boundary in which two separate components can communicate and work together across. For all of us, kitchen technology is like our interface to meals. It is like a bridge of sorts, allowing us to finely communicate with and bring closer our end product, the meal. Without the interfaces we are so accustomed to, communication and conveying this exchange between cook and meal become foreign and seemingly much more difficult. It is not impossible by any means to make a successful meal in this regard, but think of the example provided right in the first page of chapter 1 of “Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces”. The example is of a woman waiting for a flight in a busy airport who decides to listen to music to make her more comfortable in her environment. She flips through her library of songs until she finds one that she feels is appropriate for her situation and environment, so she listens to it because it makes her feel more comfortable in that situation. This is not so different from choosing a preferred kitchen technology. Without my standard tools of kitchen technology to interface between me and my cooking environment, I had to be resourceful and make very full use of the only thing I had, my firepit.

After the ribs were nice and tender, I rearranged the cook top to include the potatoes, with the ribs around the edge, and the potatoes at the center of the cooking stone. Things were really shaping up. After not too much time, I realized the potatoes were going to burn with this method, so I had to concede and wrap them in aluminum foil to let them cook without burning. Eventually, I just tossed them directly into the fire itself to cook.

Finally, I took the ribs off and replaced the cooking stone for the grill top and cooked the onions and peppers the same way I would over a regular grill, except with that delicious cherry wood taste and aroma.

At the end of the day I had BBQ short-ribs, fire roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, and baked potatoes. The most amount of kitchen gear I had used so far was a pair of tongs and a spatula to avoid burning myself. The pair of bellows in the above picture were never actually used, but were around in case the fire got so low that I had to worry about it going out (I really didn’t want this thing to go out). The meal I created was so well executed and successful that I could not help but feel a strong sense of pride over it. Needless to say, I enjoyed my experiment.

me with final production


While performing my experiment, several thoughts ran through my head.

At first, I found myself making comparisons between my firepit and being surrounded by gear in a  commercial kitchen.

Nick in the kitchen

In this photo, although the image quality is not great it still shows a sample of just how interfaced a commercial kitchen environment is. Just in this photo alone, one can see controls for a firehose, two ovens, a flattop, a stovetop, and a hood vent. In the background one can see a box that reads “30 DOZEN EGGS”. Behind me, not pictured, are three microwaves all in a line, and to the direction I am looking, behind the camera, is a commercial dishwasher that runs at minute and a half cycles, a three compartment sink, and a fully prepped salad bar. This says three things to me: sacrificing the near for the far, creating a manufactured landscape, and the medium is the message. Everything in this modern kitchen came from hundreds of miles away to get to this kitchen, from the tools, to the food, to the resources of gas and electricity. Chefs have a saying, “Mise en place”, which is French for “Everything in it’s place”, which is supposed to reflect how everything in a kitchen should be set up in a particular order to achieve maximum speed and efficiency when reproducing a dish. This is ironic, because everything in that kitchen (or just kitchens in general) came from all over the world to be funneled into the tightly woven system of “Mise en place”, which is most definitely a form of a Burtynsky manufactured landscape in and of itself, as well as an example of sacrificing the near for the far. Welcome to the food factory. Marshall McLuhan hits the nail on the head on page 8 of his essay titled “The Medium is the Message” in saying “The restructuring of human work and association was shaped by the technique of fragmentation that is the essence of machine technology.” On the page before this, 7, McLuhan states that “…The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” I believe that mise en place is an excellent example of the result of this new scale. Kitchen technology has changed the way we regard our bodily limitations and has effectively extended our nervous systems via our cooking tools, timers, and thermometers.

After a while, I begun to think about the way kitchens and cooking is portrayed in most Western culture.  Kitchens and food production are heavily romanticized in modern society. Chefs are regarded as drill sergeants and artists all at once. Things like the Food Network now exist because meal production has been so heavily conquered that it is no longer about making meals to live another day and survive, but rather making meals to impress or satisfy. This shift of focus from survival to glamor reminds me of Susan Davis and her article on SeaWorld, “Touch the Magic” and how decontextualized all of cooking is nowadays. Much in the way that “‘Touch the Magic’ presents a condensed, more perfect world.” (Davis, 208), kitchens and especially kitchen technology tends to represent food production the same way. Have you ever actually made yourself a meal because you were worried about your survival? The same way that “Touch the Magic” the advertisement “paradoxically decontextualizes nature” (Davis, 209), kitchen technology and the romantic outlook of the kitchen decontextualize meals and their purpose in survival.

Then, finally I thought of the dematerialization and transportation of all the resources involved in modern kitchens, as well as their unseen origins and endings. Like I mentioned earlier, the resources involved in a modern kitchen, like natural gas and electricity, are harnessed or created hundreds if not thousands of miles away from kitchens, and then transported there through underground, hidden byways. Since one never actually sees these resources traveling to them, it is easy to have these resources go largely unnoticed and taken for granted. When they become unnoticed and taken for granted, these resources become essentially dematerialized to the user. An oven can be left on for hours on end safely, in the name of slow roasting, or a microwave can run ten times an hour using countless and unseen amounts of electricity, and nobody questions or actively realizes it. They just see it as an expected, average resource because these resources themselves have been so heavily dematerialized. The only time one really notices is when one can smell natural gas leaking from a burner or line and they become alarmed. This concept is also reminiscent of Allison Carruth’s “The Digital Cloud and the Micropolitics of Energy”, in a resources unseen origins and endings. Where does all that natural gas and electricity come from for us to use it in kitchens? Where does it all go once were done? These questions go completely overlooked under the romantic guise and portrayal of the modern kitchen, much the same way they go overlooked under the advancement guise of the digital cloud. On page 343 of Carruth’s essay she says, “Those images mold how individual users think about platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and in turn conceal from public consciousness underlaying network infrastructures: the servers, wires, undersea cables, microwave towers, satellites, data centers, and water and energy resources that constitute networks [read, kitchen technology]…”.  A few pages later, on 346 she says “Dwelling on those effects, environmental writers often overlook the coal-fired power plants and energy-intensive cooling systems that translate kinetic actions (all those keyboard strokes and touch-screen swipes) into data.” Every swipe of a touch-screen or stroke of a keyboard could be synonymous with every egg fried or slice of pizza reheated, with the exception that the food items aren’t dematerialized into digital data.


So why should you care about this? It’s not exactly possible to build a campfire for every meal one wants to make, nor is it practical, but when I was out there doing all this for myself I realized I am dependent on kitchen technology, as are most of us. Kitchen technology has globalized and hybridized itself in every country in the world. I could hardly even start a fire without kitchen technology or my stove auto-light, and even at that it took me nearly 5 hours just to put together the pit, split the wood, start the fire, and get the water boiling just for morning coffee. I realized how taken for granted kitchen technology is. We have overcome our own bodily limits, as well as nature and environmental limits, while simultaneously numbing our senses.  Kitchen technology has allowed us to ignore natural resources and take natural resources for granted, and therefore the environment in which they came from. Although I don’t find it realistic to stop using kitchen technology, I do find it important in realizing the role it has played in changing the way we view the environment, ourselves and our nervous systems, and our meals.

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The Iron Net

Copyright 309 No. 2

Form is henceforth divorced from matter. In fact, matter as a visible object is of no great use any longer, except as the mould on which  form is shaped. Give us a few negatives of a thing worth seeing, taken from different points of view, and that is all we want of it.

-Oliver Wendell Holmes, quoted in Solnit (21).


At the end of my midterm assignment, I admonished the general populace to examine the potential implications scientific thought and practice could have for the future organization of human civilization. However, as any diligent historian of science will observe, the future is the present. The amount of technology already implemented in society is far beyond that which was comprehensible even a century ago; present Western civilizations would be considered by denizens of the early twentieth century to be “futuristic,” in that old-fashioned, Disney-esque sense.

Bearing this in mind, I decided to explore the already-existent consequences of unchecked progress and unheeded calls for skepticism, concluding that the best way to do so would be to embark upon an opulent, magnificent tour of the world and all its splendors… on Google Earth. This vacation would include the classic destinations – the Grand Canyon, the Louvre, Westminster Abbey, and so on – but it did not have to stop there. Google Earth presented me with the opportunity to visit the Moon, Mars, and vast swaths of the cosmos, an opportunity which I eagerly accepted.

Thus, the topography of this journey vaguely resembles that of “Invisible World,” beginning with the local and spiraling out to the impossibly remote. At each location will prompt a reflection on Google’s participation in and heralding of the techno-scientific agenda, or at least a discussion of the company’s negative impacts. Once again, I will document the personal effects my voyage produces in me, but only after the vacation is completed, and I can place the event in retrospect.

This second lengthy trip begins over O’Brien Hall, in the photograph above. The “c” of the copyright sign is located directly over the window of my dorm room, which, as shall become apparent, foreshadows many of the themes and issues to be discussed below.


The Grand Canyon

It may seem counterintuitive to take a nondescript photograph of the ground when “near” one of the world’s most astonishing visual spectacles. The average viewer is unlikely to perceive anything of value in an ordinary granite rock. But my interest lies not in what is contained in the photograph, but precisely what is not. As the camera is pointed directly towards the ground, one might expect to see appendages – legs and feet, covered in shorts and shoes – but they are conspicuously absent from the frame. For me at least, the sensation of looking downward and not perceiving a body was highly disorienting and unsettling. It was also revelatory; with a single spherical panorama (in which the picture was taken), Google had established my entrance into a preliminary cyberspace, not unlike that in Gibson’s Neuromancer. When Case first “jacks in” to the internet, the author makes note of his “distant fingers (52),” body-parts which are traditionally considered nearby, but which have been removed by the character’s entrance into a digital environment. Here, it is not merely the fingers which are distant, but the entire lower half of the human body.

Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater

This is another of Arizona’s treasured natural phenomena, not far from the Grand Canyon. As its name indicates, this 50,000-year-old bowl-shaped depression was formed by the impact of a large meteor which struck the Earth at 26,000 miles per hour. The resulting explosion was equivalent in magnitude to the detonation of 20 million tons of TNT (“Meteor Crater”).

The popularity of and lucrative nature of the landmark, which is accompanied by an RV park and gift shop among other amenities, recalls the commodification of the Matacão, although on a much smaller scale. While Meteor Crater lacks the former’s entertainments, five-star Karaoke club, and theme park, it is nonetheless advertised and popularized as a business (Yamashita 101-2, 126, 166-7). Google, by providing this and other panoramic shots, aides in this economic exploitation and extends it into the digital realm.

Most Photographed Barn (Stonehenge)


This globally renowned UNESCO World Heritage sight needs little introduction. The stone structure of unknown purpose was arranged by a Neolithic culture inhabiting the island of Great Britain over the course of 1500 hundred years. Also shrouded in mystery is the exact manner in which the edifice was built. It is believed to have been erected in multiple phases. The first involved the digging of pits – or henges – with primitive tools. The second entailed the hoisting of large bluestones into upright positions and their arrangement in a circular or horseshoe shape. The final stage consisted of lining the outer ring with sarsen stone slabs ( staff).

Whatever Stonehenge’s initial function and conditions of construction, its ultimate destiny is made evident in the above photograph: existence as a tourist destination. As such, it is widely photographed – each of the little blue squares represents an image taken by one of the artifice’s many visitors and uploaded to Google Earth. The red squares are spherical panoramas.

One is almost forced to see a connection between Stonehenge and “The Most Photographed Barn in America” from White Noise. The monument’s representation as a traveler’s muse, assisting the dearth of historical documents, has all but obscured its true nature, and likely will for decades to come. “‘Every photograph reinforces the aura (Delillo, 12).'” Google Earth, for its part, magnifies this effect, showcasing an image of images. Furthermore, by positioning the tabs representing the photographs precisely where they were taken, Google continues to manufacture a nascent cyberspace.

KVLY Mast ground


As one might discern from its height relative to the background trees, the KVLY-TV mast in Blanchard, ND is extremely tall. In fact, at 2,063 feet, its the second tallest man-made structure on Earth, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (“A Towering Shadow”). As remarkable as this tower is, however, it is not the main locus of interest in this photograph. Rather, Google’s copyright signs, particularly those located in the sky, are the image’s most striking details. Eerily suspended high above the ground, woven into the fabric of reality, these markers of Google’s presence evoke the “stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority” and “the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of America” which populated the void of Neuromancer‘s cyberspace (Gibson 52). At any rate, they embody the corporate ownership of the internet predicted by Gibson, which Google threatens to extend to the real world.

Huangshan Mountains

Huang Shan Mountains

The Huang Shan or Yellow Mountains, incidentally provided the inspiration for the floating “Hallelujah Mountains ” in James Cameron’s Avatar (“Stunning Avatar”)(“The Yellow Mountains”). Unsurprisingly, they are also a popular tourist destination, featuring hot springs, hiking, and of course, photography (“The Yellow Mountains”).

The snapshot I took from half-way around the world, like its in situ counterparts, depicts a Romantic landscape, both rugged and “emphatically separate from human society and everyday life (Gold 23).” By providing spherical panoramas with such breathtaking and simultaneously hostile views, Google helps perpetuate the notion that nature is “‘out there,'” and that companies like itself carry the responsibility of bringing nature to the public for the purpose of edification and renewal, to effect a “return to authentic feelings (Davis 211).” Google has furthermore rendered the travel industry (mostly) obsolete by providing tools to view sublime nature from the comfort of homes and apartments, exchanging direct experience for ease and convenience.

Cities Over China

The Iron Net

Before I departed from Earth in search of grander cosmic locales, I decided to zoom out to a larger scale than I had encountered previously for one last look at the planet. Eventually, I arrived at this wonderfully hideous patchwork of towns and cities covering a small part of China. Interspersed with the numerous developments are the suffocating remains of forested areas and water bodies. As extensive as this grid appears, it is only part of a much larger artificial system, which, like Fanny Kemble’s railroad, resembles an “amazing iron net which now covers…  the civilized portions of the earth (Solnit 10).”

The essence of so much environmentalist writing and art is captured in this solitary photograph. The omnidirectional expanse of human settlements perfectly aligns with Burtynsky’s conception of a “manufactured landscape,” an “industrial incursion” and which has “totally transformed” nature, perhaps not for the better (Manufactured Landscapes 14:50-15:00).

Both the image and its contents are also products of delocalization. The towns and cities themselves form a homogenous layer of economically dependent communities through which travel is facilitated by transportation and inside of which individuals can find “extraordinary liberation and equal alienation (Solnit 11).” The photograph, however, insinuates a second layer of alienation, preventing the viewer from even existing in the physical space it duplicates, in a sense withholding them from reality.

Finally, both the mediation of the Google corporation and the urban/suburban character of the settlements reflect the removal from natural environment wrought by industrialization. This alarming trend has resulted in the ignorance of bioregions and sense of place Snyder bemoaned when he wrote that “few today can announce themselves as someone from somewhere (27).”

Apollo 11 Module

Apollo 11 Landing Sight

Strangely enough, Google Earth sports panoramas of not only the Blue Planet, but of its only natural satellite as well. This particular shot displays the lunar module and one crew member of the Apollo 11, the first of six Apollo missions to physically land on the Moon (Editors of Britannica). It is one of the few photographs taken by a human being on an celestial body besides Earth.

Aside from this observation, the image is also notable for its conspicuous annihilation of space and time. The same quality is present in any photograph, but is especially prominent in this one, which permits viewers to glimpse the surface of an object 238,855 miles distant as it appeared in 1969 (Editors of Britannica) (“How Far is the Moon?”). However, the photograph’s awesome extension of one sense, sight, is attended by the “amputation” of others (McLuhan 11). Drawn into the photograph, one is still prevented from feeling the inside of the space suit or exploring the Moon’s surface on foot, and is additionally removed from their present environment by the uniqueness and consequent interest of the picture.

Virgo Cluster

The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies

The Virgo Cluster is a large, (relatively) nearby grouping of gravitationally bound galaxies, located 65 million lightyears away in the eponymous constellation (Bingelli) (“Cosmic Distance Scale”) (“Groups and Clusters”). It is composed of more than 2000 galaxies, several dozen of which are indicated by the melange of location markers in the above photograph. The acronyms “NGC” and “IC” are astronomical catalogues, and the numbers are entries within them (“NGC and IC”).

I find the extent to which Google obscures nature with its deluge of graphics somewhat comical, but in truth the countless dots and squares are also quite helpful. Without it, I and other users of Google Sky would be utterly lost in an enormous universe, without any hope of successfully navigating its depths. Google’s intrusions into the night sky enable people to filter what would otherwise amount to a chaotic and disorienting experience. In this respect, they share an affinity with books and mobile devices, which enable pedestrians in urban settings to “partially control their experience” of potentially threatening surroundings (Frith and Souza e Silva pg. 38).

Conversely, Google could also here be accused of overstimulating the senses. By providing such an opaque morass of data, Google may be inducing conditions similar to those manifested by Heinrich Gladney and Willie Mink, who are unable to answer simple questions such as “Is it raining outside?” or have casual conversations without collapsing into epistemological reveries or spouting snippets of television programs (Delillo 22-4, 292-301).

Distant Galaxy Cluster 2

Distant Galaxy Cluster

Although I had snapped the already-discussed photograph of the Virgo Cluster, I wanted a cleaner picture of a galaxy cluster to remember my vacation by. Conveniently, Google’s sky is stupendously detailed; if one zooms into the interstices between the naked eye stars, they will discover not only far more stars, but also galaxies and even clusters of galaxies. In very little time, I found three such groupings, one of which is pictured above.

Readers with excellent memory might notice a certain overlap between this image and a significant passage of my midterm blog post. As part of “The Ninth Step” of my far-reaching journey through the heavens, I contemplated an especially audacious quote from Columbia physicist Brian Greene. In one of his science documentary mini-series, Greene asserted that the discovery of the multiverse would constitute the latest step in a long series of scientific blows to notions of human significance (Universe or Multiverse?, 7:34-7:46). I concluded that, with this statement, Greene intended to advance science as the arbiter of value, displacing non-scientific arenas of knowledge in that capacity. Google’s visual encyclopedia of deep space, obviously intended both to impress and to convey the scale of the universe relative to Earth, subtly makes this same statement. But it also ups the ante, tendering science as not only an existential refuge but also an agent of exploration, and perhaps conquest, of the universe. This expansion of human lebensraum would be heralded and made possible by the corporate interests of companies like Google.

Reflections and Conclusion

Vacations are traditionally fun. They involve “vacating” ones troubles and participating in leisurely activities with friends, loved ones, or both. Having been on many myself, I can testify to their enjoyability, and some of them have endowed me with enduring memories. But this was far from a traditional vacation. In the space of an hour I immersed myself in far more locales than would be possible to visit across any ten trips, and also escaped the gravitational pull of the Earth, the Moon and the Galaxy.

As amazing as this sounds, the effort was remarkably boring. At no point did I ever feel connected to the scenic or historically significant sights in front of me – all of my experiences felt distinctly second hand. Additionally, I had no companions with whom to socialize, a crucial difference from normal vacations whose contrast with genuine travel magnified its effect. Aside from these issues, the experiment was plagued with the normal problem, or as McLuhan would call it, “the message,” that besets all internet activities – a state of incessant distraction. Because I could go anywhere on Earth or in the nearby universe at any time I desired, I felt compelled to. Thus, a digitally-induced disinterest in mediated reality accompanied every stop of my tour, whether it was the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal, or the Orion Nebula. Because I’ve been exposed to computers for such an extended period of my life, it appears that I am starting to think like one, that I am beginning to transform into cyborg unable to tolerate “the prison of [my] own flesh (Gibson 6).”

Google Earth is doubtless seen by its parent as among the organization’s crowning achievements, a glorious, ostentatious testament to the excellence of scientific progress and the dissemination of knowledge. But, as I did six weeks ago with the general public, I must implore Google to extract themselves from this popular narrative and examine it critically. Corporations wield great power, yet are often indifferent to the potential or actual ramifications of their decisions. Is this not the essence of The Yes Men Fix the World? The conglomerates targeted in the film refuse to acknowledge the harm their actions impose, actively attempting to deny climate change and avoiding responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe (34:04-34:20, 47:36-47:53). These companies can afford their atrocities (for now) but Google poses such a formidable threat to the fabric of humanity that it may not be able to do the same. When the search-engine-turned-multinational-giant finally takes over the world -which it surely will – it might find that there exists little of worth left to rule.

Topics discussed

  1. Cyberspace (Gibson)
  2. Commodification of nature (Yamashita)
  3. “The Most Photographed Barn in America” (Delillo)
  4. Corporate ownership of the internet (Gibson)
  5. Romantic nature (Gold)
  6. Nature as “‘out there'” (Davis)
  7. Manufactured landscapes (Burtynsky)
  8. Delocalization (Solnit)
  9. Bioregions/sense of place (Snyder)
  10. Annihilation of space and time (Solnit)
  11. Amputation of the senses/sacrifice of the near for the far (McLuhan)
  12. Conditioning of public experience by media (Frith and Souza e Silva)
  13. Overexposure to information (Delillo)
  14. The Medium is the Message (McLuhan)
  15. Cyborgs (Gibson)
  16. Corporate irresponsibility (Bicklebaum and Bonanno)


  • Binggeli, Bruno. “Virgo Cluster.” Virgo Cluster. California Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
  • “The Cosmic Distance Scale.” Imagine the Universe! NASA, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
  • Davis, Susan. “Touch the Magic.” Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature. By William Cronon. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995. 204-17. Print.
  • DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.
  • The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Apollo.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
  • Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Berkeley Group, 1984. Print.
  • Gold, Mick. “A History of Nature.” Geography Matters!: A Reader. By Doreen B. Massey and John Allen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP in Association with the Open U, 1984. 12-33. Print.
  • “Groups and Cluster of Galaxies.” Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
  • Staff. “Stonehenge.” A&E Television Networks, 01 Jan. 2010. Web. 01 May 2016.
  • “How Far Away Is the Moon?” :: NASA Space Place. United States Government, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
  • Manufactured Landscapes. Dir. Jennifer Baichwal. Perf. Ed Burtynsky. Zeitgeist Films, 2006. Mp4.
  • McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994. Print.
  • “Meteor Crater in Northern Arizona.” Meteor Crater. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2016.
  • “The Original NGC and IC Catalogues.” The Original NGC and IC Catalogues. Robert E. Erdmann, Webmaster, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
  • Renjie, Mao. “Stunning Avatar.” Global Times 24 Dec. 2009: n. pag. Print.
  • Silva, Adriana De Souza E., and Jordan Frith. Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Locational Privacy, Control, and Urban Sociability. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
  • Snyder, Gary. The Practice of the Wild. San Fransico: North Point, 1990. Print.
  • Solnit, Rebecca. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. New York: Viking, 2003. Print.
  • “A Towering Shadow Across The Prairie -.” N.p., 07 Jan. 10. Web. 01 May 2016.
  • Universe or Multiverse? The Fabric of the Cosmos. Dir. Brian Greene, Doug Quade, Jonathan Sahula, and Anna Lee Strachan. Perf. Brian Greene. PBS, 2011.
  • Yamashita, Karen Tei. Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. London: Scribners, 1991. Print.
  • “The Yellow Mountains.” China Highlights. China Highlights, n.d. Web. 01 May 2016.
  • The Yes Men Fix the World. Dir. Andy Bicklebaum, Mike Bonanno, and Kurt Engfehr. Perf. Andy Bicklebaum and Mike Bonanno. HBO, 2009. Youtube.
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Moving Our bodies, Adapting Our Minds- Natalie Drelles




IMG_8279 IMG_8277

Mobility has constantly been something I see as both a privilege and as a nuisance in my life. My sense of place has always been something that can change drastically by a last minute decision or planned weekend trip but I had never thought about how incredibly mediated my life was every time I hopped on that bus from middle of no where Pennsylvania to New York City.

Growing up on 100 acres of farmland, an only child, I have always had a profound appreciation and attachment to the local land that raised me. I would say that my relationship with nature was in alignment with that Gary Snyder described it as “grounded in information and experience”. Nature was a companion; I picked wild flowers, made forts out of branches and got to experience first hand the natural world with limited mediations. I did not see nature as a separate entity from my life, I saw it was part of my life, not a separate space to be examined and picked apart as something “other”. As I became older and no longer always satisfied with the local or the near, I began making the commute via bus, to the far. In New York City I found that “nature” can be described as that corner park littered with cans and cigarette butts and that having the wind speak through the silence, was no longer an option. My life has been constructed to be mobile. Everyone’s lives have. Without being mobile, participating in globalization and acting on dematerialization you are cant be part of a functioning society right?

I believe that my story sheds light on various layers of communication media and my life experiences can provide thorough insight into the world of EcoMedia that we all have immersed ourselves in in this course. My essay aims to show that although media facilitates mobility in our world it limits connections and experiences and hinders action for the greater good of our environment and society.

Getting on that bus marked the journey through time and space and removed me from my local, small town understanding of the world and plugged me into the fast paced, highly mediated, over glamorized, far. Media communication and transportation take us away from the local and put us in a position that we are able to compete against the rest of the world to absorb the most information possible. I identify with Peter Adey’s article “Mediations” when he discusses just how far humans have overcome their own bodies and are now able to be reduced to packages, moving through time and space to reach a destination. What I am most interested in however, is what happens during that travel, the annihilation of space as Rebecca Solnit would say, how do our morals change during that time? Our understanding of our own bodies and ecologies?

The Ride into the Far:

When I embark on the journey from a small farm town, to one of the biggest cities in the world, how can I possibly make sense of the mediated experience occurring every mile the bus travels up the highway?

The City:

When I reach the city, the entire meaning of a natural landscape is altered. The environment is alerted to mean something completely different. Ed Burtynsky defined nature as any environment or space that humans inhabit or create. How we treat this new nature reveals how mediated our experiences are and how quickly we want to be a part of our global society, detaching ourselves from our local social and cultural practices.

Being in the city somewhat removes my ties to my actions and lifts a weight of acting with care and compassion towards each being I come in contact with. In the country, I would stop for any hurting animal or human being needing my help. In the city we are taught that blowing by homeless people who need help, or trying to help strangers get around, is not necessary. I feel that once I have moved to a space where fast paced is the only option, I find myself thinking differently about the implications of my actions. We remove ourselves even further from what it means to interact with our environments and hurry past people always in a rush, always needing to be somewhere and be there fast. The more globalized of a network you enter, you no longer notice any landscape around you, be it nature or not. I cant say that I am not ashamed at how drastically my actions change when I find myself part of a global network in a city like New York. The pressure to be the most mobile you can possibly be is overwhelming even when you are aware that just two hours ago you were sitting on a patch of grass and although your bodily experience was still mediated, it was not taken over.


On that bus ride, maybe somewhere between Scranton and New Jersey, I forget that my actions have a direct impact on the new space that I am about to enter. The one gum wrapper that falls on my feet at the subway no longer makes as large of a dent in my conscience as it would if I were standing in my unpaved driveway in PA. Cities breed a mindset of tragedy of the commons. There isn’t time to think of the actions we are making that directly harm the world we live in and that we have to face every time we step outside. We have become so highly mediated that even when we do leave our apartments, rarely do we stop, pause or unplug? Like Gary Snyder said, we are already so disconnected from the place we are in we have no real connections to how our space has shaped our identity, marked our community or taken part in any sense of shared history. We are all out to reach our own goals, make our own money, with the help of technology, there are no limits to what we can know, and knowledge is power right?

We should all care about how our minds transform and adapt to the new spaces that technology allows us to put them in. The intense mobility of our lives is scary. In “White Noise”, Don Delilo shows his readers just how scary it can be for us to be so out of touch from our own bodies and lives that we will passively accept our societies own demise.

Like Rebecca Solnit reminds us, we are a technical species and we want to overcome the present and move throughout time and space without any barriers (even our own bodies). Our fundamental need for making, changing and altering has pushed us to become unaware of the experiences we are having even when they are right in front of us



Snyder, Gary. The Practice of the Wild. Print.

DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York. 1984. Print.

Adey, Peter. Mobility. London: Routledge, 2010. Print

Burtynsky, Ed.  Manufactured Landscapes. 2006. Video.

Tei Yamashita, Karen. Through the Arc of The Rainforest.1990. Print. 



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Black Faces, White Spaces

Disclaimer: As a member of the African diaspora, and in regards to the prompt, I will be using possessive pronouns in reference to black people, lives, and culture (may vary from the possessive to the general “we/our” based on context).


Black Lives Matter. If you weren’t living under a rock in 2015, you are probably familiar with this phrase. Stemming from an anti-police brutality movement, the campaign has grown into something much greater. It is the pure strife of black Americans no longer allowing their voices to be silenced and their image to be under-represented. The movement has spread to other countries where members of the African diaspora demand equal treatment, opportunity, and representation. In a country where “racism does not exist,” however, there is a systemic erasure of the black image and silencing of the black voice.


When black people scream for representation in media and workplace, they are disregarded. Why is it that the only time White media can hear our voice, it is in a rap song? Why is it that the only time White media presents our image it is for some sort of entertainment or in relation to a violent act/crime? And why is it that the same community that rejects our demand for better or more representation chooses to mimic it our image in various social settings? They say mimicry is the best form of flattery but there is nothing flattering about blackface and the appropriation of a culture.

time to be black


not seen on tvLet me take you back to the summer of 2005, Hurricane Katrina hits the coast of New Orleans. Up to 2,000 people died and many more were left helpless. New media did what it does best, cover every aspect of the storm except for what could (and did) happen to the thousands of poor black people after the storm. The standardization of resources and opportunities is often displayed by the color blind and class blind news media in the US. To no surprise, the recovery and rebuilding of the black communities were hardly discussed in mainstream media. Don’t be fooled, though Katrina serves as an example of the nation’s disregard for disparities among black communities, this was no isolated incident. Solnit writes about how media and technology serve as an extension of the human memory. On the same hand, however, media and technology can shape a national memory and serve as an erasure of critical events that often make the public question the government and other institutions of power.

white vs colored

Moving forward to 2015-2016, Flint, Michigan – a city with a population that is 56% black or African-American (US Census Bureau) – experiences a detrimental water crisis. One would think that because of the recent uproar and media coverage that this is a recent tragedy. Flint has been dealing with unsafe drinking water for 2 years. Unfortunately, the ignorance of environmental injustices and marginalization of poor (and typically black) communities is far from a new epidemic. These populations are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and other environmental problems but they don’t receive the proper amount of attention from government nor media. The blame can’t wholly be placed on the media, though. Media creates a disconnection from the “here and now” but also causes the masses to react without acting. People receive a surplus of information but are unable to act due to circumstance – and sometimes attention span. Besides, it’s far easier to share a Facebook post than to donate or actively protest for an environmental injustice.

Before colonialism stole African bodies from our native land, people of the African diaspora had a more intimate connection to nature. Many tribal nations still maintain this connection; upholding the view of the animate earth. This is what in Western cultures would be considered inanimate objects these cultures would believe has a spirit. Mother Earth is something to be worshiped and cherished. How did a people with such a deep and intimate bond with the Earth become so astray from the image of nature and the environmental movement? One could blame happening solely on colonialism and industrialization – a complete reshaping of nature and familiar environment. I would argue, however, that media has helped to create a national memory which associates the environmental with white activists. Does this stem from the age of the hippie? Or is it a recent phenomenon?


Though hippies are often associated with drugs and sex (and poor hygiene), they’ve also been largely connected to being in tune with nature. Hippies are often depicted as a white in photographs and film. This is not to mean that there were no black hippies, there were plenty – my mother included – but in a time of social unrest and civil rights activism, black people were portrayed as being violent or as victims of violence. Solnit’s idea that technology annihilates spaces and time is used in reference to communication media but this annihilation also exists in how we categorize major events in history. For example, the civil rights movement occurred at the same time as the hippie movement; and Martin Luther King Jr lived through World War II. We often don’t think of major historical events happening simultaneously because how we are presented the information. The medium by which we are presented the information shapes how we perceive the information – exemplifying McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.” The content holds less weight because of how the medium alters our perception of it.


This alteration or manipulation of image (content) is how media creates a white, middle-to-upper-class standardization of the environmental movement. Why should I have to add “black” or “African-American” before the word vegan, vegetarian, or environmental activists in order to see black faces? There isn’t a deficiency if that’s what you’re thinking. In the book Black Faces, White Spaces, Finney writes that there is a “reluctance and resistance by the dominant culture to acknowledge black people on their own terms as full participants in matters pertaining to nationhood.” This alters the black persons’ sense of place. Gary Snyder examines human interaction, or lack thereof, with nature and how that affects our sense of place. Finney uses examples of negative images and symbols to analyze the loss of place by black people in America. She also touches on slavery has affected the black perception of nature via cotton fields and plantations. I argue that the lack of representation of black environmental activists and black faces in the greater outdoors creates this image of environmental whiteness. Hiking, swimming, mountain climbing, etc. are then perceived as “white activities” by black communities – and in some regard by the nation as a whole.


The idea of white spaces also transcends into alternative foods and access to healthy foods. People of color are constantly urged to eat healthier. How are low-income communities expected to do so when many low-income neighborhoods are located in food deserts? Media and technology creates a movement and mobility (Adey) but consider how that mobility and movement (and access to technologies that enable them) are a class privilege (Lee). “If you build it, they will come” but how do you expect them to get there? These communities that are in rent-controlled housing and depend on food stamps to buy their weekly groceries are almost completely ostracized. Supermarkets, like Whole Foods and other high-end markets, do not accept the government benefits. How are these communities expected to purchase fresh produce, organic, and non-GMO products if their only means of payment is not accepted? This marginalization of resource creates a white aesthetic of alternative foods and healthy diet.


Fortunately, there has been a movement within the Hip-Hop community towards healthy living and diet. Celebrities, such as Beyoncé, Russel Simmons, and others, have converted to veganism.  Kevin Hart encourages people of color to get out more and run. They are helping to reshape the image of connection to the environment. Black food, or soul food, is no longer just meat-, salt-, and fat-heavy cuisine. It can be healthy and “fresh.”


But we (the children of the African diaspora) need to see more representation of black environmental activists. We need more Carolyn Finney’s, more Majora Cater’s, Carl Anthony’s, and the list goes on. We need more access to these black environmental activists without having to add “black” when searching for environmental activists. We need more black faces in the media constructed white spaces. This is not just a fight for representation, it is a fight to inspire black children to be involved in their environment. This not only elevates the black community, it helps galvanize more support for environmental issues and injustices. Communication media is where we start. With the rise in social media popularity, we see McLuhan’s global village coming into full effect. The transparency that is established by activism, protests, and news media coverage helps us to connect with people all over the world. We are able to share stories regarding environmental justice issues – and discuss strategies on how to resurrect these issues.


I have always loved the environment. I have always sought to play an active role in the preservation of nature. I have almost never, however, felt that support within my own community and family. I was always just a city girl with a hippy heart. Constantly longing to step barefoot on a field of grass. In film, television, magazines, etc. I never saw people that looked like me enjoying the great outdoors. The only time was enjoyed was when it was commodified – zoos, parks, even forest themed restaurants. But never the real thing. Finally, learning of activists who looked like me and were passionate about the environment solidified my aspirations. I fear without the privilege of attending a great university and access to certain resources I wouldn’t have had the ability to adamantly pursue what I love so dearly. This is the case, though, for so many black faces lost in white spaces.


We are Flint, Michigan. We are New Orleans, Louisiana. We are the South Bronx, NY. We are South Los Angeles, CA. We are everything that the media chooses not to represent because an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. We must protect our global village!


Peter Adey. “Mediations.” Print.

Carolyn Finney. “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors.” Print. 2014.

Mick Gold. “History of Nature.” Print.

Spike Lee. “When the Levees Broke.” Film.

Marshall McLuhan. “Medium is the Message.” Print.

Rebecca Solnit. “Annihilation of Space and Time.” Print.

Gary Synder. “The Place, the Region, the Commons…” Print.

United States Census Bureau. Flint, Michigan Demographics Factsheet. Web.

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